Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A death in the Cookie family

Cookie learned this past week of the death of the woman who was a dear family friend, and my mothers very best friend.  This girl in the picture isn't any relation to Cookie, but she is the essence of Ellen Heller. 

Thombeau first used this image one of his blogs and the second I saw it it was love at first sight because it reminded me of Ellen, aka "Granny".

My mother never had a lot of close friends.  People who have been hurt in life as she was are very careful about who they let into their lives.  Ellen was one of the few. 

We lived up the block from Ellen and her daughters in Shaker Heights.  And I can really remember my mother and Ellen interacting until my parents final split up.  It just so happened that Ellen was resolving her marriage and I guess the two of them found common ground in their fights with the men that would be their ex-husbands.

When we moved from one end of Shaker to the other when I was in the fourth grade I road the bus home (before the school was just a walk) only to find Ellen scrubbing the bath tub in our new house. 

Ellen's home wasn't like any other I had ever seen.  It was an old country house, and it looked nothing like the 1950s modern homes that surrounded it.  And it was filled with the most marvelous antiques and stuff.  Around every corner was a wonderful suprise to delight you.  One afternoon we went over and found plaster dust everywhere - Ellen decided that knocking down the wall between two closets and making a hallway out of them was a better use of space.  I adored her for that, and I think my mother envied her for her ability to take risks. 

And the door to the house was always open and unlocked, and the coffee pot was always on.  And the cast of characters that walked through that house all had one thing in common. From iron workers to trucker to artists and teachers and society wives, all were wonderful people.  I don't know anyone, except hermits, who don't dream of having a home filled with these people.  We all want to be the palce where everyone comes, but it rarely happens. Ellen's house was that place. 

Ellen had four daughters, one my age, but they were more tolerant of me than my friends.  And I understand. 

She helped me with my love of architecture and taught me how to draft house plans.  She even gave me her portable maple drafting board.  Ellen also taught me how to look at a slate roof and tell if it was shingled correctly.  Now when I share this with other people, I suppose I see in their faces the same sense of wonderment that I saw. 

If you look at a house with a slate roof, from the gutters to the ridgeline, the the slate facings should become narrower - by sections - as you go up the roof.  This makes the roof seem and look steeper than it is, but it also keeps the slates from looking "blocky".  It's more expensive, but the end result is a roof that looks balanced, and it looks lighter than a slate roof where everything is equal. There, now you know!

Eventually, we decided to leave Shaker for central Ohio - to get away from my father and all of his bullshit, and Ellen, along with her new husband, decided to relocate to the north woods of the upper midwest. 

One day, about a month before our house was to go on the market, Ellen called us and asked Mom to go over to her house and pull up the marijuana plants that someone had planted.  Evidently a Realtor had said something and they needed to go as they were scaring off serious offers. 

So my mother and I drove to the house on the hill with out shovel and garbage bags, and my straight laced mother found the plants, and found that they had a nice shape. They reminded her of a dracaena, and since this was the house plant happy 1970s, she scooped them up, took them home and plunked the smallest one into the terrarium, and put the others in large ceramic pots.  One of the pots was placed over a former pet stain clean up gone awry. 

I was TERRIFIED that we were going to be arrested - the fears of a child and all.   When our Realtor came through the house she loved them and said that they were a "kicky addition" that "mellowed the vibe".  The couple that bought our house wanted the plants as part of the deal, but my mother turned that down.  Instead she took them to my ultra upright Uncle to destroy.  "If they want that wacky weed, they'll have to find their own," said mother. 

It wasn't until years later that I asked my mother why she snagged those plants when she did. 

"Well, they had a nice shape.  And I figured that "Granny" would have decorated with them. So I did."

And when we moved into our new house in Marion, I noticed that some funky and fun things started showing up - an homage of sorts to her friend near Lake Superior.  But never any pot plants.  That was a one time thing. 

But this picture is Ellen in spades. The big sunglasses. The hair band.  The funky earrings. The freckly complexion.

Ellen is survived by her four daughters and her grandchildren.  I will miss her, but will hold her in my heart. 



  1. Wow, just wow.

    I am sorry for your loss, but glad you gained so much by her warm friendship to you, and your mom.

  2. such beautiful memories!
    God bless her.

  3. My sympathies.
    I don't think I can take another passing right now, but I try to focus on the wonderful memories that I keep close.

  4. The ladies who raise us, make us what we are. Hard to lose them, but we have what they passed on...

  5. She sounds wonderful! I am so sorry for our loss Cookie.