Weekend Creative : Tell Your Story


Meet my Grandma Cathy at age 4 (1931). 

Last week my Mom sent our family an email that included the words below. These are my Grandma's words, written in her own handwriting in 1984 (when she was 57) following prompts in a Grandparents Memory book, to my cousin Heather.

Four weeks ago we celebrated Grandma's life. She was so awesome.

One of the things we shared was a love of family history. She was a fantastic storyteller and she & my Grandpa spent a good deal of time researching our family history during their later years.

This is your prompt for the weekend: Begin writing your own story. It's a simple thing. It can be done anywhere. Grab a pen & paper or open a blank document on your computer and simply begin to write. Whatever you come up with will be an absolute treasure in years to come.

Write without judgment. As you read below you will see there is a mixture of fact and feeling and bits & pieces of things she remembered of her life as a child. I love how she writes about the toys she played with and all the different pets and getting electricity in the upstairs at the ranch. And as you will see if you read the whole thing, the ending is abrupt - there's no closure but I imagine there was intention. Don't we all intend to finish things we begin?

There is no right or wrong way to go about this. There is no right or wrong way to end it. Just write.

Here is the beginning my Grandma's story in her own words: 

I was born in the good old U.S.A.

The state of Oregon.

The city of Pendleton, on N.W. 13th in a Maternity home.

It was July 8, 1927.

Early morning, because after I was born my Dad went back to the ranch to work on the combine the rest of the day.

Dr. Wainscott delivered me. He was the family doctor until he died.

My parents names were:
Doris Romine McRae and Lloyd Kenneth McRae.

Doris was 25 and Lloyd was 26.

My full name was Catherine Ann McRae.

My grandmother McRae’s middle name was Ann and a sister of Kenneth McRae’s name was Ann.

My first best friend was a playmate in the neighborhood at Bawba’s (Cathy’s grandfather, Kenneth McRae). Her name was Aliene, who married Charlie Dalles, who was in Grandpa Tommy’s class at school. Another neighbor girl was Luvalle Morrison, who is living on the same corner on 10th Street as where her grandparents lived. My best friends from Helix area before school years was Royal Raymond and Don Cook. Royal still lives in the Helix area. Don Cook’s Dad, Sam farmed in the Helix area at that time. Sam later farmed Great Grandmother Thompson’s land on the Indian Reservation. He was Umatilla county Judge in the 1960’s.

I still have my two favorite dolls. One upstairs in the study, her name was Alma for the lady friend of Mom McRae’s who gave the doll to me. At this time (1984) my first doll is in the state of repair – Janet was named for my Mom McRae. She made many trips to Canada, the mountains, and the beach.

Birthday parties were not too often for my early years. The depression no doubt was the main cause, because when I was in my teens all the small kids had parties and then in High School we did too. I do remember my 4th Birthday tho, as I got a jump suit (as it would be called today) and we had a family picnic in Bawba’s yard.

I always felt I had two homes as a child. One home was at the ranch with Dory and Lloyd. (I called my parents by their first names, because everybody else did. When my sister, Mary Louise could talk, then I called them Mommy and Daddy most of the time because she called them Mommy and Daddy. My second home was with my Mom and Bawba (grandparents, Janet Ann and Kenneth McRae) in Pendleton on 421 N.W. Garfield (the President Garfield of course) which is now N.W. 8th, just 6 blocks down the hill from where we live now.

The neighbors at the ranch were hired help across the road at Hill’s ranch just as it is today, and the Mildred Winn and Muller families to the East, and the whole South Juniper Canyon to the West was the Tergerson’s, Tergerson’s and Newtson’s just as it is today.

Games for one child on a ranch are a bit short – I could jump rope, play hop scotch, and roll a hoop. I knew how to play cards (21 and Rummy) with Bawba and Mom or Mother. My Rummy game improved when I was in the 4th grade. When I got 100 in spelling – Mother and Dad and who ever was working for us would play Rummy after dinner. What fun.

My grandmother Mom always took me shopping for gifts for Mother and Dad. And she and Bawba always paid for what we picked out. Those are the kinds of gifts you don’t remember giving. When I was ten, Mary Lou six, we were paid for extra summer chores. I hoed weeds in the fields with Peggy’s reigns tied to my belt – some one had to carry my water jug and me home. Dad paid me $2.00 a week. Mary Lou got $1.00 a week for chores of weeding and watering the yard – she mostly ran through the sprinkler. Mother’s birthday was November 29 and we bought her eight linen napkins, at $1.75 each. They were beautiful and pleased her so much. We had planned on buying the other four napkins for her Christmas present, but Auntie Ilda (Dory’s younger sister) came for a visit and admired the lovely napkins. She went to town and bought Mother a dozen of the napkins. We girls were happy Mother had the napkins, yet we were hurt because our 8 looked so small.

My room at the ranch was the room off the dining room. I always loved the sunshine coming into the room in the morning.

Dad had tire swings for us in the front yard. There was a monkey bar between two trees, and a canvas hammock. When I was about 7 years old Bawba’s brother John McRae bought a playhouse for we girls, it was by the fence between the two big trees right in front of the kitchen. Many fun hours were spent playing house.

Then I always had Maude the mule to ride. Dad would put me on. I would get out to the bridge and the mule would turn and trot in under the garage by the shop. Dad would lead the mule out to the bridge and head her up the road (North) and give her a swat. She’d go to the next bridge – turn and beat Dad back to the shop. Dad was good for three trips to the bridge. I wanted to ride in the field and the mule was good for 0 rides. When I was eight Bawba bought a nice little mare called Peggy. Oh, she was neat, great, beautiful and loads of fun. I took care of her in the summer, Dad or a hired man always had those winter chores.

The first present I remember would be the jump suit I remember from my 4th birthday. I remember receiving the doll Alma, from Mom McRae’s good friend in California as a Christmas gift when I was 5.

My favorite book was Heidi.

I do not remember a favorite story. We always enjoyed getting Dorie to tell us stories about her childhood. She was whitty and could entertain us for hours. Dorie sang nursery rhymes, pop songs and hymns to us all the time. I believed her singing to be the most beautiful in the whole world. What a shock to hear a professional singer and realize Dorie could not even “carry a tune in a bucket.”

The playing in the hay in the cowbarn or the big barn (torn down in 1954) could probably be called a hiding place, altho I never thought of it as hiding.

We had all kinds of pets when I was growing up. There were always one or two or three dogs around the ranch. There was a Bally (a mongrel) and a German Police dog when I was a baby. I learned to walk hanging on to Bally. Dad raised one or two litters of German Police dogs. Then he bought a Lab pup called Cry Baby because he seemed to talk or cry at everyone all the time. Cry Baby died on a Christmas Day at the ranch.

Lloyd bought a Boxer called Pug (that pug nose Boxers have) who was dearly loved by us all. Gus (another Boxer) was almost raised by us as a pup while Dorie and Lloyd made their last few extended trips. After Lloyd died my sister MaryLou kept Gus. Dorie had canaries when were real small – the one I loved was called Sunshine. Such a beautiful bright yellow and he sang so beautifully. There were cats and the barn cats that were dearly loved. We had gold fish in the house as well as the ones in the watering trough. We raised bummer lambs in small pens in the yard. And of course the horses.

I always adored my Mom and Bawba – such love they gave!

The nickname Cathy started in high school and stuck. Lloyd called me C.A. lots of times. The year around hired man called me Katrina (the Norwegian Catherine) when he had too much to drink.

My sister Mary Lou was born on August 16, 1931, just after my fourth birthday. She was born in the early morning in the same Maternity Home where I was born. Harvest was not over when she arrived so Dad was back and forth between Bawbas house and the ranch. I remember that jump suit I wrote about getting for my 4th birthday was what I wore that first early evening when Dad carried me in to see Mother and Mary Lou.

Four years between small children makes a large difference in how brothers or sisters play together.   But having someone to play with was great. We made mud pies, played house with Louie always the baby, and as we got older we enjoyed each other more. We shared the bedroom off the dining room until the fall of 1938 when Lloyd wired the house for low voltage electric lights. The electricity came from about 24 large batteries in the garage charged up by the wind charger mounted on the garage roof. Fearful of fire from lamps Dad would not let us move upstairs until we had electric lights. What fun we had moving into the room upstairs. It didn’t have carpeting, or a closet or any heat except for the chimney that came up from the stove in the living room and out through the roof. Ice would freeze in the pot during the winter months.

96 thoughts

  1. Patti

    2008-04-18 16:53:23 -0400

    Wow that is amazing. I so wish I had something like that from my grandmother. DH's grandmother died this week and we miss her and I have so been wishing I had asked more questions about her life - also making me miss my grandma. What an awesome gift.
    I just borrowed a book called "To our Children's Children" from our library and it is filled with awesome prompts for doing something like this. If you haven't seen this you really should check it out.

  2. jamie v

    2008-04-18 17:37:19 -0400

    Ali, I am sad for your loss. Heartfelt condolences to you and your family.
    What a precious gift she left you with though... her memories are awe-some. I'm gonna ask my grampa to do this for me ASAP.

  3. Michelle

    2008-04-18 18:40:54 -0400

    I wonder why we fuss over products and design when this is the kind of treasure we want to keep. Thanks for sharing this wonderful inspiration. Michelle

  4. Shari

    2008-04-18 18:49:26 -0400

    How lovely! Your grandmother was a beautiful writer. I am contantly amazed by your depth, perception and substance. As an outsider, it is clear after reading this where you get it. Standing there so proud in her jumpsuit, your grandma at 4 could have just as easily been you...you (and your sister)look so similar to her.

  5. Marga

    2008-04-18 22:41:12 -0400

    What a nice story. I'm no writer but this I could do. And the picture of your grandma looks so very modern. My mother is born in 1926, so about the same age. But foto's of here (and her twin brother) are old-fashion. (http://scrap-club.com/catalog/photopost/showphoto.php?photo=2808&sort=1&cat=500&page=2)
    And the nice thing is: both are beautifull.

  6. scrappinseminole

    2008-04-18 23:49:13 -0400

    What a wonderful gift to receive her words as if from above! It must give you so much comfort to read them and see her world through her own eyes. When my mom passed last year, it really brought home the impact of the legacy that scrapbooking creates as I read through all of her books. I started out in scrapbooking focusing on my family and never just me, but your CK column inspired me about two years ago to start a 8X11 single layout book just about me. After having my 2nd daughter just after we lost my mom, I realized how important it is for family to find those words left behind. Thanks, Ali, for sharing so many personal aspects of your own story so that we may find inspiration!

  7. Emily

    2008-04-19 00:13:44 -0400

    That was lovely Ali and wonderful of you to share your Grandmother's story with us. I could feel her carefree childhood days as I was reading. Maybe that's where your craft came from? My Mother-in-law also started the same type of journaling when she was battling cancer and it is cherished by our family as well. Thanks for always being willing to share so much of yourself to inspire others. I just may start a journal this week. ;)

  8. Carrie D.

    2008-04-19 02:12:16 -0400

    What a wonderful photo and amazing legacy in writing to have. Thanks for sharing your family with us!

  9. Danielle

    2008-04-19 03:09:47 -0400

    This is a sign! When I read about all these McRaes in your family, it gave me chills. I'm married to a McRae from the East Coast and after his father died a few years ago, I wanted to put all his family's stories together.This must be my get real moment!
    Love ya!

  10. emily ruth

    2008-04-19 04:30:07 -0400

    oh! that is so wonderful! absolutely priceless!...& the picture? too cute for words!

  11. sue

    2008-04-19 06:09:43 -0400

    What a lovely piece you've shared with us. Simon and his family will enjoy that someday. Thanks for giving me a 'kick' to get started with this project for MY family.

  12. Megan

    2008-04-19 08:10:54 -0400

    Isn't it awesome when people tell you you look like your grandma? Mine was beautiful, and i LOVE hearing it. I use her old phone number whenever i go to safeway so that will call me Mrs. Dana when I check out...It's one of the ways I carry her with me, and i think she'd love that "we" are outfoxing safeway...:)

  13. Jessica

    2008-04-19 08:54:32 -0400

    I am so happy that you have shared this with others. I felt the same way when I read Grandma's written words, that I wanted to write down all the little details about me - many that no one else would know unless they are written. Mom read this out loud to Dad and I on the car ride through the hills in Pendleton on the way to Grandma's funeral. What a beautiful thing that Grandma took the time to share her story with all of us.
    Here's a great resource for your readers to get started- The Autobiography Box: A Step-By-Step Kit for Examining the Life Worth Living with Cards (Past and Present)...It's the perfect little tool to help you get some of the stories you may have forgotten onto paper.
    Love you!

  14. Danielle

    2008-04-19 11:07:05 -0400

    Thank you so much for sharing your grandmother's story and for the inspiration to get down our own stories. I keep a journal but ind I only write in it when something goes really wrong or incredibly right I miss a lot of the small stuff, the where I was born, my favorite stories, books, dolls, friends I had or even had are missing from the pages of my journal so I will definitely be taking your challenge and writing about myself.

  15. interlacings.blogspot.com

    2008-04-19 12:09:01 -0400

    Your Grandma Cathy sounds like she was beautiful "inside" and --certainly her pix shows--outside, too. What a great document to have to remember her by. I have some treasured "handwritten" recipes from my Grand'mere Rose and am inspired by your blog to put them in a special "Grand'mnere" book as I am now the "Grand'mere" in our little family. Julierose. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.

  16. Jane Logan

    2008-04-19 12:17:46 -0400

    Thanks for sharing Ali and I am sorry for your loss but you are so lucky to have words like these from a very special person. I love the photo - it could be from today - Grandma Cathy must have been a gorgeous woman - she was such a beautiful child!

  17. xtina

    2008-04-20 00:44:41 -0400

    this was so heartwarming, i´m a little bit in tears.
    this is what pushing me, to tell my story. thats so great. thank you for inspired me today!

  18. Valerie

    2008-04-20 03:21:35 -0400

    What an absolute treasure your grandmother's memories are! I'm so sorry for your loss.

  19. Theresa

    2008-04-20 09:41:13 -0400

    These kind of family treasures are priceless. I have an "autobiography" that my father wrote about 10 years ago, before the symptoms of Alzhiemer's began to show themselves. There is information about Dad's military service (something he NEVER talked about) and his family life after his mother's death when he was six years old. It told me so much about the man who was my father....something I couldn't have gotten from any other source. This (for me) gives the best explanation of "why" scrapbook. It can explain to our children why we are the people we are, and why They are the people they are.

  20. Marie Moser

    2008-04-20 12:20:27 -0400

    Aren't you so glad that you have this? That is so awesome. I was using this prompt along with another prompt from Scrapfaith (scrapfaith.blogspot.com) and came up with my LO. I posted it on my blog and would love for you to come take a look at it.
    Thanks for all the inspiration that you provide.

  21. kirsty wiseman

    2008-04-20 15:14:42 -0400

    I have begged my parents to do the same and my father took heed and has written a bunch of stuff just for me. I begged my momma but instead she took to scrapbooking (even better!).
    I love that you put this out there. I so wish I had access to my grandparents thoughts and dreams but they are all gone to heaven. So I am pleading with all my live relatives to get pen to paper so that people in photos are more than just a face.
    I hope people take heed and understand the true meaning of scrapbooking - records, records and records.
    loves xx

  22. arah

    2008-04-20 17:46:35 -0400

    Isn't it awesome that your grandmother left you her history...it's amazing how many things happened in their lifetime that we take for granted. my grandmother was so great at keeping a journal, she must have like 30 of them. I love to read about the trials she went through and the things they thought were just amazing, such as the invention of the television. Makes you think what our kids will think about the things that happened in our life time.

  23. Danielle Jones

    2008-04-26 10:05:46 -0400

    Ali I just read this post and I was in tears. Two years before my own grandmother passed away I made her a journal with writing prompts in it. She filled out the entire thing and it has been one of those precious items I own. After her death, I did not want to share it with anyone. It was my one thing that I had. Years have passed and I am now ready to share, no longer selfish. If you have the time do you think that you could let me in on some of the ideas that you used for this special celebration your family had? I would love to share this book with all of them and make it a special day by giving each family a scrapbook with all the information I learned.

  24. Trese

    2009-12-12 14:40:21 -0500

    Hi! This is a shot in the dark, but I believe I have something that belongs to this family. I was doing some research online trying to find this family and I believe I've found them. Please contact me via Twitter or Facebook. My name is TreseMason.
    Look forward to hearing from you.

  25. [email protected]

    2010-07-13 09:28:01 -0400

    Beautiful story, I was digging through some stuff and came across a old plate that was drew it 1958 of the Lloyd McRae Ranch in Helix, Oregon. Would this be the same one you are speaking of?

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