Grant Keltner

My Grandmother

“My Grandmother” By Grant Keltner

My mother’s mother, my grandmother known as Jerry Furio, was the rock in our family. She is a woman that I admire very much to this day. Coming from a broken home (my parents divorced when I was five), my grandmother looked after me and helped my mother in raise me. My grandmother’s door was always open to her children and grandchildren. My mother had her hands full when I was a child, working full-time. My grandmother often watched after me when she was working.

My grandma lived in Vancouver, Washington near Lincoln Grade School. The home was a large brick ranch that sat on a nice sized corner lot. It had three bedrooms, a couple of bathrooms, and two big fireplaces. It had a huge basement and a nice yard. It was a great place to find comfort and love. Her cats Herkimer and Ralph kept me company most of the time. I could always find something to do at her house. My grandmother loved me very much. I was so glad to have her in my life. She helped so many people throughout her life. My grandmother was active as a child. She played the saxophone, piano, and sang in the church choir.

She was born in Wakoma, Iowa in 1907. My grandmother came from a broken family as well. They lived in a huge three-story home just out of town. She lived with her mother (my great grandmother) on a large forty acre farm. My grandmother’s mother was a tough woman. She didn’t spend much time raising her three children. She was more concerned about men and according to my mother, she spent a good deal of her time chasing after them. She neglected my grandmother as a child. It must have been a difficult childhood for my grandmother. She was religious, involved with music at a young age, and loved sports and animals.

Luckily, she had the love of her grandmother (my great, great grandmother Harris), a strong willed woman that watched after her. My grandmother didn’t receive much love from her mother, so she would spend most of her free time with her grandmother as a child. My great, great grandmother Harris watched after my grandmother, realizing that she needed a more secure home life.

My great, great grandmother Harris decided around 1921 to move to San Diego, California. My grandmother moved back to California with her, escaping the neglect she faced from her mother in Iowa. My grandmother’s mother couldn’t have cared less what my grandmother did. My grandmother attended the local grade school in San Diego and helped her grandmother with chores. She fed my grandmother’s Saint Bernard, took care of her cats, practiced her music, and studied the bible.

Around 1923, my great great grandmother Harris decided to move to Vancouver, Washington. They bought a home off of Main Street in downtown Vancouver. It was a nice home. My grandmother attended Fort Vancouver High School where she practiced her music. She became very talented and played the saxophone in her high school orchestra and the piano at her church.

Around the winter of 1923, my grandmother was walking up around the officer’s row area of Fort Vancouver. Many enlisted men were stationed at Fort Vancouver awaiting deployment during this time. Well, on this particular night she was walking up near the Grant House. She could hear somebody blowing a bugle. It was my grandfather playing taps for his company. My grandmother walked up to him that night. “You play the bugle beautifully!” replied my grandmother. One thing led to another and he fell in love with my grandmother. They soon dated. My great great grandmother Harris always kept a watchful eye on them. My grandfather married my grandmother when she was nineteen. They bought a small home in downtown Vancouver. My grandmother had the love of her grandmother and she helped them get started with their lives.

She soon gave birth to her first child, Shirley Anne Furio, my mother. She was born on April 18th., 1932. A few years later my aunt Mary Delores Furio was born. My grandmother loved her children very much. She watched after them and encouraged them to be involved with school and community and to be independent. A few years later she gave birth to her third daughter, Antoinette.

My grandmother played in an all-girls jazz band from 1920 up until the late 1920’s. They barnstormed through the northwest. They played in Spokane, Yakima, Olympia, Portland and other towns. There must have been close to twenty-five girls in the band. They had saxophone players, trumpet players, and drummers. Crowds would flock to hear the girls play. They played in dance halls, train stations, and school gymnasiums. They were very popular and it kept her busy.

As I said, my grandmother loved sports. She was a huge New York Yankee fan, loved the Oakland Raiders, followed the Portland Trailblazers, and cherished hockey (she had two season tickets for the Portland Buckaroos. She had season tickets to the Portland Beavers baseball team when she was younger, saw Joe DiMaggio play for the San Francisco Seals before he made it big with the New York Yankees, and saw Lou Gehrig play exhibition baseball games in Portland. The Yankees use to play the Beavers at the old Vaughn Street Stadium in northwest Portland once every summer back in the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s.

I remember watching sports with her. We watched Joe Namath win the Super Bowl with the New York Jets in 1969 and the Portland Trailblazers win the world championship in 1977. I watched many World Series on her big R.C.A. color television in the basement. We even watched Portland wrestling on Saturday nights.

During the depression, she helped pass legislation for the first hot lunch program for grade schools in the state of Washington. She lobbied because several children had hardly enough to eat during the day. My grandmother and a group of other concerned citizens sat on the capitol steps in Olympia, Washington for several months. They were finally allowed to address the Washington state legislature. The state of Washington implemented the hot lunch program during the 1930’s. My grandmother was one of the leading pioneers with this program.

My grandmother and grandfather were involved with many local charity organizations in Vancouver. One was the local P.T.A. My grandmother raised her children, became the Music Director of her church, and sat on the board of her local community center. She was involved with The Daughters of the American Revolution and did work with the American Cancer Society.

She was very devoted to her family and close to her relatives. Many of her relatives had pioneered and settled in the state of Washington around 1880 and 1890.  They had farms and homes in Vancouver, Battleground, La Center and Woodland, Washington. As a kid, I can remember her door always being open. The house was always full of people from her church groups, political organizations that she belonged to, and several musician friends. It was great to see so much love and kindness.

She spent hours working in her yard. She had perennials, huge rhododendrons, and Japanese maples planted in her yard along with several rose bushes. Her roses won local awards at the Clark County Fair. She had hanging baskets that covered her backyard. I use to water them each and every night during the summer months. They were beautiful.

She was always baking something. The kitchen always smelled so good. She’d bake cookies, pies, and chicken, and she’d make waffles and pancakes. Nobody ever left her home hungry.

My grandmother had an upright piano in the 1920’s and she would sit in the basement playing for hours. She also had an organ in her dining room. She’d practice playing music for her church services each Sunday. She was always playing the piano and would play taps in the morning to get me up.

My grandfather worked hard. He had the largest janitorial service in southwest Washington during the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. His business grew through the years. He bought seven or eight commercial buildings in downtown Vancouver along with a small farm out near Dollars Corner, out near Lewisville Park. He loved his family, he loved his children. My grandmother stood by his side.

During the 1950’s, my grandmother was voted “Mother of the Year” twice for the state of Washington. She won her awards in 1954 and 1957. She was given the award because of her involvement with the community and parenting. It was a special award and she received local recognition from the Columbian newspaper and the Oregonian newspaper. Articles were written about her.

My grandmother was very kind; she loved people and always tried to help those less fortunate than her. The home on West Lavina was located off the bluff of the west hills of Vancouver, not too far away from Lake Vancouver and the local train yards.

I can remember homeless men down on their luck, walking up some of the trails along the bluffs that led to the neighborhood my grandmother lived in. They would knock on her back door to ask if she needed a hand with yard work or something repaired. They were drifting through Vancouver, hitching rides on the trains that rolled through the local train yards. “Please ma’am, could you find it in the kindness of your heart to help me out with some work for a day or so in exchange for some lunch or dinner?”

My grandmother would find yard work that needed to be done and wrap them up a lunch. They’d finish their chores and then drift back down to the train yards waiting to jump on the next train bound for Seattle.

She had a pet crow named Pete that used to fly in her yard during the summer months. His nest was in a nearby tree next to her backyard. He would come and chat with her almost every day as she hung out her laundry. She left out bird seed and tiny scraps of food for him. He visited her for almost seven or eight years.

My grandmother loved to visit her relatives and friends. Many of them lived close to her. It was always a ritual. She would take me with her as a kid, kind of showing me off to her friends. I would always get embarrassed and I’d hide behind her. It was fun.

My grandfather died in 1968 of brain cancer. It was hard on the entire family. He was 64 at the time. My grandmother had been the rock in our family. She was a housewife and had never considered running my grandfather’s business. Within a few months, she was running the business in her early sixties. She hired a manager to run the company and she ran the business for close to ten years. She learned a lot about business and worked very hard running it. She had close to twenty employees to manage and she was still involved with church and other charitable organizations.

I loved watching the sunsets that illuminated the skies while looking out my grandmother’s dining room and kitchen that faced to the west hills of Portland towards the coast range. I spent several nights lying on her lawn watching the brilliant colors of orange illuminate the skies. Geese migrating to Canada would honk overhead, flying into Lake Vancouver.

People always knew who my grandmother was. I was amazed by the way they would go out of their way to make sure they said “Hello”. It was so much fun. She was always a positive woman, looking after others, dropping by with a pie to take to someone not feeling well, or visiting a sick friend in the hospital.

She enjoyed traveling in and around Washington and Oregon. She loved to take day drives to Cannon Beach or Long Beach. We’d stop at Moe’s in Lincoln City to grab a bowl of chowder. She’d take me up to Cougar Reservoir to watch the salmon spawn. We once heard a mountain lion roar not too far away from our picnic table.

When I was little, say three or four years old, she took me to the local train yards and we watched the trains. I fell in love with the locomotives and pony engines and absolutely loved the big roundhouse in the local yards. At night, off in the distance, you could always hear the trains. You could hear the gears grinding, steam engines sounding their whistles, and the box cars slamming into other box cars. I had a real love for trains as a kid.

There were fields located not too far away from her house, just a couple blocks to the west. Orchards were along the bluffs going down towards Lake Vancouver. We use to play in the orchards as kids, riding our bikes in the summer and sledding down the hills during the winter. Burnt Bridge Creek was to the north about eight or nine blocks from her house. The creek flowed into a huge reservoir. As kids we would go fishing for trout or bass. It was great fun.

I first caught wind of the embezzlement with my grandfather’s estate back in around 1979. I didn’t realize everything that transpired. I can remember my mother and aunts being called in to talk with lawyers and bank executives. It went on for months. I listened and found out that when my grandfather died in 1968, he left his estate to be handled by his lawyer and with the executives of Seattle First Bank. My grandmother was a trusting woman. She trusted the attorney left in charge to handle the estate. The lawyer told my grandmother that she should sell off most of the commercial buildings. This was around 1977. This lawyer told my grandmother that the buildings should be sold for tax purposes. She was told that if she sold them she wouldn’t be hit so hard financially. Many of the properties were sold at huge discounts. Trusting the lawyer, she gradually sold almost all of the commercial properties, along with most of the homes.

What my grandmother didn’t realize at the time was that the lawyer was selling the homes and commercial properties to executives of Seattle First. It seemed as though they lied to my grandmother about the properties. She held onto one or two commercial buildings up until she passed away in 1983.

A year or two after she died my mother and her sisters hired an attorney to file a lawsuit against Seattle First. Due to the statute of limitations, we were told we didn’t have much of a chance to win the case. We dropped the proceedings and moved on. It was a sad moment for my mother’s family.

My grandmother first found the lump on her breast in 1979. She was diagnosed with cancer. She went through therapy for the cancer in 1980 and then had both breasts removed. It was really sad to watch. I cried at night, praying for her. She battled the cancer with dignity. I can remember how hard she fought to overcome her illness. The last few years she was alive, she spent time with her family and friends. She loved them dearly. I remember the day before she died. I went and visited her that night and you could tell she was fading fast. The cancer had taken over. Her skin was turning yellow; her hair was falling out. I held her hand and tried not to cry. “I love you Grant. You’ve been a fine grandson. I want you to know I’ll see you again”. I left her room and headed down the dark hospital hallway. She died the next day. She was 83. I was around twenty-six at the time. I loved her so much.

I remember what the house was like after she died, dark and lonely. My mother and her sisters decided to sell her home. We sold it about six months after she died. I walked through the house and remembered the times shared with her. I sat in her bedroom, looking out at the cold winter sky. I missed her so much.

She’s buried east of Vancouver, off of Mill Plain with my grandfather and my aunt Mary, who passed away in 2001. I take flowers to the grave every couple of months. My mother goes with me and makes sure the flowers are arranged just right. I always say “hello” to my grandmother, grandfather, and aunt when I place flowers at the gravesite. My mother misses her mother very much, so does all of the family.

I drive by my grandmother’s house from time to time. It’s not the same. It needs work and the house is in need of repair. My father use to eat meals in the dining room with my grandmother. My Aunt Mary use to chase me in the living room and my Aunt Tony Jo taught me how to do the twist in the basement. My grandfather use to work on the workbench in the garage. Most of them are gone now, long since passed on. I remember the laughter, the love. I often have dreams about the home and about my grandmother. I miss her very much.

Leave a Reply