My great-grandmother’s “R’s” melted and fell like home churned butter on her oversized yeast rolls. After growing up in Arkansas, she didn’t drop them completely, as I’m guessing her people from South Georgia did, but her vowels were complete and as long as her patience. She only wore dresses and once said she “wouldn’t wear pants if her grandma rose up from the dead and wore them, too.”
That tells you everything you need to know about her (and her children): she knew who she was and didn’t need permission from anyone to be that way. Good gracious, I guess the grand-apple doesn’t fall far from the family tree. “Good gracious” was something she said, then her daughter said it, then my father, and now I say it, too. Except I should henceforth say: good and gracious to honor who she was in this chain letter of love she gave to all who followed her.
Isn’t that what grandparents are? A love-letter linking us to our past, but carried by us into the future?
The ancient Greek directive, “know thyself,” strikes to the heart of anyone discerning to live a life worthy of remembrance. I personally know myself more fully and definitively, because I knew her, and see myself in her daughter, her sons, and all their children combined. I know that I sit at the kitchen table long into the night guiding homework, because someone sat beside me, who sat beside him, who sat beside her.
Do I powder and rouge my nose and cheeks, because she did as well?
Am I also fully capable of picking, shelling, and cooking a mess of butterbeans after a full day’s work, while rearing precocious children?
Are pieces of my speech reminiscent of her pleasant, lowland Southern English?
Okay, maybe I pushed it on the shelling beans comparison, but in all the ways that matter, she led the way and it encourages me that I am more than equipped to follow. Heck, I may wear shorts and flip-flops, but it still takes every ounce of moxie I’ve got to wear pants to church.
Her last piano still stands in my living room, it isn’t the first one she had – a black upright she bought with her own money. She took piano lessons on her first one and I did, for years, on her last. When I see it, the memory is kindled of sitting quietly with her, tasting the sweet goodness of a glass bottle full of Dr. Pepper. I revered her. As a middle-schooler, however, I had no idea that my general survey of her was woefully lacking.
As I continue to know her posthumously, through stories from her daughter, my vision of her, elderly, with legs crossed at the ankles and beautiful hands resting in her lap, has evolved into the very reflection I so aspire to realize. It is quietly reflective and passionately convicted.
The person she actually was, from birth to death, and the memory from my youth, have come together more completely in my mind.
I’m sure as I age, more of her life will make sense in each season of mine. She was a dynamic woman, as is her daughter. I draw strength from both of them when I’m not sure I can take another step. This paragraph of wisdom and encouragement is yet another gift from the love letter of their lives.
For some time, when her children were elementary and middle-school aged, she traveled as a teacher spending the week in another town, leaving early Sunday evening and returning Friday after school. She was smart and an example of perseverance. Although in those days, she was only required to complete courses specific for teaching, she spent years accumulating the hours to finish her Bachelor’s degree, earning well over the hours that were probably required for a Master’s.
Her husband, a former teacher turned farmer, stayed behind with his live-in sister to look after the four children. But immediately upon her return Friday evening, she began cooking, helping her husband in the garden, and hosting family and friends for large Sunday suppers, especially after summer Singing School or revival. Believe it or not, she even made time to piece and make quilts and crochet tatting.
I know now, possibly by DNA imprinted memory how and what I am supposed to do and who and why I am supposed to be.
I am to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and my hardest one to conquer: full of self-control. Because to be anything less than these things would be to take away from who she was, who her daughter is, and what I’m certain she intended to teach her children and thereby leave behind in this world.
Who am I to tear down what she spent her life building up?
How am I not to march forth in a way that is anything less than the woman she was?
This Grandparent’s Day, let us remember the unassuming, steadfast ways of the ones who walked out front. The ones who blazed the trails and the ones who quietly maintained them. May we take time, not only to hug and love on the ones still with us but to preserve their stories, as well. I continue to ask my grandparents both simple and deep questions to fill the gaps in my memories because knowing them both honors their lives and gives me direction for mine.
Maybe your grandparents didn’t blaze trails but simply kept the link in the chain from breaking. That alone is noteworthy. Some, I know, aren’t fortunate to have a grandparent relationship, but it’s never too late.
I encourage you to befriend an older neighbor or adopt a nursing home resident. If you have stories to tell and wisdom to impart, consider adopting a younger neighbor; pick the one with a permanent messy bun and things falling from her car, she needs you.
The gifts grandparents bequeath through their time, traits, example, and legacy are simultaneously an inheritance, cornerstone, and springboard; simply stated, grandparents are the link between our past, present, and future. May the link that connects your family circle be unbroken. And Grandma Carter, I’m writing my own love letter now, but I’ll see you soon and thank you myself in that great summer Singing School in the sky.