Saturday, August 13, 2005

My Grandmother's Gift

She was twenty years old when she married H.G., a minister who was ten years her senior. Her rose-colored dress featured inlays of lace and three panels of lace in the skirt. She wore pearls and carried tea roses and baby's breath. After the ceremony, the new couple went to the photographer's studio where they were photographed, but she said this was the only picture that turned out, and she didn't think it was a very good picture, either.

Then, they boarded a train in Minnesota and journeyed toward North Dakota, where his family lived. He was the youngest of seven boys, four of whom became ministers. The train stopped overnight before reaching their destination, so they spent their wedding night in a hotel before continuing on their trip.

He pastored several churches and she described each place by which child had been born in which place. She had five boys in twelve years and then, four years later, her last child was born. At last, a baby girl! That baby girl is my mother.

The Depression was hard on everyone and my grandparents felt the pinch of poverty and desperate times. In the midst of the dark days, my grandmother cut apart her wedding dress and fashioned into a little girl's dress for a girl in the church who had no Easter dress.

My grandfather was a minister all his life and my grandmother tended the home. She loved to sew and sewed all the clothes, even the dress shirts the boys wore. She gardened and preserved food for her family and tended to her rambunctious boys while her husband was often traveling and working. But when the children all grew, she worked alongside my grandfather in a nursing home. I suppose that was when she developed such a soft place in her heart for elderly people. When I was a child, she and my grandfather would take me with them on their visitations to the nursings homes. I'd stand and sing Sunday School sings and we'd make the rounds and touch the hands of as many wheelchair and bedridden folks as we could.

My gradmother was a meticulous housekeeper. Never in my life have I ever seen a pile of papers on her kitchen counter, nor a stray sock on the floor. Her home never saw a speck of lingering dust until she lost her eyesight a few years back.

She wore her hair long until she was well past eighty-five years old, but it became too much for her to twist and pin up and she finally had it cut into an old lady's curly perm.

My grandmother does not believe in clutter nor disorganization and even now, she knows where every item she owns belongs. She can locate anything in an instant. She lives alone, still, in the last house she and my grandfather purchased. It's a tiny three bedroom in a rapidly deteriorated neighborhood, but the flowers near her driveway are always in bloom. My aunt replants each season so something lovely is growing and showing off. When I was a child, my grandparents lived in a different house and I can still see the wildness of the lilies blooming alongside the garage and the round gooseberry bush with its sharp needles and green marble-like berries.

My son asked her a half-dozen questions. He wondered how she lives without sight, what she misses about being young, how she gets groceries. She told me she misses reading a lot. He said, "Great-grandma, you should have memorized books when could still see." And I said, "Did you know Grandma did memorize a lot of the Bible?"

And so, she quoted Psalms 1 and then Psalms 23: "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever."

She was old when I was born, already near sixty, but she seemed ageless to me. Several summers I spent a week with her and my grandfather--for awhile, until his death, my 98-year old great-grandfather, her father, lived with them. I remember him giving me pink mints and playfully hooking me with his cane when I walked close to him. He was a small, crooked man by then, but he'd been a harsh father when my grandmother was a girl.

One of my clearest memories of my summer stays was the day I unexpectedly opened the door of my room and saw my grandparents locked in an embrace. They loved each other steadily, passionately, gently until the day my grandfather died on their sixty-first anniversary. He was 91.

And now, Grandma has lived alone for over eighteen years. She has friends who help her with things she can no longer do, like sending out the birthday cards to every grandchild, great-grandchild and great-great grandchild. (There are nineteen grandchildren.) Yesterday, when she answered the phone, I wandered over to the piano to look at family pictures and opened the cover of a book that my uncle had written. Inside the front cover was a twenty dollar bill, which I thought was a funny bookmark.

She had set out that book for me, a little gift.

She must know that the gift I left with, though, was much bigger than that slim volume. Throughout my forty years, she has given me a living example of steady faith. She has given me love, the kind of love that prays for me each day and believes in me and keeps really old pictures of me and my junior-high haircut on her wall. She's the only person on earth who calls me by my first and middle names. She still sends me birthday money in a card every January.

I can't begin to imagine a world without her, yet I believe that my grandfather awaits her arrival and I know she's looking forward to being with her beloved husband again. Meanwhile, she sits and she prays and she studies her Sunday School lesson, eager to learn more about the Bible and the God she has served all these years.


Blogger Chelsea said...

What an incredible woman.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Desiree said...

I came across your website when I was looking at Technorati.
I see that you have a love one with cancer?
I am sorry to hear that. I just lost my mother a week ago to lung cancer.
It sounds like your grandma is one wonderful woman. I could not imagine all the things she has seen since she is 99 years old.


12:43 AM  
Blogger Donna said...

Thanks for letting us visit your grandma.

5:23 AM  
Blogger weorwe said...

What a lovely woman. I love the wedding photo. She sounds like someone who could make the Proverbs 31 woman actually seem appealing instead of annoying.

5:30 AM  
Blogger Cuppa said...

That was lovely. Thanks for sharing grandma with all of us. She has given you a priceless gift indeed.

6:06 AM  
Blogger KGrams said...

What a beautiful post and tribute to a wonderful woman. Thanks for the visit with your Grandma.

6:27 AM  
Blogger Cris said...

Oh Mel, what a wonderful picture you paint of your grandma, and how precious she is to you. Thank you for sharing that with us.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Happy Housewife said...

What a wonderful woman your grandmother is! I think the wedding photo is very lovely. It is a bit artsy - maybe that is why she didn't favor it. She is a great role model for us younger ladies. Thank you for telling us about her.

7:20 AM  
Blogger Debra said...

Thanks so much, Mel, for your lovely words about your grandmother. You are so fortunate to have had her so long--I lost my grandmother when I was 35 and I still miss both her and my grandfather, a lot. I have a picture of them in their garden just outside my bedroom door and I look at it everyday and think, "Someday I will see them in Heaven--I can hardly wait!" Thanks again for sharing your grandmother's story with us... She is such an inspiration for this happy homemaker... God bless... Debra

7:23 AM  
Blogger Gina said...

Thank you for sharing that, Mel. Your grandmother is a lovely and inspirational woman.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Kendra said...

A lovely tribute to a lovely lady. She sounds so much like my own grandmother that it makes me cry... I miss her. Thanks for sharing a little bit of your grandmother with us!

9:43 AM  
Blogger Feeble Knees said...

I never knew my grandmums, both of them died before I was born. You are so blessed to have had her in your life!

10:45 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Your grandmother sounds like an absolute gem of a woman. I'm glad that you have her in your life.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

I think you are a lot like her. Especially in the areas that matter most.

Maybe her lack of clutter was practice for her future with blindness.

Thanks for sharing her.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Julana said...

You are a rich woman.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Awesome post, Mel. I agree with Julana.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

This is a wonderful post. It is so good that you visited her. Enjoy that while you can. My feelings about my grandma are still pretty close to the surface. She has been gone three months now.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

That brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful woman and inspiration to you... to all of us! Thank you for sharing your grandmother with us.

7:27 PM  

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