Remembering Grandma Selle

My grandma, Alvera Selle, passed away yesterday at an assisted living home in Bay City.  She was in her 90s and apparently her health had been failing for some time, so I’m so thankful she had a peaceful transition into her heavenly home.  Times like now are the hardest to be away.  I sit at my desk in Burundi, the rain falling outside, my cell phone out of reception, the power and internet out for the day, and wish I could somehow connect to my family in this time.  So instead, I sit here and remember all the things I can about Grandma, and write down some sort of small tribute for the role she played in my life.

Grandma spent her whole life in Bay City, MI.  I wonder if she ever in her wildest dreams imagined that one day her granddaughter would live and work at a hospital in Burundi.  I remember telling her about one trip of mine in 2007.  My husband Eric and I were going to work in Bangladesh for a month.  She wrote and told me she couldn’t find Bangladesh in the encyclopedia, so had no idea where we were.  Come to find out it was an encyclopedia from the 1950s, when Bangladesh was referred to as East Pakistan.  I remember how every time I would talk to Grandma about our plans to go and work in Africa she would pull out an article clipping about a woman working in orphanages in Haiti, and tell me how she was making quilts for the orphans.  Now I think back, and I think that was her way of trying to connect with me, doing a very strange and foreign thing to her.

Meeting Maggie for the first time
My memories of Grandma are all connected to the house on Kasemeyer where she lived for 60 years with Grandpa.  A basement full of rag rugs and quilt scraps, Hallmark napkins for every occasion and rows upon rows of canned peaches, pickles, chili sauce.  Playing cards at the dining room table, mostly euchre but also pinochle and solitaire.  As a kid, arranging her brightly colored lipsticks on her dresser, with a bookmark I cross-stitched for her hanging on the mirror.  The picture of her looking so un-Grandma like at her wedding in the 1940s.  Climbing the crabapple tree in the front yard, bird feeders in the back complete with thieving squirrels, a huge garden.  Food, always so much food...angel food cakes, stollen, church windows and decorated cut out cookies at Christmas, and pecan rolls.  Oh, the pecan rolls and crescent rolls, essential for every family gathering.  Little cacti growing in the bay window, beautiful flowers growing outside.  Watching Grandma pull out shoeboxes of old Christmas cards, newspaper clippings, letters I had written her at age 6.  All evidence about how much she cared, how much the small things meant, how much she followed her friends’ and families’ lives.  

More memories...Grandma perming my hair at the kitchen table, going with her to bring fresh plants and water the flowers at Daddy’s gravesite.  All the pictures we have of Grandma and Grandpa coming to Minnesota, and later Phoenix, to attend Grandparents’ Day at school.  Christmas gifts of Birthday Bear, a Care Bear suitcase, Christmas ornaments, Precious Moments.  A yellow daisy quilt, then a blue jean quilt, and now a beautiful blue quilt on my bed that she made for my wedding.  Attending church at Zion Lutheran where everyone knew the Selles, a 50th anniversary party complete with (indoor) photo shoot and my brother and I singing in church.  I remember flying out from California one year, getting picked up by Eric in Chicago, and surprising her for Thanksgiving.  She had no idea what to say.  I remember bringing Maggie to visit Grandma for the first time, meeting her first great-grandchild...she was the first of her seven siblings to have a great-grandchild.  Grandpa died just weeks before I left for Kenya, and I was so thankful to be able to come to Bay City for the funeral.  It was an expected death, but still hard, when you lose the man you’ve been married to for 60 years.  The one time I saw Grandma smile that week was when she was sitting in her recliner after the funeral, holding Maggie on her lap.

Meeting Ben for the first time
Eric told me several months ago that if you’re never expecting something, it will be unexpected when it comes.  Obvious, perhaps, but I guess in some ways I just assumed Grandma would be around forever, or at least another 10 years or so.  I didn’t think that when we left in 2012 for France it was a real goodbye.  Somehow I just kept thinking that we would be back visiting her on Kasemeyer street in just a few more years.  I’m glad she got to meet at least two of her great-grandchildren (most people still haven’t met Toby, so that one’s not surprising).  I’m glad she got to see the family ornament collection, from Bronners of course, grow from 5 names to 15 over these past 40 years.  She shared more and more stories of her life with me as I grew older, and I know in many ways her life didn’t turn out the way she hoped it would, or at least the way she planned it would when she was younger.  But I hope that in the end, as she looked back, she was able to see all the joys and successes, all of the ministries and hospitalities, all of the friends, and the family, and the love.  And I hope that on Monday afternoon, she was welcomed home by her husband, her son, her parents, and the whole cloud of witnesses that has gone before.