Today our family will be celebrating the life of my grandmother. She passed away this past Friday at the age of 96. Each of her eleven grandchildren wrote about their special memories of this remarkable woman and these will be shared at the service today. It was incredibly difficult to decide on a reasonable number of memories to share but this is what I finally completed at about 1 o’clock this morning:
“I have the best family.” These were the words I heard nearly every time I visited Grandma the past few years. If that’s true, and it just might be, Grandma was much of the reason for it. All of my life she has been there…a tower of strength, a model of selflessness, and an example of a life well-lived.
All of her eleven grandchildren share the legacy of her steady presence in our lives. Life has its share of ups and downs and the world sometimes seems chaotic but through it all, we could always count on Grandma. She was always the first person we would turn to if we needed prayers and we’d often joke about her direct line to God. I think we all remember the hand-written card on her bedroom mirror with the words “Prayer changes things” and through the years we’ve come to see how true that is.
When I think back on my childhood, so many of my memories are of being at Grandma’s house. Sue and I spent countless hours playing dolls in her den. Oftentimes we would spend the night there together. After our baths, Grandma would ever so gently comb out our freshly washed hair with her big, bluish-green comb. Sue was so tender-headed but Grandma would very patiently comb out the tangles and try not to hurt her. I wasn’t tender-headed but I always loved the way she slowly and gently combed mine, too. When it was time for bed we’d crawl between the line-dried, Downy scented sheets which is my favorite smell to this very day. Grandma would then pray with us, always ending with the words, “and wake us happy in the morning. Amen.”
Early mornings at Grandma’s were favorite times for me. I especially loved the cool mornings when she’d bring us cups of hot tea to drink by the wall furnace in the living room. She’d then tell us to “soak awhile”, a phrase I’ve never heard from anyone else. And yes, I’ve even tried to Google it. She’d also fix us toast with her homemade grape jelly and cut it into strips. I continued that tradition with my own children. Whenever I made a new batch of grape jelly, something Grandma taught me how to do, I would fix my kids some toast cut just like that.
Several of my memories of Grandma include food, and of course, her super sweet iced tea which she served to us kids in the form of “tea milk”. Nobody made fried chicken quite like Grandma and I think we were all sad when the day came that she was no longer able to cook it for holiday meals. A few years ago she gave me the big cast iron skillet she used to fry chicken in and one of my goals is to someday be able to fry chicken that tastes like hers.
Another special food memory is the meal she served me when I brought Chris home from the hospital. I went to Grandma’s house when we were released and she had a room fixed up for me and a crib for Chris. I had been served the most awful, hard to digest meals at the hospital but I will never forget what Grandma fixed for me when I got to her house. Hot tea, Jello, a scrambled egg and toast with grape jelly cut in strips served on a TV tray in my room. I can honestly say that no meal before or since was ever more perfect.
Of course there were also countless sandwiches, hot dogs wrapped in slices of bread, homemade ice cream with chocolate sauce in the summer, pineapple cream pies for holiday meals, and even the saltine crackers and iced tea she’d let us take out to the front yard where we would sometimes pretend we were having communion in the forts we’d make out of the lawn chairs and old blankets.
There are so many precious memories that it’s hard to choose which to share.
-There was the time she took Dan, Mike, Sue and me to Big Bear for a week or two and she encouraged us to memorize the 23rd Psalm. That was also the trip where she and I spent a lot of time talking about her memories of childhood, including descriptions of the Home Comfort stove her mother cooked on.
– There were the years I helped her in the church nursery where she taught me a lot about taking care of children and I got to do one of things we both shared a love of …rocking babies.
-In the springtime, she would always bring me a bouquet of the first blooms from the huge lilac bush in front of her house, knowing I loved flowers as much as she did.
-And there were the many things she taught me over the years. I can remember her showing me how to iron my dolls’ clothes in her living room. Later on, I asked her how to make iced tea and I still remember her dumping the Lipton’s bulk tea into the little pan she always used for brewing tea, then pouring it into a measuring cup to see how much it was since she did it strictly by feel and years of habit. And while I don’t remember it, she said that when I was not much more than a toddler I would go around singing, “Jesus, I sure do like you” which was my version of “Oh, How I Love Jesus”, a song she so often sang or whistled while going about her daily routine of housework, cooking and taking care of whichever kids happened to be at her house that day. And I guess that sort of sums up her life: Kids, homemaking and her love for Jesus.
We will all miss Grandma but what a rich storehouse of memories we’ve been blessed with. She touched our lives in countless ways and we are the better for it.