My great-aunt Joad died a few days ago, of wicked old age. My family—the family on Mom’s side, at least—has a bit of a longevity problem, especially on her dad’s side. Great-grampa (Herman) Selvig didn’t get around to dying until he was 102. I’ll never forget the day we visited him at the nursing home (which he didn’t enter until the tender age of 99!). A nurse came by, all upset because she couldn’t get him to stop smoking his infernal cigars. “They’re bad for his health!”
My mom had the only sensible reply I can imagine:
“He’s a hundred years old! I don’t think they’re killing him. Besides, it’s one of the few pleasures he has left! Let him enjoy his cigars.”
“Hrrmmph. [Grumble, grumble.]” was the reply, as I recall.
His son, Mom’s dad, my Grampa (Morris H.) Selvig—my hero, my Tzaddik if you will—managed to die sooner, at 89, but that’s only because he was in line for the Parkinson’s that took Great-gramma (Martine) Selvig in her nineties, a good ten years after most of her marbles had gotten misplaced. Like her, he spent his last several years sensible only part-time, but he was still himself despite the increasing fogginess.
Joad was Grampa (Morris)’s sister. She died this week at the age of 96, having been getting foggy and frail only for the last year or so. Survived by three generations, Joad was old but mighty. Her obituary reports that her great-grandkids referred to her not as “Great-gramma” but “Gramma the Great.” Sounds about right to me.
She was born in 1915, five years after her brother, my grampa, Morris. In a day when women didn’t tend to become something, she became something—as did another sister of theirs, Effie Selvig. Effie was a schoolteacher in the storybook’s one-room schoolhouse, and a bunch of other things in her long, varied, never-married life. (One of my real ancestors? Who knows? I’ve often wondered.)
Joad went off to college and had a career of sorts going when she…
…well, that’s when she got married and raised kids and did the stay-at-home mom thing. Until hubby died, and she was back to career woman.
I didn’t know her all that well, to tell the truth, but here’s what I know. She was smart, kind, and imperturbable. Tough in that understated Norwegian way—soft smile, reserved unsmile, quiet comment, that sort of thing. No creating ruckuses, raising eyebrows, going off in a temper tantrum about much of anything. That’s not the Nordic way. She was the type to stand sturdy through it all.
Picture the crooked, leaning trees that nevertheless grow tall and broad—they spend their whole lives buffeted by winds. They survive blizzards and floods and tornados and fires, and you know they’re not going anywhere. They’re not beautiful nor particularly impressive, and that crooked, bent-over strength is easy to underestimate. But there they are, shading your picnic. Keeping your fields from blowing away in a dustbowl. Holding the hill up off your road.
She didn’t say much, either, not that I remember, anyway. But like Grampa and everyone else I ever knew on that side of the family, when she did have something to say, it was worth listening. And if she got to telling a story, it was worth listening hard.
She was the last of her generation. Another one to miss.
I didn’t record a kaddish for her tonight. Instead, I recorded some traditional shofar calls. I just had a tutorial from Mira, using primary sources of course (you can find the damnedest things on YouTube now, you know), and in true brass-jock fashion I needed to demonstrate that I’d learned.
The four traditional calls—Tekiah , Shevarim, Teruah, Gadolah—are, in order, Awakening, Broken ones, Alarm, and the Great Awakening. I do each one a few times, then I cycle through all of them again.
I think Joad would approve—don’t mourn her, wake up and live, darn it!