A Lone Fir Mystery

Dear Liza,

On one of my walks through Lone Fir Cemetery, I investigated this tall graceful monument near the east entrance. I first noticed it because of the name, FIMPEL, which I had never seen before.

As I walked around the monument, I realized there were four names, all with different dates of death, and only two that shared a family name. Curious, I took pictures for reference and headed home to do some research.

Besides George W. Fimpel, who died in 1899 at the age of twenty, the monument remembered his father, George B. Fimpel, who died in 1886, Samuel McDonald, who died in 1898, and Laura V. Mutch, who died in 1904. Why are they all here together? I was puzzled, and the Historic Oregonian website wasn’t much help.

Grandpa Nelson and his Ancestry.com membership saved the day!

As clearly as I can understand it, this is a story of Laura V. Howell, who was born in Oregon City in 1859. She moved to Portland and married George B. Fimpel, who worked as a fireman on the railroad. They had two sons, George W. and Charles Howell. Mr. Fimpel died in an accident at work in 1886, when his son George was 13 and his youngest, Charles, was barely six months old.

Laura put up this monument to him and soon re-married, to Samuel McDonald. I cannot imagine the emotional upheaval of bearing a child, losing a husband, and re-marrying, all within the span of a year!

Laura and Samuel had two daughters, Laura L. and Mary Virginia, bringing Laura’s total to four children. Sadly, her eldest, George W, died at the age of twenty, just seven years after his father. Laura buried him with his father and added his name to the monument.

Mr. McDonald died in 1898 leaving Laura with three children, ages 14, 8, and 5. She buried him with her first husband and her son, adding yet another name to the stone.

Laura re-married again, to Mr. Edward Mutch, one year later. Mr. Mutch adopted the girls, now ages 9 and 6.

A few years later, in 1904, Laura herself passed away at the relatively young age of 45. Her surviving husband and children buried her under her family monument, adding her name (shortened to just her first name, middle initial and final legal last name), to the remaining side of the stone. What a complicated life story she wrote in just 45 years!

To bring this family story forward into my lifetime, Laura’s youngest son, Charles, lived for many years after his mother died. He survived serving in World War I and then moved to Los Angeles, where he passed away in 1962 at the age of 76. This means he and I were living in Los Angeles County at the same time!

Laura’s daughter Mary Virginia McDonald stayed in Portland, married a man named Dotson, and is buried in Lone Fir, less than ten feet from her mother, father, and step-family.

To me, this story tells a lot about the times and the people. Laura, as a widowed mother of young children, had no way to support herself or her kids. She needed to be married, so she got married. Premature death was much more common then, caused by anything from falling off a wagon to eating spoiled meat to catching one of a dozen deadly diseases common at the time, and multiple marriages were very common. She persevered and raised her kids.

I am so glad to have learned about Laura V. Howell Fimpel McDonald Mutch and her family.


Grandma Judy

For Tim

Dear Liza,

Your great uncle, my oldest brother Tim, is having a birthday next week. After enjoying making an Art Journal for myself and a book for my friend Pat, I decided to make a book for him, too.

Tim is eight years older than me, so even though we grew up in the same house, we were at different parts of our lives at any given adventure. He taught me to climb trees, fish, and change the oil on a car. He joined the Marine Corps when I was 10 and retired when I was 40. He was, and still is, a rascal.

So I decided to remind him of some of our childhood adventures. I chose six to include and did a bit of writing and illustration for each. They are silly and short and should tickle his memory.

Trees played a big part in our childhoods. Climbing them, mostly, to test our wits and have space to ourselves.

Of course I included Momma’s recipe for Heavenly Buns, her go-to quick lunch that fed about a million neighborhood kids.

Camping and learning about outdoor living was an every-weekend activity. We learned about making fires, cooking in cast iron dutch ovens, and, one Thanksgiving, burying a turkey in the ground with coals and hot stones. “I bet it’ll work,” Dad grinned. He was right.

Since I had made the book small to fit in Tim’s pocket, but wanted to tell longer stories, I got creative about the page design. Accordion folds and other devices let me fit the stories in.

Maybe the best summer ever…

I am really enjoying this ability to tell stories and make them into books all by myself! A lot of my last few years have been spent researching and writing a story, and in the back of my head I was always wondering… “How is anyone going to see this?” Well, maybe I have solved my problem. We’ll see.


Grandma Judy

Thinking about Turkey

Dear Liza,

Momma Billie Evans, in her Lompoc kitchen, circa 2009

It is now just a week before I get to start fixing things for Thanksgiving. The day before the holiday will also be Cousin Jasper’s 10th birthday, so there will be party preparations, as well.

It is odd that when I look back on past Thanksgivings I remember the family and games, but when I look forward to the upcoming one, I think of the food that needs making. Particularly, the turkey.

Salinas Thanksgiving set-up and eight year old Kyle

For whatever reason, I have never had any success with roasting the enormous birds. They are never done right, either too pink or stone dry, and investing that much money and energy into something that I have no confidence in was, and is, exhausting.

Ping pong with my brothers, 1960

Back when I was a kid, Thanksgiving was a dizzying blur of family and food. An assortment of my dad’s large family would show up early in the day, and we would climb trees and ride bikes until tons of food magically appeared, weighing down Momma’s old table. We ate, watched football, and played cards and Scrabble until the day just faded away.

Even when my kids came and I was THE MOM, we still went to my parents’ house for the holiday. I helped, of course, but the dinner-making magic was still my mother’s magic.

Grandpa Nelson, me, Auntie Christy and Uncle Jim, in Lompoc

The year my sister-in-law Christy suggested my then-85-year-old Momma order the dinner from the local Von’s Market was a revelation. Food and family without wearing out the Mom! Thanks, Christy!

After Momma passed we would go to visit Auntie Bridgett’s family for the holiday. There were three turkeys, three cooks, and literally a twenty-foot-long table. Again, I was off the hook for the BIG stuff.

Twenty foot long table in San Diego

We are staying home this year. There will be fewer folks around Momma’s same old table. And, at the urging of Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett and thanks to Christy, we are ordering our turkey already roasted from the local market. I can now look forward to family and games.

Thanks, guys!


Grandma Judy

Family Artifacts

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

This evening you two took ownership of your Great Great Grandpa Louis’s oriental rugs. This makes me very happy, because it means they will stay in the family, and you will get to tell their story. I am sure your Grandpa Nelson told you all about it when he helped you lay the rugs out in your play room and bedroom, but I will tell what I know here.

Jasper, cars, and the rugs

The two rugs, along with a hallway runner that has since been lost,  were originally bought in 1932 with the money Great Great Grandpa Louis Fein made on a bet. He bet a friend that Franklin Delano Roosevelt would win the presidential election of that year. Mr. Roosevelt won and Louis took his winnings and invested them in these fine rugs.

Eight years later, Louis died while on a business trip in Montreal, Canada. While we were there a few years ago, Grandpa Nelson did some research to find out where Louis was when he died, why he was there, and what he died of. There wasn’t much information. That was just at the start of World War II in Canada, and the war was all the newspapers were covering. One middle aged Jewish man from  Atlantic City, New Jersey, wasn’t big news. We think he may have been working to help evacuate Jews from Europe. We think he died of a heart attack while staying at a boarding house because all the hotels were full of officers organizing the war effort. But we don’t know for sure.

The rugs stayed in the family, though, staying with your Great Great Grandma Hannah Fein after Louis died. When she moved in with your Great Grandma Mona and her kids Nelson, June and Dorothy, they played on them. Grandpa Nelson has told me of driving his tiny cars through the ‘forests’ of the rug, around their patterns. Eventually  the rugs came west with Hannah when she moved to California. They were given to your Grandpa Nelson by Great Great Grandma Hannah when she moved to a rest home.

We got the rugs just about the time your Uncle David was born, with your Mommy Katie coming soon after. We used them in our houses, and your mommy grew up on them. Sleepovers, popcorn spills, and even My Little Ponies parties happened on those old rugs.

kids and rug.jpg
Jasper, Kestrel, and Great Great Grandpa Louis’s rug!

They moved to Portland with us last year, and now we are moving to a smaller place and have no room. I am so happy the rugs will have more children and grandchildren to play on them!


Grandma Judy