As ashes scattered, siblings reconnect

Before our mom died early in 2008 at age 94, she was very precise about what she wanted done with her earthly remains.

"I want to be cremated and I want to be taken just as close as possible to Cherry Springs where I was born and then scattered to the four winds," she said in a comment recorded for posterity.

Her wish was fulfilled a week ago today on a grassy mountain overlooking Entiat, Wash. Her five children tearfully scattered her ashes on the very site of the long-gone ranch house where she was born in 1913.

Gladys Clara Cooke Fattig has come full circle.

Many of us in the Baby Boomer generation are experiencing the sad rite of passage of our parents' deaths. It is also a sobering reminder of our mortality.

In my family's case, mom was one of those rare good-hearted folks who went through life with a child-like yet wise innocence.

A word of warning: the following does contain a bit of family lineage to put things into perspective. But we'll keep it brief, despite the fact our ancestors reproduced like rabbits on Viagra.

After mom's parents lost the ranch during the Great Depression, she moved with them to Southern Oregon, where she met the Ashland native who would become our father. Both were middle-aged and had been previously married.

They made up for lost time by producing five children in 31/2 years. First to arrive was our elder brother, Jim, followed a little over two years later by twins Charles and Delores. My twin, George, and I were born some 14 months later in 1951 to complete the production line that would have been the envy of Henry Ford.

Mom never remarried after our dad died of cancer early in 1961. Upon her death in Eureka, Calif., she was cremated as per her wishes.

But spreading her ashes was a bit more challenging. Political and philosophical differences have strained sibling relations in recent years, thanks largely to my bullheadedness. And we are scattered around the country.

However, a Cooke family reunion in central Washington last weekend proved serendipitous. Jim and his wife, Mary, came from Northern California, Charles from the Olympia area, Delores from Grants Pass and George from Maine.

Jim and Mary's daughter Sandy and her husband, Clyde, along with their two children, Elizabeth and Daniel, were also there from Boise.

Work precluded us from attending the reunion but my wife, Maureen, and I, along with daughter Amy, joined up with the other siblings in Entiat in time to scatter the ashes.

The problem was that no one knew the precise location of Cherry Springs. Enter cousin Floyd Ingersoll, 79, and his wife, Barbara, of Entiat. The wonderful couple took us to the exact location.

Cherry Springs is a pretty spot in a grove of quaking aspen surrounded by wildflowers and green grass. Although the homestead is gone, a patch of domestic irises planted by our ancestors mark the spot. There are also remnants of a heavy, metal cook stove used to rustle up some grub.

Our maternal ancestors arrived in the West by way of the Oregon Trail early in the 1850s, first settling in the Salem area. In fact, E.N. Cooke, our great, great uncle, was elected Oregon treasurer in 1862 and re-elected in 1866, serving until 1870. I threw that in for bragging rights.

For reasons long forgotten, other family members got a wild hair and left the plush Willamette Valley for the remote and rugged Columbia River drainage in central Washington.

The Cherry Springs homestead had been settled by Edgar and Clara Albertine Gordon Ingersoll, our maternal great grandparents. It was there that our grandparents, E.N. Cooke, a nephew of the former state treasurer, and Lela Ingersoll Cooke, arrived in October of 1913. Our grandmother was heavy with child.

As we stood on the mountain, I thought about how faint our mom's cry would have been when she was born. After all, she was born premature, weighing in at less than four pounds. Her first baby bed was a shoe box. A bout with scarlet fever as a small child also left her extremely hard of hearing. Yet she would outlive her five brothers.

Each sibling stepped forward to scatter her ashes near the irises. When George's turn came, the wind abruptly changed direction. Instead of being upwind, I was suddenly downwind as mom briefly swirled around me. I could almost hear her infectious laughter.

But there was little laughter on the mountain that day. No eyes were dry when the Ingersolls began softly singing, "Walk with me, Oh my Lord."

Afterward, as we prepared to leave, Charles remarked it would likely be the last time all of the siblings would be together. Sadly, his assessment is probably spot on. We are all getting a bit long of tooth.

Yet the experience was the healing closure we all needed, one our wise mom no doubt foresaw.

Her circle of life has been completed.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or at

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