What Arline Corthell Left Behind

by Bill Brenner on May 15, 2013

Erin’s paternal grandmother passed away yesterday. Although she’s gone, she leaves behind memories to treasure and influences to carry on.


Grammie had a gift for focusing on one person at a time and engaging them in deep conversation. She did most of the talking, of course. She could, as my sister-in-law Amanda put it, talk the ears off of a brick wall.

She had beautiful, penetrating eyes that focused on you and grabbed you like a tractor beam. She had a way of bringing a huge family together at reunions and holiday affairs.

Grammie wore a lot of hats, so many that some of the grandchildren called her Grammie with the Hat. She made me feel like part of the family from the first day I met her 20 years ago. There are a lot of other memories I wasn’t there for. Fortunately, there’s another writer in the family who was. To really understand Grammie’s essence, read this stunning tribute by my cousin Faith.


You can learn a lot about a person through their children, and Grammie had seven of them, along with way too many grandchildren and great-grandchildren for me to count. The closest example is Erin. She doesn’t let me waste anything, and she’s a stickler for detail. That’s a Grammie influence.

The Corthells are a stubborn lot during conversation. If they feel strongly about something, they won’t back down. That’s a Grammie influence.

Corthells are natural storytellers. Family memories large and small are told in a range of colors that make them impossible to forget. That’s a Grammie influence.

Corthells are fiercely loyal. They argue like every family does, but if you hurt one of their own, God help you. That’s a Grammie influence.

Corthells are rugged, hard workers. My father-in-law ran a driving school — a full-time job in itself — while working brutally long hours for trucking companies. My mother-in-law ran the school with him, teaching half of Haverhill how to drive while raising four girls. Grammie worked for the school, too. I remember her coming to the house after a night teaching driver’s ed or giving lessons, recounting the evening’s events in vivid detail.

The Corthells have been through a lot. Family members have died young. Jobs have come and gone, sometimes unexpectedly. But they have endured, soldiering through the darkness and living to fight another day with heads held high. That’s a Grammie influence.

Being part of the family has been essential to my own personal evolution. It’s been a lesson in being strong, standing up and being tough.

It all goes back to Grammie, a product of the Great Depression and WWII. She built a family that grows in number and spirit to this day, a family built to last no matter what life throws at it.

Thanks for making me part of it.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Faith Morrill May 15, 2013 at 11:21 am

Thank you for writing this, Bill. Your credits to the Corthell strength, stubbornness, and storytelling abilities (Grammie’s maiden name was “Penwell,” after all) remind me how very proud I am to be part of this family. And I think you did her equally good (if not more) justice in your tribute. I know she would have been truly touched by it.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf May 15, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Bill, your post and Faith’s article are wonderful tributes to a strong, good woman. Thank you for sharing her story, especially in the midst of your grief.

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