It's not often that a woman can boast a direct line of female descendants that stretches six generations, but one who can is Bessie Wheeler, a longtime resident of the Pleasant Hill area who turns 100 on Feb. 16.
All six generations gathered a few days ago at Wheeler's home, where the still sprightly - albeit somewhat hard of hearing - centenarian met her great-great-great-granddaughter for the first time.
"She's looking at me, she's looking at me," a delighted Wheeler said as tiny Leila Sosa gazed up at her, dark eyes bright in a face framed by a cap of dark hair. "I'm the beginning, and she's the end."
Unless, of course, Leila grows up to have her first daughter while her great-great-grandmother Clara Grant is still living, not an unlikely possibility in the long-lived pioneer Wheeler family.
"We're six generations of Oregon women," Grant said proudly. "My mother comments all the time that she never thought she'd live long enough to have a daughter who was 80; that's my older sister, Doris - I'm Bessie's second daughter."
In fact, in a mental version of a tongue-twister, baby Leila (pronounced LAY-luh) is Wheeler's second daughter's fourth daughter's second daughter's first daughter's first daughter, the family says.
The line that starts with Bessie Wheeler and 77-year-old Clara Grant continues on to Teresa Gideon, 52; Brandy West, 33; and Brittany West, who turns 17 on Monday. Leila arrived on Jan. 6, weighing in at 7 pounds, 51/2 ounces and measuring 191/2 inches long.
Her mother and father, Osvaldo Sosa, are juniors at Kennedy High School in Mount Angel; both live with their parents and will continue their education. After high school, Brittany West plans to study to become a teacher.
Brandy West also lives in Mount Angel and will provide child care for her new granddaughter. Gideon, the child's great-grandmother, lives in Canyonville, and great-great-grandmother Grant lives in Prineville.
Not surprisingly, Bessie Wheeler has many more descendants on the family roster, totaled up by family members as five children (three daughters and two sons ranging in age from 66 to 80); 19 grandchildren; 34 great-grandchildren; 31 great-great-grandchildren; and now her first great-great-great-granddaughter.
Son Stan Wheeler says his mother was born Bessie Fegles in the Hayhurst area near Yoncalla but spent most of her growing-up years in the Pleasant Hill-Jasper community.
Her father, Wesley Fegles, "worked in the woods," Wheeler said, but in his spare time, "he made violins by hand, with just a few tools - a pocket knife, a piece of glass and a file - and they were fantastic. He made them for members of the family; I know there's supposed to be one left somewhere, but I don't know who has it."
His mother "was an avid hunter and fisher," he said. "She hunted deer for food - that was the only way we did it. We usually went as a group, but she would go off on her own if she needed to."
At some point, Bessie Wheeler took up crochet, a useful hobby that she gave up just a few months ago when she began having too much difficulty using her hands for such small work.
"I don't know how old she was when she started, but I know she made hundreds of afghans," Stan Wheeler said. "I know most of us have at least 20 of them."
Wheeler still lives on her own, although both her sons live nearby. "I do my own cooking and my own laundry," she said. "I'm just so fortunate."
The family she married into has a long history in the Pleasant Hill area. Her husband, Lawrence Wheeler, first worked as a logger, then later became a certified lumber inspector. He died Jan. 9, 1989.
The Wheeler family came to the Pleasant Hill area on one of the early wagon trains, Stan Wheeler said, and through the years it has lent its name to several local landmarks. Wheeler Pavilion at the fairgrounds was named for "Uncle Allen" and Wheeler Road for "Uncle Bruce," several of Bessie Wheeler's children said.
Another relative, H.C. Wheeler, served for many years as a senator in the state Legislature. Still another Wheeler, with the initials H.H., lent his name to Wheeler County; some family members believe him to be a relative, but his relationship, if any, is not clear.
100th birthday open house
Bessie Wheeler's family invites members of the community to celebrate her centennial at an open house the day before her birthday.
When: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 15
Where: Jasper Christian Church, 36852 Hills Creek Road
Details: Refreshments provided by the family; no gifts, please