Posted by: christinelaennec | June 16, 2011

Thinking of my Granny

Today is my Granny’s birthday, although she’s no longer “on this earthly plane” for me to celebrate with her.  However, I presume they have wireless internet access in Heaven.  My maternal grandparents were very important people to me growing up.  They were unconditionally loving (although Granny could be strict), and they made any kind of work they were doing seem like fun.

My Granny – Amy – was born in a small mining town in Shasta County, Northern California in 1903.  She used to tell me, “I was born near the Afterthought Mine, in Ingot”.   She was the middle child of three and her parents ran a teamster stop, the Flintlock Inn.  This was where the stagecoach drivers (the “teamsters” because they drove the teams of horses) would stop overnight on their way between the Sacramento Valley in California and the towns in Oregon on the other side of the mountains.  (You can see more photos of this time and place here.)

Here is a snapshot of Amy at 14 years of age:

Amy Emma Ripley Diddy with her pet rooster, age 14. At the Flintlock Inn, Ingot, Northern California, 1917.

Not long after this photo was taken, Amy’s world was turned upside down because her mother, my great-granny May, divorced and moved herself and the three children to Sacramento.  I think the disgrace of divorce affected Amy hugely because she was always concerned to do the right thing socially.  However, the move brought my grandfather into her life.  She married Ethan Papineau in July 1921, a few weeks after her 18th birthday:

Amy Diddy and Ethan Papineau's wedding photo. July 2nd 1921, Sly Park, near Placerville, Northern California. Ethan is on the far left, and Amy is next to him in her tartan wedding dress (though she would have said "plaid").

My grandparents had a very loving marriage, and being with them gave us a great sense of security and love as well.  As I’ve said, they had a good sense of fun:

Granny playing tag with me, ca. 1966.

My Granny suffered from various ailments during her life.  When she was 28, she actually died on the operating table, but was revived.  She remembered hearing my Grampa’s voice pleading with her to come back and help him raise the children.  When I knew her, I was aware that she couldn’t eat certain things and that she had to have a rest-time every day (among other things she suffered from fibromyalgia) – but these things never seemed to stop her being an energetic and productive person.  Nonetheless, I used to I worry terribly about my grandparents’ deaths.  I used to ask Granny, “What will I do when you die?”  To her enormous credit, she never once put off this anguished question.  She would give me the same answer every single time:  “You won’t need to be sad for me, because I’ll be in a beautiful place and I won’t have any more pain.  So you can know that I’m happy, and you can be happy for me.”  As I grew older I no longer needed to ask her my fearful question, because I already knew what the answer would be.

Here are my grandparents when I was 16, in front of our house in Portland:

Ethan and Amy Papineau, my grandparents. Portland, Oregon, spring 1977. My Granny was a very Me-Made woman: her dress and cardigan are almost certainly made by her own hands.

One of Granny’s many sayings was “don’t trouble trouble ’til trouble troubles you”.  I think we heard this from her so often because she was one of the world’s great worriers.  When I left to live and study in France in my late teens, Granny was very concerned about me being overseas.  She later told me that she’d lit a candle every night that I was gone (the better part of two years the first time) and had prayed for my safety.  Who is to say that her prayers didn’t protect me?

All throughout my childhood, Granny typed a letter to our family every week.  After I left home, I received many letters from her (which I’m glad to say I answered).  I still have a few of her letters, and I very, very much wish that I had more of them.  They were usually full of family news, health reports, and tallies of all the canning, preserving, baking, sewing and knitting she’d done that week.  But the fundamental message of her letters was always her love for me and all of our family.  I’ve written here about the wonderful surprise I had when, years after her death, I received another message of love from her.

I was 23 the last time I saw her.  I didn’t realise how close to the end she was, but she must have known, because she wept when we said goodbye.  I still miss her and Grampa – keenly at times – but I feel sure that their spirits are near me and that their love still surrounds me.  Happy Birthday, Granny!



  1. Hi Christine,

    You expressed that so beautifully, Happy Birthday indeed to your granny. You can see by the first photo that she had a sense of humour, that little smile there. I never tire of hearing of our older generation, my goodness didn’t they know how to work! They saw fun in the little things, a skill that I think is on it’s way out but with it all fresh in your memory you can in turn pass it on to your grandchildren.
    Thank you for sharing your granny Amy with us, she was a gem for sure.

  2. What a lovely memoir. thank you. I’m nearly 60, my grands are long dead but I still think of them often and how special they were in my life. And now I’m a granny myself and worry about whether I’ll be a good one and if he/they will love me and will I be fun….and on and on! LOL OH well!

  3. What a great story, ‘happy birthday to your granny’, and how lovely to have a photo of her when she was in her teens. Some ‘Oma’s’ (german for granny) are irreplaceable x

  4. Such a lovely story, thanks for sharing Christine, have a nice evening with cake and tea…
    Erna x

  5. A heartfelt tribute, Christine. My own maternal grandparents are still sorely missed, along with their unconditional love.

    Your Granny must have been a sweet soul, and no doubt she is looking out for you.

  6. This is a beautiful story. I just love learning about how people spend their lives, and the photos provide a window into your grandmother’s world.

  7. what a beautiful tribute to your grandparents, especially your granny. people’s stories are so important and i enjoyed reading the history of your gran. it’s amazing how we all lead such different lives and yet are so woven together. i hope you were able to remember your granny today in a special way … thanks for sharing her with us.

  8. such wonderful love between you and your granny….i have that too with my grandma…we are still very close. thanks for sharing her story. enjoy celebrating her life today.

  9. Hi Christinne

    I read your beautiful tribute and then as I have never read your blog before I read “about” you. I saw your photo and instantly spotted that Amy lives in you.


  10. Vicki – yes, she was a gem and you’re so right about that generation’s capacity for work. They also had a great capacity for relaxing and having fun, which I think we’ve really lost a talent for, despite all our leisure possibilities. How many of us just sit outside, look at the stars and talk to one another on a regular basis?

    Suze – I’m amazed that you could ever doubt that you’re a fab granny. The thing I remember about my grandparents (and maybe you do about yours as well) is that they certainly didn’t focus on entertaining me most of the time – they just included me, involved me, and let me know I was loved.

    Knitsister – yes I am very fortunate to have some of these early photographs. And yes, irreplaceable is the right word. (And that goes for every single one of us.)

    Erna – how did you know that I did happen to make a cake on Thursday?! I hadn’t intended it as a birthday cake for Amy, but why not?

    Martin – I’ve really enjoyed reading about your grandparents and family on your blog, and seeing your own beautiful photographs from the past. I do like to think that our loved ones who have gone on, are looking after us.

    Lovely World – I’m so glad you enjoyed this “window” into Amy’s life. I do treasure the photographs I have.

    ajb – I’m so glad you enjoyed this post. You’re absolutely right how our lives are woven together. The more I work on my family tree the more I realise we are part of one big interconnecting web.

    Lisa Q – Oh lucky you to still have your Grandma there with you in person. Enjoy every minute!

    Lorna – Welcome to my humble blog! I’m so glad you liked my post about Amy. I’d never seen much resemblance but I would love to think she does live on in me, especially character-wise. (Another one of her sayings, especially as we girls became more interested in our appearance as we grew older, was: “Beauty is as beauty does.” As time goes on I realise the deep truth of that saying!)

  11. I just adore all these old photos…how fantastic to have such great ones. I could look at old photos for ages, they speak volumes! And how nice for you to have such letters too…I only have a few cards and letters from my Grannies because, hey, I never went anywhere!

    • Dear Returning Scot,
      Well I never thought of it that way – if I’d lived right next to her, I’d never have received many letters at all. Yes, I love looking at old photos. The Age of Uncertainty blog is great for that ( – he rescues Victorian photo albums and posts some of the photographs on his blog. And it’s just such a delight to be able to share these photos and stories with other people who enjoy them.

  12. What a wonderful tribute to a loving grandmother. I grew up just down the road from my gammie, but she was a tough woman without much room for love and affection. Of course, I always wonder about her story: how she came to be so tough is probably very interesting although she kept her story secret.

    • Thanks, Sigrid – I know some grandparents aren’t able to be so loving as mine were. Yes, there must have been some reason why your gammie had to be so tough, and particularly why she felt she had to keep the reason secret. Sad!

  13. She sounds a lot like my own Granny!
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories of such a special woman.
    I just love the “plaid” wedding dress 🙂

    • Hi suzy – how good that your Granny was loving! Yes, I really like her dress too. No doubt she made it herself.

  14. What a beautiful story, Christine. I never knew my grandparents. My father’s parents died long before I was born. (I’m the youngest child of the youngest child of 7) My mother’s parents died when I was very small. Consequently, I “adopted” grandparent figures throughout my life. Perhaps, that’s the reason also that I enjoy being Grandmom to my grandchildren…I want them to have those beautiful memories.

    I loved the tartan wedding dress. When we married, Jim ordered the Campbell kilt ensemble from Scotland, I would love to have ordered this one: but it was a weeee bit more than I wanted to spend. Sometimes, I wish I had ordered it! 😉

  15. Dianne, I’m glad you liked this post. It’s interesting that you’ve “adopted” grandparent figures in your life. I’m sure they got as much out of the relationship as you did. I bet you relish your grandchildren!

    I’d never heard of silk tartans before this – Bearsden, eh? Very posh part of Glasgow (I hear)! I saw you wearing a gorgeous tartan sash on your blog that looked just as good to me.

    • I do relish my grandchildren indeed. Thanks, Christine. Actually, my maiden name and tartan is McGregor! Jim is a Campbell. So, of course, you know about those two ancient warring clans! That’s why we went with a wedding complete with bagpipes, kilt, and tartans! 😉

      • Oh that is funny! I’m glad the Campbells and McGregors have made up at last.

  16. A lovely post. You were very lucky to know such a wonderful grandmother for so many years. (I only knew one of my grandmothers and she was a thoroughly nasty individual!)

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • Dear Steerforth,
      I’m so glad you liked it – your praise means a lot to me, given the high quality of your own blog posts! Yes, I was lucky.

  17. I have a lump in my throat. This is a wonderful post full of such loving memories. I love all the photos and the memories you have of your grandparents. It makes me think of mine and how fortunate I was to have them. Although they died before I became a teenager, they had a big impact on my life and it’s so nice to remember them regularly, as you remember yours.

    • I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed these memories and photos, Lorna. Sometimes it seems very self-indulgent to put these things on the web but I want to share my admiration of them and my gratitude for all the love they gave me. And if it sparks off memories for other people, that’s really nice too.

      It seems strange to me that as I get older I think of my grandparents more rather than less often. I’m not sure why this is but I do think that having faced various life and family challenges over the years I appreciate their wisdom and integrity more than I was able to when I was younger.

      • I’m very interested to read your thoughts on that Christine, because I’ve sometimes wondered why it is that I also think of my grandparents more than I used to. It has crossed my mind that they had lived long lives and been through many things, and perhaps I only have an understanding of that now that I have more experience of life, too. I think it’s lovely when you’re able to share these things on a blog, because a lot of people can identify with it.

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