Monday, May 12, 2014

'Til We Meet Again

This post has very little to do with writing, or reading, or, really, anything podcast-y. I had what you might call an awful, terrible, gut-wrenching week over the past seven days. Because of this, I honestly can't come up with anything creative I want to talk about. My mind is fried. So, instead of a word nerd geeking out about something lighthearted or discussion-worthy, I want to share with you the story of an amazing woman: my grandmother. 

This is the love story of an invincible woman. It began on February 24, 1924, on a cold, tiny houseboat in Friesland, The Netherlands.

Bertha “Bert” Struiksma was born the fourth child of John and Sadie (née Cnossen). The first World War was over, but Europe was by no means calm. In 1929, John decided to move his family to the land of opportunity.

The Struiksmas landed in America on Bert’s sixth birthday. Not everyone gets an entire country and a new home for their birthday, but Bert did. Her family emigrated to Minnesota and became farmers there.

Of all the things that Bert loved, her father was at the top of the list. She loved her mother and her brothers and sisters, but above all she was dedicated to her Heit, her dad. Every day she got to help him with the animals in the barn was a great day. She helped him in every farm they worked on, from Minnesota to Iowa and South Dakota. By Bert’s 18th birthday, they were once again in Minnesota.

Turning 18 isn’t always a big deal, but what happened that year changed the world forever.

One Wednesday night, Bert skedaddled to church. She was late, and it didn’t look like there were many seats left. Just as she was about to tuck herself into the back, Ted Steensma shoved over an entire pew of people to make room for her.

As Bert slid into the row, Ted smiled at her. “So are you going to the young people’s society tonight?” he asked. “Only if you’re going to come and get me,” she said. It was the beginning of everything, but Bert didn’t know it for sure until Ted bought her a blanket and a set of dishes. That’s when things got serious. Even so, Ted didn’t seem to move fast enough for their siblings – when the two lovebirds were 20, Ted’s brother Andrew helped him propose with a very eloquent, “So why don’t you guys just get married already?”

So they did.

Bert was vivacious and smart, and you would never know that she had skipped high school to become a nanny. After getting married, she and Ted farmed until 1953, when they moved to Artesia, California, to be near to family and friends. That’s all they seemed to do, really: find family and friends. Wherever Bert and Ted went, people loved them. Bert was sassy, Ted was mischievous, and together they were an unstoppable force of fun and laughter.
Though one of her greatest regrets was buying a soda on a Sunday, Bert more than made up for it by adopting her two daughters, Linda (in 1955) and Kathy (in 1961). While in California, Bert cleaned houses while Ted worked for a feed company. They stayed there for 18 years before moving to Pella, Iowa. They both worked at Pella Rolscreen Windows, leaving their fingerprints on houses all over the world.

No one could get enough time with Ted and Bert while they lived in one place, so it’s a good thing they retired. They bought a motor home and toured the country, visiting family and friends from coast to coast. Bert loved her family almost more than anything in the world and loved to visit them in Colorado and Tennessee whenever she could. One day she would be in Tennessee with Kathy or in Colorado with Linda, and the next she would be in California, hobnobbing with her brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews. When Linda and Kathy married and Bert got sons-in-law, she was delighted. She loved her whole family without question or reservation.

She was thrilled beyond belief to gain granddaughters. Savanah, Michelle, Briele, and Stephanie always knew they were loved by their Bepa. She was the one they ran to when a spanking was near, and she was the one who taught them they could be snarky while still being kind-hearted. Bert was an active participant not just in life, but in living. When people were around her, they couldn’t help but be inspired to laugh and to live better lives.

Ten years ago, Ted and Bert moved to the Clermont Living Center in Denver, where they set up shop in a small two-bedroom apartment that had just enough room for them and a cat the size and temperament of a small lawn mower. Bert stayed as feisty as ever and she spread her love to everyone she could. She considered all the young workers to be her adoptive kids and grandkids. There were few mealtimes at Clermont when Bert didn’t grab a server by the arm and say something like, “This is my son. Isn’t he great?”

Of all the things Bert loved, from her Heit to her husband, her daughters to her grandchildren, Jesus was loved the most. People knew she loved Him even as she teased them, and somehow that made the love even more precious. There was nothing she wanted more than to do what was right and to believe God’s love for her and her family. She prayed fervently for everyone around her and if people ever crossed the line, she would very sternly remind them to follow Jesus and go to church on Sundays. Bert loved her Savior so much it overflowed from her heart to everyone around her.

Bert Steensma, aged 90 beautiful years, passed away on the morning of May 6, 2014, after a weekend of family visits and an morning of hymn singing. There was no pain – only the answer to God calling her home. She leaves behind her husband of nearly 70 years, Ted; daughter Linda Graham and son-in-law Mark and their children Michelle, Briele, and Stephanie; daughter Kathy Tate and son-in-law Larry and their daughter Savanah; an amazing extended family of siblings, nieces, nephews, and more.

Michelle is sad that her grandma is gone, but everything is going to be OK. Better than OK, really, because no one could ever forget a sassy lady like Bert.

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