It can be so easy to see a person and not really see them at the same time.
My grandmother Marie Fletcher was such an important presence in my life that while I loved her and knew her better than many grandchildren know their grandparents, I’m not sure I really saw her until after she was gone.
I still can’t quite believe she is gone. She passed away peacefully Sunday, Aug. 12 at the age of 91.
I reread her book, In Time A Ranch, the week after she passed, and though I must have read it a hundred times before, suddenly the woman I saw in those pages was someone else entirely.
While she was here she was just Grandma. Suddenly she was also this incredible pioneer woman who forged a life in the B.C. wilderness.
Suddenly I had so many questions I wish I could have asked.
Suddenly I felt as though there were so many sides to Grandma that I really didn’t know at all. She was such an amazing woman!
She was a rancher, a writer, an artist, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a grandmother … .
She was the centre of our family and we lovingly refer to Grandma’s house as Grand Central Station. She did things her way and there was no stopping her once she put her mind to something.
Grandma lived the life she wanted and she is an inspiration to us all.
Ellen Marie Case was born in 1921 in Oregon.
At age 10 she moved with her family to the Cariboo when Williams Lake was still only a town of about 500 people.
They settled in the 150 Valley where they had purchased a small farm.
Grandma and her sister Nettie went to school in the little red schoolhouse that still sits there today.
Before school every morning Grandma would milk the cows and then deliver the milk to the residents of the valley.
Grandma was good at living in the country from the start. In fact, from the stories she told she may have been more suited to it than either of her parents and definitely more so than her sister.
As the years passed she fell more and more in love with the hills and woods of the Cariboo, and it was in this beautiful landscape that she met and fell in love with my Grandfather, Orville Fletcher, who was working for a neighbouring ranch.
Grandma used to tell me about how she would purposefully let the cows out so that Orville would have to come help her round them back up.
When he was around her family was always happier and she admired and respected him as the only responsible person in her world.
He didn’t know quite how young she was when they met as she was always such a strong, resourceful person.
When she was in her mid-teens her mother’s health declined to the point where the doctor recommended she live elsewhere for awhile.
Orville helped contact her mother’s family in New York and drove Nettie, Grandma and their mother to catch the train to New York City.
Grandma didn’t want to leave, but he asked if she would marry him one day and promised to come and get her before long.
Grandma had only a few stories to tell of New York. She was impressed by its size and grandeur, but she missed the wide, open spaces of her Cariboo home.
She wrote to Orville constantly and the next year he drove his little Chev coupe all the way to New York City and brought her home.
Up to that time he had never even seen a traffic light.
In the spring of 1936 Marie and Orville were married.
From small beginnings they built a large ranch and family in the San Jose Valley.
It seems from Grandma’s stories that everything they did they did against all odds, and succeeded.
But Grandma was modest when speaking about her life; she rarely seemed to notice that the things she did were remarkable.
Grandma is survived by her eight children: Iris, Janet, Gail, Raymond, Betty, Karen, Susan and Jared and their many children and grandchildren. Her descendants number more than 40 at this time.
Grandma was one of the few adults I knew who never stopped believing in true love because she had found hers.
Grandma gave me hope for the future, because her past was so inspiring.
She gave me faith in myself because she loved me so much.
She believed in all of us (and there are a lot of us!) and she loved all of us. She was a strong, independent, capable woman who knew who she was and what she stood for.
Since returning here almost four years ago I have helped my mom Karen Thompson as one of Grandma’s caregivers for a few days each week.
Grandma lived with my mom and stepfather up until March of this year when she had to move into the Senior’s Village after she fell and broke her hip.
I am so honoured that I was able to spend this time with Grandma.
Many grandchildren do not get to be there for their grandparents like this.
In today’s world, our elders are not usually so present in our lives, but my brother and I were lucky.
We didn’t always recognize our luck. We knew her so well we had the luxury of taking her for granted as someone who would just always be there. We moved in with my grandma when I was 13, and before that we went to Grandma’s house every day after school. Grandma was not just someone we saw every now and then on holidays, she was like another parent to us. Grandma taught me to swim in the San Jose River. She taught me how to clean a fish. She taught me about kindness and compassion and what it means to belong to a family.
I’m so glad Grandma was here for my return to my Cariboo home. I’m so glad she was able to come to my farm and see it begin. I’m so glad to have known her. I’m so proud to be her granddaughter.
We buried Grandma on Wednesday, Aug. 15 at my Uncle Raymond’s place beside Grandpa and her mom. Her body has returned to the earth she loved so well. I miss her so much already, but I know it was time and she is always with me.
My memories of her are all around me in the trees, the grass, the garden. I am who I am because of her.
My family will be hosting a celebration of Grandma’s life at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29 at the 150 Fire Hall. All are welcome to attend. Throughout her later life Grandma made donations to Covenant House in Vancouver so we ask that in lieu of flowers donations be made to Covenant House, 575 Drake St. Vancouver, B.C. V6B 4K8; 604-638-GIFT (4438) or www.covenanthousebc.org.