Oct. 19, 2012: Grandparents teach generosity through their actions, by Sarah Jenkins

October 19, 2012 by

My grandparents both came from farm families, so when they married in 1917, it was probably no surprise that their first home was on a remote homestead that they envisioned as a cattle ranch.

By the time the pain of the Great Depression reached their corner of Eastern Oregon — not the “Oregon” that is temperate, rainy and green, but the dry, sagebrush-covered rangeland on the other edge of the state — the homestead had indeed grown into a sizeable ranch.

My grandparents, as we used to say, were land rich and cash poor.

That situation was not improved by the Depression spreading across the country. Nor was it improved by the “migrants” from the Dust Bowl states who would sometimes end up at the ranch — 3 miles from anything that even approximated a town and 30 miles from the nearest small city — looking to trade a day’s work for a day’s food.

Some of those men made the trade and moved on.

Others stayed. For a season’s work in the hay harvest. For the roundup. For a year or two. Until they could get back on their feet again. Until times got better.

As a child, I knew a few of those men, and I heard stories about many more of them. My grandfather, in particular, would weave long tales about the two city boys from Topeka or the would-be cowboy who called himself an “Arkie” or a slip of a boy who had walked all the way from what was left of his family’s farm east of Denver.

Despite the harsh realities, oh, what laughter those tales had in them!

What they did not have was pity for the stories’ subjects or any direct mention of my grandparents’ generosity.

And yet, the lesson was strong: Generosity is a given. You share what you have, you lend a helping hand, you reach out to the next person who comes along. But you never, ever let that next person feel like he or she was beholden to you for whatever help you offered.

Through the years, my grandparents lived that message.

These raised three children of their own and then took in several other boys whom they ultimately raised as sons — and if those sons had friends in troubled homes, more than likely the friends would end up living at the ranch as well.

And they took in a granddaughter, too, while my parents struggled through a tumultuous time in their marriage.

I honestly don’t know if they ever made a charitable donation of money in their lives; they probably did. What I do know is that they gave of themselves — of their time, of their home, of their love.

They never said this words, but they were there in every action: Generosity is a given; you share what you have.

By 1987 — almost 15 years after my grandfather died — my grandmother was 91 and she had outlived her three children. That was the year she was named Mother of the Year for Baker, County, Oregon.

She and my grandfather “always had room in their hearts for everyone,” one of the nominations read. “She represents the best of mothers. And her mothering did not stop with her own, but has touched the lives of everyone to whom she has given of herself.”

My grandmother told me later that she was both thrilled and humbled by the honor, and all the kind words spoken that day.

No one was supposed to be watching all those years, I guess, or noticing all those quiet acts of a generous spirit.

And that’s the final lesson:

Generosity is noticed, and encourages others to be more thoughtful and unselfish.

My grandmother died in 1996, just months shy of her 100th birthday. She was still on the ranch where she had lived for nearly 80 years.

But her legacy — and those lessons — remain in all of us who spent time at the ranch. And that’s why I wanted to tell this story: It’s my way to share what I have.

— Sarah Jenkins is a native Oregonian who was a newspaper reporter and then editor for 31 years. She has been communications director for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia since January 2009.




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