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Remembering Aunt Selma, 1914-2011

My Aunt Selma was a pistol: beautiful, accomplished, plain spoken and straight-shooting.

Her father died when she was 10, leaving my Grandma Anna Hagen to raise her and three siblings. My father, Carl, was the oldest, then Selma, Florence and Norman. Only Florence finished high school. The others helped support the family. Selma worked in CCC camps and local fisheries. She also designed and sewed clothing (including the dresses she and my Aunt Florence wear in the photo). At some point, she moved, by herself, to Oregon, where she continued to work and ultimately met and married my Uncle Curt.

She was a legendary cook who nonetheless always predicted that the blueberry pie, the wild rice-stuffed duck, the other delicacies she set before us would be inedible. The fact that her food was invariably delicious never stopped her from invoking her Norwegian deity—Gud i himmelen!—and proclaiming it the worst fare ever.

Although she loved animals, she viewed the chipmunks who frolicked around her house as vermin. When she’d had enough of their helping themselves to birdseed or dog food, she’d draw her gun and take out one or two. But then she felt compelled to give them a decent burial, even shed tears over their graves.

A woman of contradictions, like all people worth knowing.

When I read from Hand Me Down My Walking Cane at the Lake of the Woods Historical Museum, my cousin Sandy wheeled her in for the event. She was dressed up with her hair done and her oxygen tank in her lap. Two days later, I sat in her room at the Lakewood Care Center in Baudette, Minnesota, reading to her alone, salty conversations between Sadie and Magnus, my most colorful characters. Selma, who at 97 was just beginning to get gray hair, giggled. “I learned all this from you and Daddy,” I informed her. Then she really laughed.

Two weeks later, on August 23, 2011, she slipped away.

We buried her in the family plot beside the Wabanica Lutheran Church built by Lake of the Woods pioneers, topped by a neon cross for fishermen in the bay below.

The 1940s photo on the funeral program shows her with a mane of curly hair, bright blue eyes and a laugh starting on her lips, ready for the next adventure.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Looking at the photo of two amazingly beautiful women, I realize that such beauty is not something I can claim from my home where I grew up. Such strength and beauty did not live there, at least not as a part of me.

    My parents are both from New Orleans, my father born during those days when such stories were being made, the middle of the depression that meant that keeping chickens in the yard was harder than bringing one in to slaughter for supper. My mother was born at the tail end of the depression that never really left the black community in that and other cities.

    And it means that I would not have such a gift to give to anyone in the way you gave the gift of your story to your aunt. I don’t mind. But I am glad to know that you were able to do that for the both of you, especially in those precious days of hers. Precious pieces, beauty and strength: I reach elsewhere for them. Not sure how far back.

    Thanks for sharing this story. You are explaining yourself, these pieces, little by little–maybe telling more than any Minnesotan really wants to, but these stories have to come somehow.

    September 12, 2011
  2. Wilfredo Urbina #

    Beatiful Carla!

    September 12, 2011

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