Loose Ends: Remembering Hester-Jane

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RBC | It wasn’t until I saw Hester-Jane Cogswell’s life in the pictures spread out on the dining room table in her Fawn Creek ranch house Saturday that the loss hit me. Passing away at the Walbridge Wing eight months ago, Hester-Jane had not been able to welcome her friends and family back to her beloved spot upriver for quite awhile. We all felt her presence that day.
dollyviscardiFamily came first to Hester-Jane, and anyone who was a good friend of one of her children or grandchildren became family. My own family started going to her huge, extended family Thanksgiving celebrations more than 30 years ago. There was usually a crowd ranging from 16 to 25, and though her extended family took up most of the places, there were always a few extras like us included. I remember listening to her play the piano, sharing a story in her distinctive Kate Hepburn voice, and most of all her warm, welcoming spirit.
As our families lived so far away, my husband and I (as well as our two kids) were grateful recipients of more than her holiday hospitality. After a long hike up in the Flat Tops or a day of fishing with friends, we’d stop in and visit for a while. She celebrated her 96th birthday last year and continued to be interested in the world around her. She was always initiating conversations about books and current events and had become computer-savvy in recent years to keep in constant touch with far-flung family and friends.
Although Hester-Jane’s roots were planted deep in the front range of Colorado, she developed strong ties to the Upper White River country. If she wasn’t sharing stories about the family ranch bought by the Air Force Academy up above Colorado Springs, she was telling tales about the early days of her adopted home — Fawn Creek Ranch.
Before her passing, Hester-Jane was pleased to achieve her life-long dream of writing and having a book published, although it will not be available for sale until later this year. When I first began to talk about writing with her, I was collecting recipes for a local cookbook and she encouraged me to get the stories behind some of the local upriver “tried and true” recipes. Making chokecherry and serviceberry jellies and jams for family and friends was more a project in sharing the wealth of homegrown goodies than the act of giving a gift. The wildflowers blooming on the mountainsides behind her beloved ranch house testified to her love of nature.
Each year she accrued another birthday, Hester-Jane would assert that she still didn’t feel her age. She didn’t think of herself as a senior citizen, and reflected often on how she still had things to accomplish. She continued making regular visits to the elderly in the nursing home less than a decade ago when she was an octogenarian. When she suddenly found herself bedridden last year, she set small goals for herself, such as exercising her hands and fingers to regain her skills at the piano.
Hester-Jane did not like to be the center of attention. She specifically requested that no funeral services be held, but was aware that her family and friends would not let her passing go unnoticed. Holding a celebration on the front yard of her home was more than fitting. The gathering was never glum, even during the time set aside for remembrance of her life. “She was true. A lady always,” remembered one of the speakers. The only thing missing from the wonderful day was the honoree. Yet she was there in spirit.