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!
3 thoughts on “occasional kaddish: for Josephine Selvig Anderson (11 April 1915– 22 January 2012)”
I always wondered why Adeline and Howard Snortland called her ‘Joad.” You do it too. Why? Just nickname? They were related to Jo and lived next door to us way back before Darwin died. I was born in 1946, so Jo was part of my life always: neighborhood picnics, mothers’ coffee in the AMs, giving each other permanents monthly. Jo was my mother, Deedee’s best friend, and when Darwin died, my Dad, Warner Quale, gave Jo a job at the Gold Seal Company, where he was office manager. We all went to the same church. Karen, David and Mary were my and my sisters’ buddies. David was a year older than me.
Jo served coffee at my 1968 wedding, I taught piano to all three of Karen’s children.,including Martina (Marty), named after her great grandmother. I remember Martine and Herman. They were a trip. It was my father who encouraged Jo to set them up at Missouri Slope Lutheran Home so Jo could get some rest. He was on the Bd. of Directors at the time. We still have Herman’s Meatball recipe in all of our recipe files.
Jo was so quietly hilarious. She told the best understated stories, often making fun of herself. You never could know if her stories were going to end funnily or not. The punch line was always very quietly presented, with a perfectly timed few words that left a person helpless with disbelief and hysterical laughter. Mom taught her how to knit and the day we all went over to her house on the day Darwin died, she greeted us with “Deedee, I figured out the ee/oh on the knitting pattern:” their term for the up and down pattern (^^^^) on the yolk of a Norsk sweater Ma was teaching her to knit,
The last time I saw Jo was when my sister and I took Ma to see her at her assisted living place. Ma had brought an afghan she’d made for her and Jo’s first words were “Why do I deserve this?’ Typical.
When I knocked on her door, BTW, I did the shave-and-a-haircut knock. We waited for about 20 seconds before she knocked back six-bits. She had to get to her walker, you see.
I loved Jo like a mother and by extension, I love you all.
Thank you, Paula, for providing some of the color I’ve never had!
I don’t suppose you’d share that meatball recipe with me?
Of course I will.