Goodbye Grandma, I'll miss you
Alta loved living in the openness of Leedy, Oklahoma. She often recounted times spent running barefoot through the red dirt, feeling the hotness of it beneath her feet. She had much room to run and explore over the family's many homestead acres. She recounted fondly happy times spent riding horseback with her brother Bob and cousin Leon on a horse named Pearl. They all piled on the poor horse, it's a very good thing they were all small at the time.
Alta recounted the perils of being chased by a mother copperhead when she ventured too near her nest, going to the Nazarene Church in Leedy, the Red Star cemetery where all the family is buried, having a treat at the General store, what sitting out a tornado in a shelter feels like and what it's like to pick cotton (and she made it very well known that she didn't like it). She described coming home in the evening brown, bruised, dirty, and very tired, but about as happy as one person could be. When Alta was a sophomore in High School, her family moved to Florence, Oregon. Some of the family had already preceded them because there was work available in the area. The family built homes in a small circle (what would now be called a cul-de-sac) on N. Loftus Rd. in Florence. Alta felt a bit alien at first. She felt like she had moved to a foreign country and wanted to go home. She had an accent and it made her so different from the others at her high school. It was cold and damp in Florence, everything felt so different. But even though Alta would always say she was shy, and even though she felt nervous about meeting new people, because of her openness, honesty and kindness she had a way of making friends, and she soon fit in and was doing quite well. She graduated from Siuslaw High School in 1956.
Alta married Gary Lee Morris Wilburn Sr. in December 1957. Their daughter Debbi soon followed and a year later came their second daughter, Tammy. Lee was in the Navy, and Alta tried to make a home for the new family at the naval bases. Alta's sister Tina recalls a time spent helping her older sister when they lived on the Navy base at Coronado Island. Alta and another Navy wife, (later to become her lifelong friend Pat) were both pregnant at the time and were craving canned Chinese food. It was a warm day and the smell of the Chinese food was getting to the two pregnant women. They asked Tina to shut the doors leading to the area they were in, leaving Tina to deal with the smell of the canned Chinese food, they got a bit of a laugh when it was ultimately the young Tina that got sick, not the two pregnant women. Alta recounted this story of God sending someone to help her in her time of need. She told this story to her daughter several times when they discussed God and how they knew in simple terms that God existed, that he cared for us and what happened to us:
"My father was stationed in Chicago. We were moving there to be with him. He was supposed to meet us at the airport but something went wrong. It turned out at the last minute he was sent somewhere on orders and there was nothing he could do about it. No one was there to meet us and mom was so young and naive, from a very small town, and absolutely lost. She was standing outside, with a small baby, and didn't know what to do. It was very cold. She hadn't prepared us for the cold weather because she didn't know how cold it was. I just had something like a light sweater on and someone went by and made a nasty remark about how "some people take care of their babies." Mom felt so terrible - they didn't stop to notice that she didn't have but the lightest weight clothes on herself and was freezing. She was so scared and was crying, not knowing what would happen next because she didn't know where my dad was and didn't know a soul in Chicago and was scared to be there in that big city by herself. Then she heard someone ask if she needed help. By that time she was sobbing so hard she said it was a miracle that the man could understand her. The gentleman was an off-duty police officer (I don't remember what he was doing there, this part of the story is a bit blurry in my memory). He took us home with him and he and his wife took care of my Mom and I until Dad came and got us. Mom said that she knew without a doubt that God had put these kind people in our paths to take care of us at a time when she was most desperate, and she never forgot them. And I never forgot the story."
Then finally, Alta and Lee had their long-awaited son Gary Lee Morris Wilburn Jr. Lee left the service, Alta became a homemaker and the family lived in Florence, Eugene, and eventually made Portland their home in about 1965.
Alta and Lee bought their first home on SE Raymond Street in about 1966 and paid about $16,000 for it. Their oldest daughter remembers them being very scared about signing the papers for something so expensive. Alta loved tending the garden and growing flowers. She ran the kids to little league, girl scouts, cub scouts, and brownies, served as chairman for the cookie drive one year (which she vowed she would never do again), and shuttled kids to camp when needed. About three years later, the family was given the great gift of all, the last child born to the family, Lori Ann Wilburn.
Alta tried very hard during this time to teach her children, as they were growing, the value of hard work. She enrolled them in a summer program picking berries and beans. Her children would leave home very early in the morning to meet the bus and would work diligently to pick their quota so that they could keep their jobs and earn enough money to pay for their school clothes each fall. That is, until they realized one morning that they just missed the bus. Oh darn. Unfortunately, this gave them the idea that if they hid behind a few cars the bus could pass by them without them being seen and, well, they could just never seem to catch that stupid bus.
A few years down the road the family was doing better financially and, having outgrown their starter home, contracted to build a larger home on acreage in Pleasant Valley. Alta again had a great time putting in her flower gardens (which her children will tell you were built with slave labor). The family enjoyed their new home and the beautiful countryside in Pleasant Valley. Unfortunately there were several things that went wrong about three years later - many pressures conspired to end the marriage and Lee and Alta ultimately divorced. This was a very difficult time for Alta. She felt very lost. She would be the first one to tell you that she made many mistakes during this period. It took some time and the help of some very good friends, but she eventually found her footing, began working and started to make a home for herself and her remaining children. (By this time, two children were no longer at home, and one was just about grown.) Time has a way of slipping by, and before she knew it, all her children were grown. Alta eventually began living with her friend Judi Spence, and it was during this time that she seemed to have some fun and experienced a bit of the freedom and maybe a bit of raucousness that she had missed during her earlier years. It was during this time, that the famous rose tattoo incident took place, for which her oldest daughter teased her mercilessly. Alta often reminded her daughter that the prior Governor Barbara Roberts sported this same tattoo and that if it was good enough for her, well she could have one, too. And that she should probably lighten up a bit. By the way, when did she get so old???
Alta's health began deteriorating very early. She was plagued with scoliosis from childhood, and it worsened so considerably that she could not straighten up to walk. Eventually she moved to Eugene to live with her mother and step father and was granted total medical disability. While she used a wheelchair to get around for distance, she found she could use crutches for short distances. Unfortunately she had a number of health issues that continued to plague her, including the autoimmune illness primary billiary cirrhosis which could eventually lead to liver failure, polymyositis (a severe form of arthritis which continually attacked her muscles and led to severe muscle weakness) and developing heart problems which were leading to congestive heart failure.
When her health continued to deteriorate, Alta moved into Assisted Living in Oregon City. It was a difficult transition for her, but as always, Alta made friends wherever she went, and she fit in well, eventually becoming a bingo-shark and teaching the other residents the game of Skip-Bo.
Unfortunately Alta's health declined further and after hospitalization Alta's daughter was told that because of her frail state (at this point she was about 103 lbs.) she would not be able to stay in assisted living but would need round-the-clock nursing care. Alta's daughter had just a few hours to make this decision, so she went to the director of the Assisted Living Center and asked her where she would put her mother. The Director told her about the Oregon City Health Care Center. After visiting the Center and a few other places, the decision was made. It was a tough decision, but It was the right decision.
Alta went from 103 lbs. To over 140 lbs. It's enough to say that she was worried she was gaining TOO much weight. Mind you, she complained about the food, everybody knew that, but the staff were kind, and snuck food for her from home - the things she liked - within reason. Alta hated institutional food of any kind and she could be pretty resourceful about getting what she wanted! At times it seemed Alta had a difficult time adjusting to living in the nursing home because she loved having all her "things" around her. Her daughter takes editorial license here by noting the fact that her mother was a notorious packrat (her mother, on the other hand, would slap her if she could right now). Alta's family believes even if her health had improved it would have been difficult for her to move because of the kindness of the staff at Oregon City Health Care and the attachment she had formed with them - she had made a home.
A Few things about Alta:
- Her favorite flower was the Iris.
She loved music.
She enjoyed going out for Chinese Food.
- If you didn't save her some of the stuffing at Thanksgiving you'd better watch out!
- She used to force her son to eat liver and onions and tell him "With liver you can live" - it made him gag.
- She loved dum-dum lollipops
- She had a bear collection
- She liked Cheetos and she ran around with orange fingers.
- She loved Dr. Pepper
- Once she got carried away during a water fight and ran inside the house with the hose on, full blast.
She carried all kinds of stuff in her purse, you never knew what you'd find - often it would be her teeth!
- She misplaced her teeth so frequently, her daughters threatened to put ties on them like you would on children's mittens.
- She had a nail polish fetish
- She loved American Idol, Ellen DeGeneres, Dr. Phil, and Oprah
- She liked to read People magazine
- She was a great gardener and a good cook
- She loved the movie Fried Green Tomatoes
Her Obituary appeared in the Oregonian on Monday 29th, not on the 28th as it says.
Alta Mae Wilburn
Sunday, May 28, 2006
A memorial service will be at 1 p.m. Thursday, June 1, 2006, in Wilhelm Funeral Home for Alta Mae Wilburn, who died May 25 at age 67.
Alta Green was born Oct. 19, 1938, in Mountain View, Okla. [It was actually Arkansas]She moved to Florence in 1956 and to Portland in 1964. A homemaker, she also lived in Eugene. In 1957, she married Gary; they divorced.
Survivors include her daughters, Debbi Lucas, Tammy Jones and Lori Bjornstrom; son, Gary; mother, Grace Beier; sister, Tina Senften; brother, Jerry Warden; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Remembrances to the Arthritis Foundation.