Mary Jane Dickson was born May 21, 1922, in San Francisco, to two survivors of the 1906 earthquake and fire (the link shows a photo of Mary in her mother’s belly.) She grew up on the peninsula south of San Francisco, but after high school moved back to The City to work at The Emporium. She loved living in The City, where she hung out with friends at Mona’s, got thrown out of Trader Vic’s for being underage, and commuted to work by cable car from her apartment on Green Street. After Pearl Harbor, she worked making vacuum tubes for the war effort; when peace resumed, she married Roger Romeyne Richardson.

Mary had three children, in 1945, 1952, and 1955. She was a full-time housewife and mother, and a part time librarian in Dash Point, Washington. In 1966, she put her machinist skills back to work creating circuit boards for the Tempress company in the early flowering of what would become Silicon Valley. Later she moved back to the Puget Sound area and worked for Boeing. When her first grandchild began to talk and had problems with the pronunciation of ‘Gramdma,’ Baba received the nickname she was known by for the rest of her life, even by her children.

When the younger generation had left the nest, she became the curator of the Ox Barn Museum in Aurora, Oregon, a small but lively museum of the early Oregon settlement. With her husband’s retirement in 1981, they moved back to her beloved California, to a small farm in Watsonville where she raised fruits, vegetables, flowers, and grandchildren.

She lived with her daughter, the novelist Laurie King, both on the farm and in the hilltop house they moved to in 1997. Her gardening efforts evolved from an acre of ground to a myriad of pots—one grandchild’s count put them at 121, and that was some time ago. Over the years her arthritis and osteoporosis troubled her more and more, and the day after her 85th birthday, Mary fell and broke her hip.

Surgery to bolt the bone together was successful, but the stress and the fluids retained damaged her heart. It took her several days to find the path to release, accompanied all the while by one or more of her children. Along the way she sent back messages describing the journey as not only ‘harder than childbirth,’ but also (said with exasperation) ‘ridiculous.’

With unfailing grace and a sense of humor that sparkled to the end, she eventually taught herself the way out of life. Mary took her last breath at one in the morning on Sunday, May 27, 2007.

Her family and friends ache with her absence.

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  1. Kerry on May 28, 2007 at 9:44 am

    Laurie, I’m so sorry for your loss and hope you will accept my condolences and share them with your family. If there’s anything at all we can do, I hope you’ll let us know.

  2. Zoë on May 28, 2007 at 9:46 am

    The most beautiful thing you’ve ever written. Thank you.

  3. corgimom on May 28, 2007 at 9:55 am

    What a moving and joyful tribute to your mom you have shared with us. Our family is very sorry for your loss and hope the joy of memory soon eases the ache of absence.

  4. ChristyLo on May 28, 2007 at 10:12 am

    I’m so sorry for your loss. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. She sounds like a fabulous woman to know and have been raised by. I can see where you get your strength and sense of humor.

  5. Carlina on May 28, 2007 at 10:27 am

    That was a very moving tribute to your mom and indeed thank you for sharing with us. I am sorry about your loss and offer my heartfelt condolences to yourself and your family.

  6. vicki on May 28, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful portrait of an extraordinary woman. My deepest condolences to you and all of your family.

  7. Antigonos on May 28, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Blessed be the Righteous Judge, as we Jews say on hearing that someone has passed away.

    Please accept my sympathy. This has been a trying year for you, I thin.

  8. Jean on May 28, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    I was saddened to hear of your loss and send my heartfelt condolences to you and your family. Your tribute to your mother is very moving, she was obviously much loved.
    I hope happy memories will, in time, ease your sense of loss.

  9. Strawberry Curls on May 28, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    Such a beautiful epitaph…your mother would be proud, as I’m sure she was every minute of your life. My condolences on your loss.

  10. KarenB on May 28, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    My deepest sympathies to you and your family. You have written a beautiful tribute. My thoughts and prayers are with you, as they have been over the course of a very difficult year.

  11. Cathy on May 28, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    I’m so very sorry for your loss. We all will be thinking of you and your family during this time.

  12. Annie D. on May 28, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    Lovely Laurie ~ Your mother’s story is such an inspiring one; she, like you, serves to inspire us all and hold up for us how good a life may be. You’ve had such a difficult year and have shouldered it with such grace. I trust the ache of absence in time transforms to the poignancy of memory. You are one of the shining lights in my life.

  13. Penny on May 29, 2007 at 2:23 am

    Thank you for sharing this with us Laurie. Deepest sympathy.

  14. Cristina on May 29, 2007 at 3:13 am

    Dear Laurie, you moved me to tears with such a loving tribute to your mother. May she rest in peace.

  15. 2maple on May 29, 2007 at 8:56 am

    I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. Fat years and lean years…this has definately been a lean one hasn’t it? May the bitter emptiness be filled with the sweetness of memories in their own time.

  16. Devorah on May 29, 2007 at 10:33 am

    Zichrona LiVracha…may her memory endure as an abiding blessing.
    My heart aches for your loss…

  17. tammycravit on May 29, 2007 at 10:34 am

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. May your memories of your mother be a comfort in the weeks and months ahead. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  18. kitty on May 29, 2007 at 10:51 am

    I am very sorry for your loss. Your writing tugged at my heart strings. I lost my Dad last september and I can sympatize. God bless you and your family.

  19. Roxanne on May 29, 2007 at 11:27 am

    Laurie. I am so very, very sorry for your loss. My father passed away last July 4th. I still forget sometimes that he is no longer with us and think of him as in the present–which I guess he is, in my heart. Please accept my deepest condolences.

    I don’t know when next I will have the opportunity to read or respond to your blog as I am suddenly without a job and hence (my own) computer. I wish I knew of some way to be of help to you. At least you know, as evidenced by the comments before (and those that I am sure that will come after this one) that you are well loved and much appreciated.

    In an unrelated vein, I logged onto your blog here at my brother’s house because I wanted to tell you that my well worn copy of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, the one you signed for me in January in New York, kept me from going completely insane this past weekend. Reading it (yet again) gave me a safe place to go when all of the world felt hostile and hopeless to me. Nothing else seemed to help me. Thank you.

    And, again, I am so sorry for your loss. Many virtual hugs and alll of the positive energy I have are directed toward you on the West Coast.


  20. bani on May 29, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for that beautiful tribute to your mother, who must have beena remarkable person.

  21. Clair on May 29, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    What a lovely tribute. I am so sorry for your loss. She lives on in you.

  22. emyers on May 29, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    So sorry for your loss.

  23. nkk1969 on May 30, 2007 at 6:14 am

    No wonder Russell’s first name is Mary.

    Many virtual hugs and real prayers are going your way.


  24. monxa on May 30, 2007 at 7:00 am

    I’m very sorry for your loss and your pain.

  25. writer72 on May 30, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    I wrote a comment and posted under “the joy of lex” by accident, but I don’t see it posted. The point was: I am shocked that a spoiler such as Russell and Holmes marry is right on the main page about the author. I’m only on A Monstrous Regiment of Women and just picking up on the tension- I will continue to read but my excitement and anticipation has been ruined. Please tell the webmaster to remove this for future readers just getting started with King.

  26. parelle on May 31, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear about your loss.

  27. Laraine on May 31, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    Laurie, although my mom had the astonishing and highly unlikely outcome of surviving two broken wrists and a broken hip for several years, albeit with a greatly-changed daily life, I recognize in your description of your mother’s final days the same courage and indomitable wisdom that marked my own mom’s journey towards departure. I miss her still, twenty months later, and send you my warmest wishes that the beauty and grace of your mother’s long life will rapidly shine through any difficult recall of weeks just past. May your children and many others bring you much love and comfort as you adjust to being an ‘orphan’ in our big old world.

  28. RJ_Anderson on June 1, 2007 at 11:18 am

    I only just caught this — a lovely tribute to your mother, and I am so sorry for your loss. You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  29. carol hartman on June 2, 2007 at 10:03 pm

    hello lyn,laurie and all aunt mary s beloved grandchildren.. As I am almost completely computer illiterate it has taken me a day or two to figure out that logging in and registering are indede different,, so excuse me please.. I am so,so sorry to read about the fall . Laurie you certainly captured your moms spirit with your words. I will miss her so very much, and am griving her loss also. She loved you all so much and loved to tell me of your latest doings, esp. her grandchildren. Mary was my cousin as you know, but almost 20 years older than myself so she was always Aunt Mary. I didn’ realize for many years (well , when kids become interested in who is who in the family) that she wasn’t really my aunt… how surprised I was… She said she was Aunt Mary for too long to change and I happily kept calling her that. When I got your letter Lyn I said well, now I have lost my last relative. How could I forget my brother, hummm.Well , Mary and I talked about every couple of months and my brother and I about once a year, so …. I loved t hat lady . I loved her voice..when we reconnected it sounded just the way I remembered.. When I was a child I (all of us) looked forward to Christmas more than I can tell you..because,we knew we’d get a big box of the most fabulous cookies and candied walnuts in the world.. my mother didn’t bake at least I don’t remember anything except lemon pie. Oh, how we savored those wonderful treats. I still make her recipe of walnuts, Joes favs. Joe and I went to see your parents in Dash Point..we camped, and they brought fish to cook. We also loved the museum in Aurora and our visit.. I remember seeing her in Santa Cruz at some point too.. I am so going to miss our calls . She showed me “Auntie Flossies” clock when we a kid I stayed with Floss several times and was at first scared to death of it, later came to love it of course..well enough… I know you all have lots of wonderful memories of a wonderful ,loving and humorous mother and Babba, I know I do. love to you all carol h.

  30. Meredith T on June 4, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    Dear Laurie, I am just back in the realm of computer connections. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for such a graceful and eloquent farewell to your mom. A person would have been privileged to know her. Thoughts and prayers to you and the family. –Meredith T.

  31. Stuart Clark on June 4, 2007 at 10:12 pm

    I’m just catching up on my blog reading and I’ve come across this sad news.

    I’m so sorry for your loss, I have lost my Father and my Mother-In-Law in the past two years so I understand what you are going through. Thank you as well for sharing the wonderful tribute to your mother.

    You are in our thoughts up here in SW Ontario.

  32. LynneM on June 7, 2007 at 11:55 am

    God of all, we pray to you for Mary, and for all those whom
    we love but see no longer. Grant to them eternal rest. Let
    light perpetual shine upon them. May her soul and the souls
    of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

    I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for the lovely and moving tribute. My prayers and thoughts are with you and all of your loved ones.

  33. aecarr on June 8, 2007 at 10:56 am

    I’m so sorry.

    My mother died when I was just 20. But I don’t think anyone is ever ready to live without one’s mother.

    Kind thoughts to you.

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