OSO — For a memorial service born under such tragic circumstance, the Sunday afternoon ceremony in an Oso horse arena was remarkably upbeat.
That, said friends of Christina Jefferds and her 4-month-old granddaughter, Sanoah Huestis, was what their family wanted.
Intimate stories were eloquently told, shining a light onto one life marked by patience, grace and kindness; the other one, though just beginning, a magical magnetic bond pulling a tight-knit family ever closer.
It was called a celebration of life and it was, indeed, a celebration filled with nearly five decades of photos of a disarming redhead, her daughter and grand baby she doted on.
More than 850 people, including the Seattle Children’s Choir, paid tribute in the spacious arena at the Rhodes River Ranch. The dirt beneath their feet was immaculately groomed for the occasion. Chirping birds only seemed to compliment the choir. Small decorative paper pouches were handed out with photos of Christina’s smiling face on one side and Sanoah’s innocent expression on the other. Inside were flower seeds to sow and brighten lives.
Christina’s husband, Seth Jefferds, is an Oso volunteer firefighter. Fellow medics and firefighters with badges representing districts across Snohomish County showed their support en masse.
Christina Jefferds, 45,and “Snowy” — as the family liked to call baby Sanoah — died March 22 when the Oso mudslide destroyed their home and Steelhead Drive neighborhood. Many in attendance Sunday spent countless hours searching for the pair and 41 others who died or are missing.
Natasha Huestis, smiling broadly and remarkably composed, described the joy of waking up when her parents had a day off. They would be drinking their morning tea in the living room with the family dog, Aero, eagerly waiting for Natasha and Snowy to appear.
“You could hear the talking of who got to kiss on Snowy first,” she said. “It was the best feeling ever to have my parents consistently talk about who loved her more and who was going to hold her first.”
Natasha, 26, tried to make the holding queue a fair contest, but it “would almost always just end up being a pile of hands and paws.”
Such was the case the day before the slide. That afternoon, the young mother and her baby drove up the Mountain Loop Highway with Seth Jefferds as he looked for swift water rescue training spots along the river bank.
“It was just Snowy, Dad and I spending time together,” she said “It was the best.”
That evening, Christina, Natasha and Snowy went to Snohomish High School to watch the son of a family friend perform improv comedy.
On the way there, Natasha told her mom how grateful she was for the opportunity she was given to stay home and be with Sanoah.
“It meant everything to me,” she said. “I said I loved her and that I couldn’t do this without her.”
Natasha recalled a time when she’d tried to break away from her family in a streak of independence.
“Life was just not worth living then and I know that feeling of living without her and it hurts and it stings and you cry a lot and you constantly wonder what she’s doing and when you get to see her next and if she’ll wear her hair curly for you because she knows that’s your favorite.”
Jeff McClelland, a Darrington volunteer firefighter who helped search the debris fields with Seth in mind, described Christina’s green thumb, how “she grew the biggest sunflowers you have ever seen” and “great big huge watermelons.”
She was a peacemaker “who wanted people to love each other the way people should be loved,” he said.
Other family and friends shared snippets of Christina’s life, how she was born with defects in her leg and foot that required a three-month stay at a Portland, Oregon, hospital before she could be brought home and how she overcame the childhood adversity that left her with two different sized feet.
They described how as a child she cleaned out stalls and brushed and walked horses twice a week in exchange for riding lessons.
At 19, she gave birth to Natasha. She went to school to become a dental assistant. The single mother sometimes worked two jobs to make ends meet, spending extra time at a nursing home with those she sensed were lonely.
Christina met Seth Jefferds in 1995 through a family friend. They married in 2007. Photographs of the couple in swim suits mugging for the camera give a glimpse into their humor and happiness
Christina was a dental office manager for Dr. Kelly Peterson in Marysville.
He said the couple dreamed of the days when Snowy would be able to walk down to the river with them and play in the sand on the shore. They looked forward to the time when they could teach her about plants and flowers and when she would enjoy digging in the dirt.
He drew laughter when he described how Christina booked a private trapeze session for herself and others at the office, despite her own fear of heights. When it was her turn, she kept her eyes shut and dangled 30 feet off the ground before finally dropping into the net.
“Christina was very inquisitive about people and life,” Peterson said. “She wanted to learn about the people she met to help her better understand life and become a better person herself.”
A case in point was a letter Natasha received after her mother died.
It was from a stranger whose family had fallen on hard times two years ago. A job had fallen through and the woman’s family was broke and living out of a truck.
One day, the woman stopped at a grocery store to get something to eat for her son. Her debit card was declined. The money was gone. She was humiliated.
“We were homeless and hopeless,” she wrote. “I couldn’t help crying. It was all too much. I was so tired of trying and failing.”
The woman leaned against the grocery store wall, crying in the rain. Everyone, it seemed, avoided looking at her.
Everyone except Christina Jefferds.
“She had this 100-watt smile that warmed your heart,” the woman wrote.
They moved under the awning and talked about jobs, love, kids and debt.
“She told me to let it go and just keep moving forward,” the woman wrote. “She took time to see the heartache, and to turn it to hope.”
“… I don’t know if she knew the thoughts going through my head when she saw me, or if she ever knew she saved my life, but I know she knows it now.”
Eric Stevick, 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org