Ali Edwards Capture life. Create art.

April 18, 2008

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.


  • 1.
    Karen Malloy said…

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. It really makes me realize how important it is to record your story. I gave my parents a similar book to complete for my children. I must remind them to do this for posterity. Have a great weekend!

  • 2.
    jen davis said…

    just beautiful, that photo too is priceless in itself…so many brilliant stories to share.

  • 3.
    Erin said…

    What a PRECIOUS gift from your Grandma. Thank you so much for giving us this prompt, but for sharing her story. What a treasure. Happy weekend, Erin :)

  • 4.
    scrapwordsgirl said…

    I love this, Ali!!! What a treasure your Grandmother has given you and your family.

  • 5.
    Tiffany said…

    What an awesome piece of history!!!! I just got chills reading that so I can only imagine how you must have felt reading it and in her own handwriting, WOW!!!! Thanks so much for sharing that because I know that I have to write my own story and get others in my family to write theirs as well. You have just inspired me. :-)

  • 6.
    Karen Geckler said…

    This is really cool. I sat here thinking of some of the neat details of events of my youth with a smile. It’s funny how just hearing of something that happened in someone else’s history can jog your own memory of some precious moment of the past.

  • 7.
    erica said…

    WOW! That was so moving! My grandmother keeps a daily diary. I should go and see how far back she’s kept them and ask to read them! What a great history!

  • 8.
    Sharon F. said…

    Incredible Ali! How special that she did this and you all have it now. I dont have any writings from either Grandmother, however, lately I have remembered some of the “advice” my grandmother “Booty” had given – about making sure you travel while your body will still allow it. She was very wise – and ended up on dialysis for nearly over 10 years of her life.
    Thank you for sharing this fabulous piece of your history.
    Sharon F.
    Oakland, CA

  • 9.
    mary said…

    I love the napkin story- Can’t we all remember the tender little disappintments of our own childhood?

  • 10.
    Kerry said…

    Thank you for sharing. Great inspiration.

  • 11.
    Shelly said…

    Wow! What a wonderful, wonderful gift you have from your Grandma. Oh, do I wish I had such a thing from my dear grandma.
    I absolutely am going to start mine today, with my children and grandchildren in mind as I do so.
    Thank you for the excellent challenge!

  • 12.
    Carrie said…

    Thank you so much for sharing her story!!! It has me moved not for my story but for my grandmothers, she is getting on in years and I want to know her details. I know what I will be doing this monday morning. Thank you sooo very much for the tiny push to move on something so so important. Your blog is an important part of me…holding me accountable and reminding me constantly what needs to be documented vs’ what I am really documented. I have begin my get real list!!!!! Thanks for constant inspiration.

  • 13.
    Cathy said…

    That is amazing, everythign she wrote down to pass down to the next generation to enjoy and learn about her past. I am definetly going to start writing my story for my daughter to one day learn about me. So she could see the things that I’ve been through and can learn from my mistakes and not go through the same mishaps. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • 14.
    Elizabeth said…

    This is wonderful! You are so fortunate to have this. As someone who is researching her family tree, this is a gold mine that generations will cherish for years to come!

  • 15.
    Michelle said…

    Thank you for sharing that Ali. You are a great inspiration as always!

  • 16.
    Kay Lynne said…

    I just read your newsletter and I sent you an email about getting real and telling my story. You can imagine my surprise when I got to your blog, telling me to not be scared, just tell my story. Amazing! I am adding your link on my blog.
    Thanks for sharing a piece of your grandma with us readers.

  • 17.
    Suzie said…

    I know the places your grandmother is talking about in Pendleton and the Helix area. I’ve grown up in Athena and surrounding areas and now am raising my kids here. How fun for you to have such wonderful memories from her. I plan to put together a memory book for them with stories about me and my sister’s adventures.
    Thank you so much for sharing!

  • 18.
    {vic} said…

    Love this!!! Will be writing today!!!
    On another note was just wondering if you are reading “A New Earth” (Oprah book club)? If so could you post your thoughts on it?
    Also have you read the book by Jenny Mccarthy about raising a autistic child?
    (title”Louder than words”)

  • 19.
    Suezi Gurzi said…

    that is so very awesome Ali! thank you for sharing that with all of us. This is such a treendous gift that your Grandmother gave all of you. I only wish that we had something like that from my grnadparents.!

  • 20.
    Lyn Lepre said…

    Love this idea. I think, to a certain extent, that’s what my Project 365+1 has turned out to be — I am finding myself writing more and not just posting the photo.
    For instance, I’m currently on a trip with my mom in Las Vegas, and we’re “on-site” blogging about what we are doing. And it’s a fun way for us to almost immediately relive (and often re-laugh!) what we just experienced.
    Thanks for the prompt!

  • 21.
    kristin said…

    i am amazed at the photo. she is gorgeous! i have never really seen a good photo from that time of day. i mean- even my mom’s photos aren’t that great and she’s only 56!

  • 22.
    Tracy Schmitt said…

    Excellent idea…I will definitely be doing this starting TODAY! I am turning 40 this summer and have been remembering my life thus far, so this is a great encouragement. I want to also encourage my mom and dad, friends, family to do this in whatever format works for them. I do this kind of writing for so many other things/memories/people and haven’t really thought about doing it for myself, until today. Thanks!

  • 23.
    cindy b said…

    My first thought when I saw this entry is that WOW! You and Simon look like your Grandma!!! Have a great weekend. Peace and blessings…Cindy B.

  • 24.
    Kate Griswold said…

    Great Story. My Aunt is in the process of scrapbooking she and my mom’s childhood, using entries from my Grandmother’s Diary. So amazing! My Grandma lived to be 98 – almost 99. What an incredible amount of change she saw from 1900-1999!
    Your Grandma and I share a birthday – I was born 39 years later. I thought that was cool too.

  • 25.
    Erin M said…

    Ali, this is great!
    I’ve had my own grandmother write bits and pieces of her own history. I would really love her to be able to read this as well. My grandmother is of the same generation (born during the Depression) and from a family of farmers too.
    Thanks for sharing something so personal with all of us.

  • 26.

    This is the kind of stuff that got me into scrapbooking. I am sooo blessed that I had family who wrote and preserved their photos. I need to make more time for me to make sure I do mine also. It is so easy to get wrapped up in life and forget to take time to write your very own history. Thanks for the reminder. The photo is simply gorgeous too!!

  • 27.
    sara said…

    Wow… I can see so much of you in her! And I love that there is a photo of the jumpsuit in her story; that’s what scrapbooking is all about to me — getting to visualize the story in a new way. What also struck me as I was reading is that, although their lives were more difficult, they also seem so much more full. I am 35 and have 5 older siblings, but I hardly remember playing cards or all the things your grandmother does. We fill our time so much now with work and organized sports and being on the move. I think we can all learn from this story how to just “be” as a family. Lovely.

  • 28.
    Mel said…

    What a treasure. My grandmother did something similar and it’s one of the only things that I would miss if all worldly posessions were lost. You’ve just inspired me to type it up and preserve it another way!

  • 29.
    Amy said…

    I love this idea Ali! My grandmother when she was getting up there in age, realized she wouldn’t be here forever and started two scrapbooks, one of her family and herself and one of my grandfather’s family. She never got to finish her side unfortunately. But I remember her telling me when I was younger about the depression and how much she made a week, and how she gave the money to her father. I wish I had written her words down before she died. I didn’t realize then how precious they would be to me now!
    I also love the jumpsuit! :)

  • 30.
    Jilly said…

    As long as I can remember I have been writing so this is write up my alley. This is also something we tried to get my 101 year old great-grandmother to do on video. She was not so great about giving details on camera, but I can remember all the stories she told, so I think I will write those. I want my son to know her and what a remarkable woman she was. Every night before bed I tell him a story about his “Mama Reese.” I never heard her say a bad word about anyone ever. Thanks for the reminder. Family stories are so important.

  • 31.
    Linda said…

    Love this ali, awesome and very inspirational. Hey hey hey, do I see an All Moments Remembered link box over there>>>>>>>>> I do….YAY…and thanks, I am a DT member. wow…this is an honor.

  • 32.
    Aia said…

    i am so glad you posted this, very inspiring! i am going to use this idea for my retreat this weekend. as always, you provide so many good ideas, keep them coming!

  • 33.
    lynn said…

    what an amazing story and i so love the picture and jumpsuit. can’t wait to see you DO her story.

  • 34.
    Nicky Anderson said…

    Love it Ali – this is the area that is most important to me – carrying on those stories and the history. I have history for one side of my family and two of my hubby’s back to 1600, 1800, 1700 respectively. The one side of my hubby’s have stories written by family members and also children of the older family members now deceased, which are absolutely amazing. I cannot get enough of them. My sister and I are trying to do the same for the stories on both of our parents side, as even though we have the dates and facts – we only have one story from one of our uncles. Big task but so exciting to work on.
    Have a great weekend!!!

  • 35.
    Dee Pounds said…

    ali – this is absolutely FANTASTIC!!! what a treasure to have from your grandma, and kudos to your mom for sending it!! i am way big into genealogy, and one of the major reasons i started scrapbooking was to preserve some of that heritage . . . never thought to write stuff about myself, though!! you’ve inspired me to work on that :-) (love seeing that AMR banner on your blog . . . it is my favorite place to spend time online!!)

  • 36.
    Tracey said…

    How wonderful this is for your family to have…and thanks for sharing it with us.
    You’re right – just write!!
    It will be treasured…
    My husband’s oldest sister passed away four years ago after a year-long battle with cancer. She was 38 and her daughter was 2 1/2 at the time.
    Towards the end, she decided to write about her own life experiences in letters for her daughter to open later at important times in her life – starting school, dating, driving, marriage, motherhood…. Unfortunately, she became to weak to complete them all. Luckily, my niece has loved ones who will try to share her mother’s wishes with her.
    Inspired by my sister-in-law, I’ve set up a “History Book” for my children. It’s a combo of dates and events, big and little, with feelings and observations in a regular school-type notebook. It begins with decade pages for my husband’s and my childhood and adulthood. Then it’s a year-at-a-glance(starting with my son’s birth) for recording the big evetns. After that, there’s lots of open space for writing more in-depth when the mood strikes.
    I hope everyone is somehow recording their stories for their children…it is a precious gift.

  • 37.
    Cassie said…

    Thanks for sharing this Ali.

  • 38.
    Sara said…

    Ali, I love this idea. As soon as I read your blog I started writing about my history with my daughters in mind. It brought back such wonderful childhood memories. And when I called my mom to ask about some info, she told me some things I dind’t even know. I plan on asking my parents and in-law’s to write their history so that my daughters will have a wonderful keepsake of their grandparents. Thank you for inspiring me. And beautiful photo of your grandmother.

  • 39.
    kellicrowe said…

    i wasn’t prepared for the emotional response had reading this considering i do not know your grandmother. what a treasure:)

  • 40.
    Marge said…

    OK Ali. You’ve gone and done it. You’ve truly inspired me. I am a single parent with a grown married son who has given me twin grandchildren. There’s not very many living relatives left in my family, so who will tell the story of my life? Me! This is one “weekend” project that will actually take a lot longer, but that’s OK. I am going to write my life story so that my grandchildren will know what my life was like, what made me happy, what made me sad. And, I’ll try my best to do it all in my handwriting, because I think it’s so important. Thank you SO much for all you do for us fellow “life artists.”

  • 41.
    Ann-Marie said…

    Wow, how awesome is that? It’s the little things that really make the biggest impact and this narrative definitely proves it. Thank you for some excellent weekend inspiration! :)

  • 42.
    redheadmomma said…

    I think this was so wonderful to share with us, because it makes me realize that our stories of our ordinary lives are so extraordinary. Thank you, Ali.

  • 43.
    Amy A. said…

    What a priceless treasure Ali! Thank you for reminding us to just write about the everyday things. Things we think might not be important but really will be a treasure to our children, grandchildren and so on.

  • 44.

    I read every single word and my first thought: how happy your Grandmother must be to be with Bawba and her parents and all those animals now… LOVELY WORDS! TFS!

  • 45.
    elise said…

    love this.

  • 46.

    beautiful photo! :)

  • 47.
    Mimi said…

    What a wonderful history to have, may your dear Grandmother’s Memory be Eternal.

  • 48.
    Melissa said…

    Stunningly priceless.
    I’m speechless.

  • 49.
    ylva said…

    that is wonderful! actually, i have a recording of my grandmother. she talked about her childhood and how she met her husband. it’s absolutely wonderful to hear her own voice too! but i guess you can hear your granma’s voice through her words.

  • 50.
    Anna said…

    this photo! Amazing! So inspired to record more of life. and my parent’s as well!

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