My grandmother passed away on July 7, 2021. She was born December 7, 1921. She would have been 100 years old this winter. Even though we were expecting it, and she lived so long, it was still a bit of a shock when it happened. I am so glad that she wasn’t alone when it happened. My mom, my aunt and my cousin were with her at the end. My cousin played her a spotify list of old prairie western music that she loved. This made me smile so much.
Helen Cecelia is my grandmother and she lived a very long, full life. Her parents traveled from Minnesota to Bend, Oregon where they settled and built a ranch. When I was a teenager, I wrote my grandmother’s “memoir” so to speak. It was about life on the ranch.
“In 1913, my grandfather Gregor had heard about the open land in Oregon available to homesteaders. A railroad had been built that ended in Bend, Oregon. A big lumber mill had been built. Bend at the time was a small stockman’s town with rutted, dusty streets lined with hitching posts…There were boardwalks up until the early 1930s. After filing their claims, my father and grandfather headed out to the high desert too. They built quarters on the property as required but in the meantime they lived in a tent. In 1916 my father went to Seattle to marry his young bride, Mary Alice. The wedding day was February 2, 1916. That day there was a record snowstorm in Seattle. Even the roof of St. James Cathedral caved in. ”
My great grandfather wrote prolifically, kept journals and then copied his journals (by hand) for each of his children. As a kid I was absolutely fascinated by the journals and her life and I read them, even though it was hand written and difficult to read sometimes. It was very fascinating.
“The desert is like a dream, yet it is part of me. My memories are so vivid, as if it was yesterday. Whenever I think of it, I get a lonesome feeling deep inside of me. Remembering the way we lived. Especially how hard our mother worked and such a lonely life she lived.”
My grandma had 7 siblings. She rode a horse to school every day, which was a one room school house.
In her early twenties, she went on a road trip with her sister. She lived with her sisters and worked at See’s Candies in Seattle and they went dancing every night. It was a time period when women didn’t really live on their own. They went from their parent’s house to getting married right away. I think she was 28 when she got married to my grandfather.
They had 5 girls (she was pregnant from age 30 to 36!!!). My grandparents loved to travel and they went to Europe a few times. As a kid I loved looking at their photo albums of their trips to England and Ireland.
My grandmother was a devout Catholic. As kids we were always scared of the religious art around the house! They were often creepy looking. Because she grew up during The Depression, she had that mentality of saving everything. It was the family joke that if we needed anything, Grammy had it in the basement. (I sprained my ankle when I was 19 and she had crutches in the basement!)
My grandparents were married a long time. My grandpa got her a dozen red roses every year on her birthday. He died in 1997. It was a huge blow to our family. But my grandma is stoic and reserved and has the mentality of growing up on a ranch in the 1900s–power through everything, be strong.
About 6 years ago my grandma’s sister Mary passed away. I sat with my grandma at the funeral and held her hand and it was the first time I think I ever saw her cry. She finally broke down and said “I’m the last one.” It gutted me and I had no idea how lonely it must feel to have your entire family gone.
I was so glad that she was able to go to my wedding and she walked down the aisle with my mom and brother. About a year after my wedding, my Grandma decided she didn’t want to live alone. She had been falling a bit. But she lived alone for like 15 or so years after my grandpa died. It was amazing that she lived in their big, old house until her 90s. Like I said, strong woman.
My grandma loved gardening. She had a lovely garden at their house. When I went to visit she was often weeding and planting. My guess is that the garden and the church were happy places.
She never drove. She didn’t swim either (her youngest brother had drowned in the Deschutes River). She loved Bingo and took it very seriously! Her favorite color was blue and she had amazing, bright blue eyes. She was strong and very stubborn.
A few months before covid we had a 98th birthday party for her with cake and we all played bingo. She won of course. It was really hard during covid knowing no one could visit. I was glad when she was able to get the vaccine and then visits were allowed again. I am so glad I was able to visit a month ago.
She could play the harmonica and shocked us all a few times with her abilities! She loved ginger candy. She used to make us birthday cakes out of angel food cake with a doll in the middle of the hole and the cake decorated like a dress. It was so amazing as a little girl! She had original barbie dolls in the attic that were fun to play with. She made the best coffeecake in the entire world, I’ve never had one better.
I asked my mom what her favorite food was and she said coffee with toast or bread. I laughed, like that’s her favorite food?? She did love coffee. When her brother would visit he brought her apple fritters to have with their coffee.
I wore her wedding shoes at my wedding.
She had 5 daughters, 14 grandkids, 13 great-grandkids. (If I did my math right, lol.)
Her favorite drink was gin and tonic. The day after she died there was a group text with my cousins (we called it a virtual wake, with drinks!) My cousin Kristin said: “I made her a martini once and she physically moved the vermouth away from and said ‘just gin please’.” Hahaha!
She will be missed by so many.