Dorothea Nordstrand's Grandmother's Rose

  • By Dorothea Nordstrand
  • Posted 1/30/2003
  • Essay 4139
See Additional Media

In this People's History, Dorothea Nordstrand (1916-2011) tells the story of the beautiful climbing rose that her grandmother brought from Austria more than 100 years ago. To this day (2003) the rose blooms in Seattle. Her grandmother was Frances (Franza in Austria) Bettinger Geierhofer. She was born February 3, 1863, in Eberschwang, Austria. She and Dorothea's grandfather, Frank (Franz in Austria) Geierhofer, and their first three children, John (Johann), Dorothea's mother Mary Annie (Maria Anna), and Frances (Franza) came to America in 1891, entering at the port of Baltimore. In 2009 Dorothea Nordstrand was awarded AKCHO's (Association of King County Historical Organizations) Willard Jue Memorial Award for a Volunteer, for contributing these vivid reminiscences to various venues in our community, including's People's History library.

Grandmother's Rose

For 50 years I have cherished a climbing rose that belonged to my grandmother. The story goes that she brought the young plant from her home in Austria when she and my grandfather and their three small children immigrated to America over a hundred years ago. How she kept it alive for the many weeks of their crossing the Atlantic with the entire family cooped into a below-decks cubicle eight-feet square has always been a mystery, but, there was the lovely plant to prove the story. It graced my grandmother's garden fence in l920 when my family came to live near her in Seattle, putting on a spectacular show all during the warm days of summer.

When Grandma died, in l923, Mother transplanted the rose to our own back yard. In l944, when I married, my husband and I bought the family home and so inherited the ancestral climber, sprawled along a trellis within sight of our back door.

Over the years, its trunk became huge and knobby, black and ugly, but each year saw new, strong, green branches and a wealth of blossoms.

Grandma's climber flowered profusely ... dark, wine-red colored, velvet blossoms of lovely shape with the rich, heady perfume that is so much a part of the very old-fashioned varieties. A bowlful scented the whole house, bringing fond memories of other times.

Last November, our usually mild weather was jolted by a night of freezing wind and rain that caught many growing things with their leaves unshed. To our horror, the beloved climbing rose turned black and sere. The stricken foliage hung through the winter, while the branches died, one by one.

In early spring, we pruned the rose back, searching vainly for some sign of life. At the usual time of awakening, no sprout appeared on the knobby stalk. We debated digging out the ugly root, but couldn't bear to do it. Every day, we examined it, searching for some sign of life.

Then, one day in May, long after hope had died, we noticed a tiny, deformed nubbin of green, which grew into a thin, sickly, spindly sprout. Another such appeared and we were heartsick at the change in our treasured plant. Finally, a normal-looking growth slowly began to appear, each new leaf looking healthier than the one before. At last, on a wonderful day in June, we found a swelling bud that opened into a dark, wine-red, velvet blossom. Others followed and soon our fence was aglow with the fragrant, velvety flowers so dear to us.

It is our own small miracle. Grandma's rose lives anew, even more precious to us than before.


By Dorothea Nordstrand

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You