Tag Archives: great grandmother

Tie Yourself Down

steam-engineA hundred years ago, there was a legendary “tie yourself down” stretch of railroad along Beaver Canyon, one of the places my great grandmother, Sophia, worked as a cook for the railroad crews laying track. The road was so rough, several men were stationed there with the sole purpose of cleaning up the box cars that weren’t tied down and therefore tipped over and smashed on the rocks below. “Tie yourself down,” meaning prepare for a rough ride, is a phrase I whispered, to give myself courage, long before I knew the term probably originated with my family’s railroad background.

Stories are so powerful we don’t have to remember how or when we heard them only that they work. In this case, the family mantra for courage was just there, often repeated, not explained, until I asked.

What’s your “tie yourself down” story?


Filed under Family Stories, History, Personal Narrative, Story Motif, Why Stories?

Hate Mother’s Day Platitudes?

My great grandmother, Sophia Nielsen, is the undisputed matriarch of our family. She started in a log cabin and ended owning a 40,000 acre ranch. She worked hard and fought harder. Our favorite story is about how she brought a railroad to a stop–not just one train, a whole railroad because they owed her money. That makes her sound hard, but, in fact, she lived long and became greatly beloved, called “grandma” by everyone. It is said that a letter, mailed in Germany in the 1950s,  addressed only to “Grandma Nielsen, The Big Ranch, Idaho Falls USA” got delivered.

lauralindaAh, yes, but it’s Mother’s Day.

So I have to ask, what would my great grandmother Sophia say was the most difficult part of her life—stopping a railroad, building a ranch, or raising a family? Obviously, I can’t speak for her, but consider the following: 

  • Her first child was born premature because she’d contracted typhoid fever, which caused her to go into early labor. 
  • When a sister-in-law died, she adopted the baby that was left behind. The baby, a girl, died three months later.
  • She raised five children by herself, as a widow of the 1918 flu pandemic, and buried a grandchild the same week she buried her husband.
  • After age sixty, she assumed primary responsibility for two children that she raised as a single grandparent.

 The way I see it, stopping trains takes grit, building a ranch requires more than a little ambition, but raising a family will tear your heart out.


Filed under Family Stories, Life Story, Mother's Day, Uncategorized

No One Remembers Her Need

I know a family who handles hard times by referring to them as memories. “We’ve just made a memory,” they’ll say in the face of some new setback. Good strategy. No matter how bad it gets, they’re always richer in memories. 

Cars and Ranches Come and Go

Cars and Ranches Come and Go

In the 1920s, when she was in her 80s, my great grandmother, Sophia, decided automobiles were part of the modern world. A person had to drive to stay in the driver’s seat. With that in mind, she talked her youngest son, my grandfather, into giving her a driving lesson—one of the most talked about events in our family. Sophia, I’m told, was never a woman given to compromise. She was strictly all or nothing. In short, she drove with the same steely stubbornness with which she’d built the family ranch from scratch.  

Full gas. Full brake. Hard right. Hard left. 

 She scared the life out of every man, woman, child and rooster that happened to be around that day. No one has forgotten that morning, even those, like me, who only know it second-hand. Sophia never learned to drive. Supposedly that morning was the moment she knew she was old. Before that, she’d never met a challenge she couldn’t match. However, if she was old, she wasn’t defeated. Instead of driving cars, she bought cars. She bought cars for kids, grandkids, even some of the hired help—anyone she thought she might need to drive her someplace. What they remember is not her need, but her generosity. 

Those of us with less goods, don’t have to be less generous. Ranches, like hard times, come and go. Stories stick. If you have a story, you have something to share. If you have more than one story, you’re rich. If you tell your stories with a largeness of spirit, the world will sit at your knee.


Filed under Family Stories, Funny story, Uncategorized