Grandma Arlene

Dear grandma,
First off I miss you already. Feels like when we buried grandpa just a few months ago (3 months in fact) and in my head I had dreams of years still with you; but that wasn’t to be.

My grandma Arlene was one amazing woman. She was a farmer’s wife and one could easily argue a farmer herself. She was a hard worker, a traveler, loved her family, and selfless in all that she did. Her life was about helping others and loving everyone along the way. She had the best laugh and would always clap when she got excited; I loved that about her. She gave me some of the best life advice I’ve ever gotten. I actually got to interview her to prepare for my cousin’s wedding that I was officiating. She told me that marriage is 50/50, but sometimes it gets all 60/40 on you, be patient, work hard, love hard, it will right itself.

On a chilly Tuesday morning we laid her to rest next to the love of her life of 77 years, my grandpa Marlin. She went home on February 12th to her love just before Valentine’s Day and his birthday. I said I was a little jealous of the party when my grandpa passed away and made it to heaven, you have no idea how jealous I am to miss this time around. My heart is happy to know that they are home again with one another.

At 97 years my grandma had a great life. She would be the first to tell you that too. Never a complainer she took life in a stride that made things look easy from the outside looking in. She was a poet and writer. I’ve always felt a kindred spirit in her as I (you’re probably not shocked to know) love to write as well. One of my favorite poems that she wrote and I think of often is entitled, “Again?” It’s about all the meals she has cooked in her lifetime, let’s just say it feels very relatable.

When my grandpa Marlin was really sick a few years ago I remember my grandma was holding my hand while I cried thinking of losing grandpa. Grandma Arlene told me, “Brenda it’s ok to be sad. But you have to remember, all you see when you think of us dying is all that we will miss; but all we see is all that we got to stay here and be a part of; and how lucky we are!” And she was right, she had the 60 more years of life experience to back all that up; so I’ll give credit where credit is due. If we could all be so lucky to live a life as full and as fulfilling as my Grandma Arlene.

She was ready, that is one thing that is for sure and I love the grace that dying in that way provided for her and our family. But it’s still hard and I think I’m still going to be sad (because she did say I could be) for a while. Her love still hasn’t gone anywhere and I know it never will, in my measly 38 years I am positive of that.

We had a book put together of all her writings over the years. The ending of the book was read at her burial and I’d like to share it here as well….

A Closing Message from Arlene

Written in 2014 to her children, grandchildren, greats and so on…

This I memorized in high school and has always been a favorite:
“So live, so that when my summons comes to join The innumerable caravan which moves to that mysterious realm where each shall take His chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not, like the quarry slave at night, scourged by his dungeon ; but sustain’d and soothed by an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave like the one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

-William Cullen Bryant, Thanatopsis; To a Waterfowl; A Midsummer Sonnet – Pamphlet

At my age I realize I’ve already said everything I ever wanted to say so from now I’ll just be repeating myself.

This wrinkled face comes from a lifelong love affair with God’s beautiful outdoors, more than my share of laughs along the way and a healthy concern for those I love – not from simply rotting away. The secret to enjoying life on earth is understanding that it ends.  Take this knowledge my dears and live simply, love often and love deeply.  Enjoy the journey.
Some days we feel like our 90 year warranty expired before we did!!!

I love you and miss you Grandma.  Until we meet again…
Love, Brenny

A Goodbye to a Great Man Gone too Soon; Rest In Peace Austin

I don’t talk about our volunteer fire department that we have here in our little town of St. Paul, Oregon very much; but maybe it’s about time. I’ve been a volunteer for the St. Paul Fire District since 2006. This all volunteer district covers mostly rural area and responds to both fire and medical calls. I started as an EMT and then Firefighter I. I have been an active volunteer until 2018 when I took a hiatus from responding to have our third baby. I’m still keeping up my certs, I’m still planning to return to full time volunteering soon. For me it’s a part of my family here in St. Paul, some of my closest friends are those who throw on turn outs next to me when the tones go off. I know we all feel that way.

But today I want to talk about another fireman and friend who I have known his whole life, Austin Smith. Austin was tragically killed in an explosion during a barn fire on February 3rd, 2022. His death was terrible and heartbreaking, and we have no real answers yet as to what exactly occurred in that early morning fire. What we know is that he was taken too soon, plucked by God for reasons we have yet to and may never fully understand.

That Thursday morning I was home getting my kids ready for school, in usual hurried morning fashion, I glanced at my phone, and stopped in my tracks. It was blowing up with texts about a fire. First alarm, second alarm….and on and on…all for a barn fire. Then something about Lifeflight. Then the news of “we did everything we could” and “it’s not good” and “come to the station”.

The words “This doesn’t happen. Not on a barn fire. Not in St. Paul” keep rolling around in my head, still even today as I sit here and write this almost two weeks later. And yet here we are faced with a tragedy that no one expected and no one was prepared for.

We buried Austin, husband, son, brother, uncle and friend to everyone last Saturday in a grand ceremony that was incredible in all the ways it could have been. Incredible turnout of over 5000. Incredible sadness. Incredible speeches that were moving and full of good stories, memories and love. Incredible food, friends, and most importantly incredible beer. You can watch the full ceremony here.

When a man only 30 years old leaves an instant legacy of volunteerism, community service and love for a small town; it is felt by all. It’s moving, and sad all at once; but mostly it was inspiring. That was the theme as we went through the whole week before and even on the day of Saturday; what can we do for this community? How can we help? How can we make a difference for those around us?

Austin, you are so missed; by your family, by your bride, by your friend tribe, by fire family and by our whole community. But I want you to know that what you worked for in your short time here, won’t be lost and it wasn’t for nothing. Your life gave and will continue to give all of us who were honored to know you so much for generations to come.

There were so many moving parts to Austin’s memorial. Many of which I was honored to be a part of. One of the most amazing though was bringing him home with the rest of our department volunteers. Below is a video of just a glimpse of the scenes we saw while driving from Clackamas to St. Paul and then on to the funeral home in Newberg. It was breathtaking the entire way. Cars stopped on the freeway, flags flying, people with hand over hearts and tears in their eyes while we drove on by to bring Austin home.

Austin was so many things to so many people. This small blog can’t do a bit of justice to all the ways that he lived his life; a volunteer, farmer, rodeo member, firefighter, Jaycee; the list goes on and on. Here are just a few news stories that encompass what it was to know Austin, or as Firefighter Reed Godfrey put it during his memorial, “To know Austin was to love Austin.”

Memorial Honors Fallen St. Paul Firefighter
Austin Smith: Ag community mourns loss of farmer, firefighter
The community of St. Paul and the state pays tribute to fallen firefighter Austin Smith

That dark February morning changed our town forever. The explosion, in one split second, could have been enough to drive a wedge between all that we knew and all that we could fear. Instead though after Saturday, seeing our town come together, I think his tragedy and ultimately the legacy of his inspiring life becomes the glue that will now hold us all together while we all keep working to accomplish what Austin would have wanted from all of us, to keep on going.

At the end of the memorial. After so many tears, the last call tones were sent out to Firefighter Smith. I don’t know that I will ever forget that moment and words that will forever be nestled in my heart as we all heal, “Godspeed Austin. We’ve got it from here.”

Grandpa Marlin

When I say “It is with a heavy heart…” I know that many have felt the gravity of what I am about to write. Many have had loved ones who were here for the exact right amount of time for them, and yet, not even close to enough time for those who they left still here. And if I’m being honest, as life goes, “enough time” doesn’t exist for great men like Marlin Hammond.

My grandpa Marlin was quite possibly one of my best friends. I have a heart full of memories, but from the day I told him “I’m 6.” and he responded, “Well Brenny, I’m 66, so that means I’m only twice your age.” I felt a kindred spirit in him. With 60 years between us, my grandpa and I had no problem ever finding something to talk about, something to laugh about, or something to just bullshit over. When I went to visit him just a few months ago my aunt told him Matt and I were there and he said, “Oh good those are my kind of people, farmers.”

My grandpa was in the service where he served in WWII. He was a farmer, the hardest worker you will ever meet (those who knew him know this is the truth), a carpenter, a real estate salesman, a husband of 77 years, a dad, a grandpa, a great grandpa and a great great grandpa.

At 97 I think he lived enough for three lifetimes over. Although with our math together we could never figure out how he got so old since he was only twice my age (such a mystery). He was a traveler and enjoyed trips with my grandma Arlene, many times with other family in tow. I doubt I’ll ever walk in a camper or trailer without thinking of the many adventures we all had with him and grandma. He said words like “pertnear” and “davenport” and was always clean shaven. A gentleman to the end.

Marlin Hammond passed away peacefully on Friday October 22nd. The night before I was there holding his hand, he still had enough grip to let you know he knew you were there, and the hospice nurse told us all that in death people will go when it’s their time, and it’s on their terms. So to hear that within minutes of my Aunt Jo arriving and praying over him, he had passed away, it just all felt like it was right. I find great comfort in that thought; he was ready in all the ways that you can be to move from this earth.

There’s a part of me that is a little jealous of all the folks who I know were there with open arms to welcome him to heaven. I can imagine all the handshakes (because let me tell you Grandpa Marlin’s handshake will go down in history) and all the big hugs. Even as I sit here writing this all down, all I can picture is him with a giant smile on his face, and for that, I’ll forever be thankful.

My grandpa Marlin taught me important life skills like how to get out of a bear trap (hint….it’s say “Please”). He gave me good advice like never put a raspberry on the top of a dessert at a strawberry farmer dinner, or to never underestimate the value of perfection when hanging a picture frame. When farming he always said to let those roots go deep. And maybe most importantly; how to love and laugh your way through a whole lifetime of memories.

He loved his family and as it grew and grew, to well over 70 people. He showed me that you can have a place in your heart for every single one of us that were lucky to call him Grandpa, 5 generations worth.

I’m forever thankful that out kids got to know him and love on him for as long as they did. Hoot loved him for his farming & hunting stories most, and Auggie for all the M&M’s that he would give to him. Millie just loved teasing him and giving him hugs, which he also in turn loved.

Grandpa Marlin you took a big piece of my heart with you when you left this earth, but like I said before, a very good man once taught me how big a heart could be and how much it could stretch. So until we meet again, I’ll stay down here with Grandma Arlene and her giant crew of family to continue making memories, laughing and loving, thankful for one more angel looking out for us.

Tomorrow we will do a send off to one of the greatest men that this world has ever seen. For me, I couldn’t be more grateful that I got to be around for so many years with my wonderful grandpa, who happened to be only twice my age.

Below you will find a link to Grandpa Marlin’s obituary along service information:
Marlin Ellis Hammond

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