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.