Some words about Mary Schellhammer

Grandma and me, circa 1985

Good Morning, Everyone. I want to thank you all for joining us today to celebrate the life and love of Mary Schellhammer. She would have been thrilled to see so many of her loved ones together in one place.

For those of you who are trying to place me on the Schellhammer Family Tree, I’m Mary’s granddaughter, Claudia, Bob’s daughter. I’m also “the one who lives in Minnesota”. So before I moved to Minnesota I had never heard the phrase Irish Goodbye. Apparently to some people an Irish Goodbye means leaving without saying goodbye to anyone. Whomever made up that term has never met a member of the Mullarkey family. We all know a real Irish Goodbye (especially if Grandma Mary is involved) typically takes about an hour and means walking around and saying goodbye to every single person at the party. There’s no denying Grandma Mary truly had the Irish gift of gab.

Over the past week our family has spent a lot of time gathered at Grandma’s house sharing stories. Of course, we cousins remembered all the typical grandma stuff like sleepovers and family gatherings and we all remembered exactly where she kept the wafer cookies. But we also remembered how she would secretly leave money on the seat of the car when you’d give her a ride, or the time when she won some money in a raffle and counted all the people at the party and divided up her winnings so everyone could have a couple of dollars. We remembered the fact that she kept a specific kind of dog treat in the house because they were the favorite kind of a dog she once met and that dog might come over again someday. And that having a grandma that worked in a sticker factory was the ultimate jackpot for a little kid in the 80s.

The list of things that we came up with that grandma loved was really long, but we’re pretty sure that holding babies was at the very top. And the Milwaukee Brewers might be pretty close after that. And we only came up with two things that she didn’t like- boats and mice. I’m pretty sure everyone has heard the story about when I chased Grandma around the kitchen table with a bag of dead mice that Grandpa had given me.

The thing that came up over and over again was that, to Grandma Mary, everyone was treated like family. Her refrigerator was covered with pictures of kids none of us recognized but I’m pretty sure all of them called her Grandma Mary. There was no line between friends and neighbors and acquaintances and family. Once you were in the circle, you were in forever. In fact, the line between family and friends was so blurred, I legitimately thought I was related to Meg and Kenny Larson until I was about 12.

The more we all chatted, we noticed some patterns emerge. A typical interaction with Grandma usually started with her giving you some kind of compliment. Whether it was a haircut or the top you were wearing or the sneakers on your feet that were ten years old, they were just beautiful. And of course, you always looked like you had lost weight. She would always hold onto your arm so you couldn’t walk away. Then she would try to get you to eat or drink something, no matter what time of day it was or how recently you’d eaten. After that, she would proceed to give you all the news about everyone she knew, whether you knew them or not. Not because she was a gossip, but because she genuinely cared about what was happening in people’s lives. At some point, she would probably ask you if you were cold, even though it was likely around 80 degrees in the house.

My favorite thing about Grandma Mary was that no matter what she was talking about, Grandma Mary thought it was AMAZING. She could talk about Lays potato chips like they were the best thing she had ever eaten. Nothing that crossed her path ever got taken for granted. A simple task like picking out a birthday card could easily take 45 minutes, because she would have to read each one and pick the one that conveyed her exact sentiment. Small trinkets that most people would lose track of or throw into the donation box would become treasures to her. A $1 souvenir someone brought her from a trip would end up in the same curio cabinet as the Waterford Crystal vase someone gave her from Ireland.

The thing about Grandma Mary is that her heart and her home had an infinite capacity for love. I think if you were to take away some lessons from the wonderfully blessed life of Mary Schellhammer- or at least what I know I want to carry with me in my life- is first to approach each day with a sense of wonder. To find beauty everywhere you look. To truly appreciate all the gifts you are given. And above all- To practice kindness and love in every interaction you have.

And if you’re as lucky as Mary Schellhammer, someday you’ll have a whole church full of people who think of you as family.