by Jewelles Smith 06.16.2012
Ancestor Project: Senta Anna Schramm
Senta Anna Schramm Basserman Fuller Straga
b. August 31, 1933 d. July 18, 2012
My Oma (Grandmother) was one of the most influential women in my early years. She was born in Ulkebøl, Sonderjylland, Denmark on August 31, 1925.
In 1933, she came to Canada, traveling on the Frederik VIII which left Copenhagen, Denmark on March 17, 1933 and arrived in Halifax, NS Canada March 26, 1933.
Her family lied about her age to save money on the fare. The Lutheran Church paid for the trip. Senta’s family had come over ahead of her, a fact that affected her the rest of her life.
Upon arrival in Canada, she joined her family in Toefield, Alberta, Canada. This is the story as told by her younger sisters, however, my grandmother told me on numerous occasions that she did not live with her parents and sisters much of her childhood. She had five younger sisters. Henny was born in Denmark or Germany, depending on the source of information. Her other four sisters were born in Canada. All the records that I have been able to locate are related to historical information about her mother and grandparents. There is almost no information available about her father. The story is that he was a fisherman from Germany working in Denmark and that her mother was a farm worker. They conceived Senta before they were married in Denmark. I am still unable to locate the records on this marriage and her birth.
Senta had severe asthma and numerous other health issues, perhaps related to her bout of tuberculosis in 1947. She also had heart problems and diabetes. She was cognitively alert up until her death in 2000.
She was married three times. However, she lived with, but did not marry, my grandfather (Mervin Skundberg).
Fred Basserman: married in 1943- separated 1946/7 and divorced 1955.
This was an arranged marriage (by her father) when she was 19.
Fred Basserman was reported to be abusive.They had two children (boys) together
They became a couple shortly after Senta was released from the hospital for her Tuberculosis. They separated in 1952 when my dad was approximately two years old.
C. Alfred Fuller: They married in 1956.
My Oma once shared with me that she and Alfred had negotiated their marriage, not long after my grandfather left her with the three boys. Grandpa Fuller wanted two children of his own (they had a girl and a boy together). He adopted my father, but not the older two boys. She was widowed in December 1975 when he died from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
They married in 1976/7 (approximately).
He was much younger than her and survived her when she died in 2000.
Why She is my Shero Ancestor:
Senta was hospitalized in 1947 for one year when she contracted tuberculosis. While she was sick in the hospital, her mother was caring for the boys. The family, thinking she was going to die, began to disperse her belongings and make plans for the care of her children. She was so outraged by this that she recovered—that was her story that she shared with me. Unfortunately, this led to a lot of bitterness between my grandmother and her family over the years. She never got over feeling abandoned by them when she was left in Denmark as a child and several other occurrences over the years contributed to the bad blood.
She raised five children, sometimes alone. She took me in and helped me to get through the criminal court case against my stepfather when I was eleven. I had been in foster care and she decided that the best place for me was with her. She displayed a tenderness towards me that I had rarely experienced in my life, including one time when I had the flu and was terribly sick. She sat with me, holding my hair, as I was ill. She stayed beside me over several days until I was recovered. That was such a cherished memory, and such a lesson on how to show tenderness to the ones you love. The year I spent with her was so important, as she allowed me to have a space where I could recover and process the trauma that I had experienced prior to living with her.
Senta raised me to be a strong woman. She and I did not always agree, but she encouraged me to be opinionated and to push at boundaries. She was politically engaged, especially in her 40s and 50s. She had to be – she lived outside of the parameters of her time. She ended an abusive arranged marriage, had a child (my father) outside of marriage, survived a life-threatening bout with Tuberculosis, entered into a negotiated marriage with a much older and kind man, and, after being widowed, she married a much younger man and lived with him until she died.
I often ponder the last conversations she and I had. One was with regard to my decision to have a tubal ligation after the birth of my youngest son and third child. She was very much against this decision and felt that it would impact my prospects of marriage in the future. We also discussed my entrance into university. She was very proud of me for taking this step. I wish she had lived to know that I eventually finished my Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Arts and Social Sciences degree. I wish she knew of the work I do for women’s human rights and disability human rights. Finally, we discussed the terrible rumours (started by one of my cousins) that she had, until that point, heard and believed. She used some of that last conversation to “set things right” as she said. She apologized to me for believing these lies and for speculating with others while not actually discussing them with me, the subject. This act taught me much about her own sense of right and wrong. She could have died and never said a word to me. That she made time to speak to me meant so much.
Sometimes her advice seemed archaic to me, especially in the context of her encouragement and love for me; however, she was never wrong. She lived to see me start my university year. She was very much aware of social and political activism and although I did not realize it at the time, her outspokenness with regard to politics came through and inspired me, as did her fortitude and determination to live the life put in front of her.