Language Translation

Friday, July 31, 2009


My mother had 11 children.  She was the Relief Society president for 13 of my 18 years at home.   She was on the City Council.  She was the head of the Snowflake Heritage Foundation.  She and my father started a summertime performance series called "Thursday Night in the Park."   She was the President of the Silver Creek Performing Arts Association and the Symphony Guild.  She was on the board for the National Registry of Homes.  She taught English at the community college.  She wrote several one-act plays that were performed in the community.  She wrote 3 Book of Mormon musicals, two of them were performed and the last one was finished just weeks before she died.  She started three museums.  She kept in touch with 60+ family members and friends on a monthly basis.  I can still quote "The Highwayman" with very few errors simply from hearing her recite it to us on road trips.  She had an arsenal of poems and songs to entertain us when we would start fighting in the car on those long trips from Snowflake to Northern California, where Grandma Washburn lived.  On every trip, at least once, we heard "The Highwayman" and would be coaxed into singing "Sentimental Journey."  It was one of mom's favorite songs and was often followed up with stories of her mother and grandmother and siblings on the Ray and Peterson side of the family. 

It seemed she was constantly typing in the computer room if she was at home.  My mother was a busy woman, a woman on a mission.   It was her desire to keep the arts alive in Snowflake, AZ.   She loved the arts and was ever mindful of the impact they have on people.

Growing up in her home, I could not help but have this same great love for expression in any form of art.   I remember being a very young child and going to concerts.  I watched the conductor, with his wand waving and suddenly beautiful music was heard.  Here was magic!   Sometime after the intermission I would fall asleep and my father would pick me up and carry me out to the car for the short 6-block ride home.

It was in this little town of less than 10,000 people that I began to learn about what power one person has when they live life on purpose.  Yes, Snowflake is still a tiny town, but it is a town that was touched by a very powerful woman.  A woman who wanted to have for her children what she was given.

When my mother was growing up there was someone living in Snowflake that brought the arts in a very real way.  His name was Mr. Crandell.   He was a teacher, and a beacon of light to those whose hearts were mesmerized by beautiful music and prose.  He was my mother's teacher.  In a town that was drunken with the sweat of athletes, he was a lone voice who said there was more - much more.

So my mother, 30 years after Mr. Crandell was only a fond memory of those who knew him, decided it was her mission to carry on where he left off.  She started with one project that would inevitably bleed into the next project.  From each came a myriad of other associations with boards and committees and meetings and hours and hours of discussion on the best way to get things done.

My mother has been dead for 12 years now.  There is not a single person from my immediate family living in Snowflake.  I do not know if her life's work has continued.  Maybe she has become as Mr. Crandell, a memory for those who were around when it happened, while the rest of the world has no idea either one existed.  But there will always be her brood of 11 to carry on her memory.  We are growing ever more - my last count put us at 60, including the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

JoAn Washburn died at age 58.  I marvel sometimes at the list of things she accomplished in her 58 years - and the truth be told, most of it was accomplished from age 43-58.  It was today 12 years ago that I sat in her bedroom and wondered if she was going to come home from the hospital dead or alive.

I remember sitting in that room, leaning against the headboard, staring down at the blue carpet.  The room smelled as it had my whole life, my mother's smell.   I sat there for hours wondering how my life was going to be changed.   Even before the doctor told us she would not live long, a foreboding had taken over inside of me.

Now, so many years later, I still wonder how my life is going to be different because she is gone.  I don't do things the way everyone else does.  I tell those I love that I love them, and often.  I hug a lot.  I say what I think when I have the chance, because I am aware how limited and rare each window of opportunity really is.

I will probably never write a play, be on a guild, start any foundations, organize any performing arts associations, be on the city council, or have an entire sports team of children.  My home is silent as a tomb.  My computer is full of half-written, poorly worded memoirs.  Those who are in my life will go on much as they have when I am no longer here.  Yet I am only worried about one thing. Who will know about JoAn Washburn?  To whom will her legacy be passed on since I have no children of my own to tell about this magnificent woman?

So I tell you.  There once lived a woman whose heart was as big as the expanse of heaven; whose dreams were magical and whose idea of life was so much more than we could imagine.  She was known by many as a woman with a vision.  She was known by several as a confidant and friend.  She was known by some as a hero and a mentor.  She was known to me as "Mama."


  1. Nothing can be more sweet then the words of love from a child to their mother. I am sure you told her many times how much you love her and admire her while she was alive, even though you might still feel it wasn't enough. We all know now about this great woman, and you have kept her alive in our hearts. Thank you :)

  2. I had no idea she was so involved in so many aspects of Snowflake. I just knew that her heart and home were open to family and friends whenever they showed up on the doorstep as my family did from time to time when we came to Snowflake for the Peterson reunion. Most of my memories of Snowflake came via stories told by my father-in-law, Roald. By the time I arrived there, it was like a story that had come to life before my eyes. JoAn was part of that story world that became real and I'll never forget how I, a stranger, was welcomed and made me feel part of her family.

    1. I knew your Mama. She was my father's (Roald Peterson) cousin so that would make her my second cousin. I remember her as being one of the most giving, compassionate, and generous people I've ever known. Always, she made room for us in her home and always we felt loved. I suspect that's because we were.

      I remember well the day she died. I was in a hospital bed myself, dying. I thought I may join her soon. Obviously I had more to do and all these years later (It's Feb. 11, 1014) I am still here.

      Death is an interesting thing. While there are those of us who knew her, it won't be long when we are all gone, too. And so the cycle goes. No one who existed on this planet 130 years ago are here today. But what we can do is embrace the present moment. It is there that we touch eternity--in the eternal NOW. It does matter--we matter. JoAn Washburn matters. We always have; we always will.

      Love to you, Sweet Cousin for sharing these beautiful thoughts about an amazing woman that we call our own.

      Erin Peterson Jensen
      Marysvale, Utah
      February 11, 2014