Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
My grandma, Margaret Helen James, was born in Fort Benton, Montana on January 30, 1926. Dr. Kaulback was the attending physician, and she would see him many times throughout her life. Dr. Kaulback moved to Spokane, and during the last years of his life Grandma went to see him several times.
Grandma was the last of 4 children – two older sisters and a brother – Eleanor, Agnes and Dudley. They all went to a one room schoolhouse in the country.
Grandma was 3 years old when the Great Depression hit in 1929. Although money was very scarce for a few years, her family always grew a garden and bottled lots of fruits, vegetables, and meat. She said she was always the one who had to wash the jars because she was the youngest, and her hands were the smallest and could get into the jars. Grandma said: “I want you to know that I did not like that because there was always dirt and dead spiders in them.”
When Grandma was about four, her brother Dudley came home with a clever way to make a stove which some of the school children had taught him. Grandma and her brother were never allowed to play with matches; so they went out of sight to do this experimenting. And, where did they go? Yes, they picked a stack of beautiful newly mown hay as a shelter for their work—the stack only being about thirty feet or so from their big red barn. They set up a few bricks or rocks, then took a rubber hose probably from a car to use for a chimney and ran the chimney up on the wire which bound the prairie hay. After lighting a match, they believed they had an excellent stove – until to their astonishment, the flames went right up the chimney with the smoke; and before they could realize what was taking place, the hay was ablaze. It was summer and her sister Agnes was coming to milk the cows. Grandma and her brother ran, hoping that Agnes would have water in the milk bucket, but to no avail. One of the neighbors, Mr. Weibel, and the rest of Grandma’s family worked until 3:00 am, fighting the fire so it would not start-up again and spread and burn the barn. A chastisement was in order, but Mr. Weibel calmed down Grandma’s father. Of course, Grandma and Dudley were put to bed and told to stay there which was worse punishment than a spanking; the kids would like to have seen the finish of what “they” had started. This was one of many lessons in obedience – DON’T PLAY WITH MATCHES!
Their family owned sheep, pigs, cattle and horses. Grandma and Dudley used to go out in the outhouse at night and sing cowboy songs: Little Joe the Wrangler, Home on the Range, Strawberry Roan, and Red River Valley. Probably all the neighbors could hear them.
When Grandma was 5, she had an accident which she never forgot throughout her life as she carried the scars on her right hand. The family had an old 10 gallon ice cream freezer which her father had tipped over. Grandma’s father told his children never to play with it or they would get hurt. Grandma, her brother Dudley, and a neighbor boy must have gotten the old freezer upright and were trying to grind corn cobs into chicken feed by pushing corn cobs into the iron cogs with their hands. While someone turned the handle, Grandma’s small hand slipped into the cogs and was badly mangled. Grandma had to be taken into Fort Benton to Dr. Kaulback where he cleaned and dressed her hand, and later every day for a week to have it redressed. After a while, Grandma was really worried as he had wrapped two of her fingers together; so she asked her Mother if her fingers were going to grow together. She set her mind at ease and told Grandma that the Doctor had put a splint between her fingers before wrapping them together. Part of the end of her thumb was cut off, her forefinger was nicked and her middle finger was badly mangled. This was her second great lesson on the merits of “obedience.”
Grandma had a riding horse named Dandy with a big scar on his face – they used to say he was an Indian pony. Grandma always rode on the back of the horse and Dudley in the front. Once Dudley was going under the clothesline, so he ducked his head; unfortunately, Grandma didn’t duck, and she quickly plummeted to the ground.
Grandma said that she never knew how poor her family was until they moved to town. There, in town, they had electricity, running water in their home, central heating, and indoor bathrooms. Their first toilet had the pull-chains for flushing. For Grandma, this life seemed like heaven. Living in the country, Grandma was convinced, molded their lives and then they moved to town for polishing. This was the very best of two worlds, Grandma believed.
Grandma was given a little white kitten. One day she was running to the barn and this cat “Snowball” jumped up on her face clawing it until she was pretty bloody. She never asked, but, when she was a little wiser, she was sure that her dad probably got rid of that cat, as she never saw it again. Grandma always had two marks above her lip from that incident.
When Grandma was 12 she was out on the lawn playing ball with her dad when a fellow by the name of Keith Squires came looking for a place to live – he roomed and boarded with Grandma’s family while he was barbering in town. Little did they know that they would eventually marry.
Grandma was a good student and very smart. In high school she took Algebra, geometry, Biology, World History, typing, Shorthand and was in the 4-H Club.
Grandma’s cooking was unmatchable! She loved holidays when the family gathered in her home for memorable meals and time together. Many will remember carving the turkey 2 years before she passed—to find the inside was incredibly GREEN! Every meal she prepared was presented with meticulous perfection. It would be impossible to praise it too much. For example, at age 15 her cooking won a trip to Chicago for her to judge jellies and other foods. She was on the train coming home when they got word that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor – December 7, 1941.
In addition to her unparalleled cooking, Grandma was a talented seamstress. For example, at the age of 16, grandma made a wool dress for the 4-H club for which she won a red ribbon in the national competition, held in Chicago. Her sister, Eleanor, gave her a wine velvet dress to wear to nice affairs like this from which she later made a little dress worn by her daughters and granddaughters.
Grandma was President of her senior class. She took chemistry, more typing, shorthand and bookkeeping. She used these skills later in life as she always kept the books for whatever business dad was in.
Grandma graduated from Fort Benton High School in 1943, receiving an honorary diploma. She worked in the Soil Conservation office and for the County Attorney. These positions earned her enough money to both attend college at Montana State, and buy an upright “Kimball” piano which stayed in the family for years
Grandma moved to Spokane to work, where she met Grandpa who was being treated at the Veterans Hospital. They courted and were married shortly afterwards on November 4, 1945. Mom wore her sister Eleanor’s $100 wedding dress, which would later be worn by two of their daughters and a granddaughter.
Grandma’s children had a parakeet. When it learned to whistle,
Grandma decided that we could teach it to talk also. She taught it to whistle and say, “See the pretty girls”, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” and “Hi, Keith, did you sell a house?”
Grandma, as many of you are well aware of, possessed the brilliant talent of quilting. I think we all have a flannel quilt or two that she made. She also made a purple and lavender one with the applique of a ring of flowers in the center.
Grandpa bought her a 1950 Ford. She was driving down Sprague one day and came to the Pines intersection in Opportunity. Much to her surprise, but luckily not to her misfortune, the steering wheel came off. Fortunately, she ended up in the corner service station with her hands still firmly grasped to the detached steering wheel. She didn’t like that one bit.
She had a great sense of humor too. One time she was taking a trip to visit her family in Montana. The kids were playing a game in the car when Bill said, “Everyone close your eyes.” After driving down the road for a few miles, Grandma asked, “When can I open my eyes?”
Grandma was very talented. She spent many hours making all the drapes in her homes. She bought 200 yards of material to make the drapes in just one of her homes. Grandma also made many clothes for herself, her children, and her mother. She made beautiful dresses for the Gold and Green Balls they had at church. She also made many blankets for the grandkids.
Grandma and Grandpa went on a mission for the church in 1988 to Manchester England, and of course it was a genealogy mission. Her religion became a way of life. She remained firm in the faith, committed to her covenants, and her life was a sermon of what she believed.
Grandma held many church positions including: Primary President, Relief Society President, Relief Society teacher, and visiting teacher. She has spent most of her life doing genealogy and working in the genealogy library. She will have many jewels in her crown for the many, many hours she has spent doing temple work for her deceased ancestors.
Grandma had many experiences, some fun, some happy, some sad, some spiritual, and some very wonderful. These experiences shaped Grandma’s remarkable character and provided her with priceless insights about life.
We will miss the fun times and all the good food at Grandma’s house. She will be greatly missed by her children and grandchildren, her many friends, and all who knew her.
STRAY LEAVES encourages James family members and their in-law families to document their reminiscences and biographies. Submissions for publication can be emailed to the Leaf Blower at firstname.lastname@example.org