Monday, July 19, 2004

Vacation and bad news

We just got back from vacation this weekend.  It went well enough.  It was our first time with a mobile child.  She was great on the beach but she could be a handful in the condo and waiting in line at Disney wasn't for the timid.  We took her to Disney in the mornings and left by mid-afternoon.  I took the camera and flash and got some incredible pictures of her with the Disney characters that she loves.  She probably won't remember much or any of this visit to Florida but we will have pictures of her on the beach and playing in the ocean (yeah, I did take the camera out into the water to get some photos).
On Friday morning my Dad called me to say that my grandmother had passed away or was passing away (depends on what you think about a person's spirit).  She had some type of heart problems last weekend and due to her stubborn nature and incredible health she didn't mention it to anyone until Tuesday when she was taken to the hospital.  She spoke her last on Thursday evening and her body ceased to breath Friday morning.  We packed up and drove home Friday night and I went to the funeral home Saturday and Sunday to greet visitors.  I had the distinct pleasure of getting to give part of my grandmother's eulogy.  She lived 92 long years.  She lived through the first World War, the Great Depression, the second World War and more technological advancements than most other generations.  Her longevity could have been due to her hearty stock, her diet of steady vegetables and fruits from her garden (supplemented with the occasional Pepridge Farm frozen cake or Totino's pizza) or it could have been from her godly life. 
It's difficult to write about her.  She helped to raise me and if she was on your side then she was on your side no matter the circumstances.  She was fiercely loyal.  She was a faithful servent of God for almost all of her 92 years and she was one of the most loving and faithful people I have ever met.  She had to drop out of school to help support the family but she was intelligent with a fast wit to the end.  In my statements about her I noted that she was just a little bit crazy but that wasn't a discredit to her.  Her craziness might take the form, for instance, of when she and my Granddaddy decided to take me on a trip either down to a store in town or across the river to meet with some of Granddaddy's CB buddies or maybe we were going to look for African Violets.  We'd all pack into Granddaddy's white Oldsmobile Cutlass with the red interior smelling of smoke.  We'd make it to the end of the driveway and she'd say, "Henry, I'm not sure I turned off that stove."  and in his gruff demeanor my grandfather would answer, "Blanche, I went behind you and checked it.  That stove is off."  We'd make it just a piece of a mile down the road and she'd just get more nervous and say, "Now Jiggs" for that was my grandfather's nickname, "I'm not gonna enjoy this trip unless I can know that those eyes are off." and around we'd turn and she'd run back into the house to verify that she had in fact turned off the stove.  That may seem normal except that at 6 or 7 or 8 or 9 years old I definitely remembered the first time she checked them on the way out the door to get into the car and I remembered that they were off.  I think she would have laughed about that and replied, "That's OK.  Everybody gets to be a little crazy about something every now and then."   She was pragmatic and practical. 
She loved to talk.  She absolutely loved to talk.  She loved to share stories and opinions and she had several of each.  It was impossible to tell her once that you had to leave the conversation because she would always answer that with "Let me tell you just one more thing" and an hour later she'd remember that you needed to go.  She would tell a story and then at the end of it she'd catch her breath and respond with "Now what about that?" as though she'd just heard it.  It didn't matter if it was the 3rd time or the 300th time she'd told it.  She'd tell a joke and then laugh so hard at the punchline you'd think you told the joke and she was the one hearing it for the first time.  She never met a person who didn't need to hear one of her stories.  She made more friends in the checkout line at the grocery store than many people will ever make in their entire lives.  She understood that there is a responsibility that comes with talking to people.  In all my life I never saw that woman back down from talking when she thought that something needed to be said.  She taught me to say what needs to be said when it needs to be said.  She never shied away from telling me I needed to get my family in church or telling my Dad things she thought he needed to hear or telling my grandfather just how she saw the world and what she thought the Bible had to say about something.  Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely detest an overbearing woman who thinks she knows everything but my grandmother wasn't like that.  She was blessed with an unswerving belief in people.  She believed that it didn't matter what mistakes you'd made up until now.  It didn't matter how you might have failed any test laid before you; shirked some responsibility or chosen selfishly.  She believed with such a deeply felt and abiding faith that all it took was for you to choose wisely and correctly this time and you'd be back on the right track.  Each person, regardless of his or her past could simply ask forgiveness of the Lord or of those he'd wronged and immediately choose to change his life.  She never said it was easy but then I guess with the life she'd already lived some decisions seem easy by comparison.  She believed in forgiveness.  She knew that choices in life bore consequences and so a person might have to pay for their mistakes but she firmly believed that they should be forgiven before they had to make that payment.  She loved.  She had a fire in her belly.  She lived life with a passion for being alive; a passion for having her own home, having her own garden; a passion for her flowers.  She loved me deeply and enduringly.  She loved the Braves and to the best of my knowledge watched all but the latest west coast games over the last several years of her life.  She loved my Dad as much as any one person can love another.  She loved my Granddaddy.  In retrospect its probably a good thing that Granddaddy came along  before Bill Clinton because she loved that man, too.  She loved the congregation at her church.  She adored the pastor, Brother Danny.  My grandmother spent the last 20 years of her life alone; not looking for another partner nor even wanting one.  She'd had 50 years with the man that she loved.  The celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary shortly before my grandfather passed away.  They were both in good health that day and shared memories with many of their friends.
In this life, its difficult sometimes to love perfectly.  The weight of sin, the burden of past pains caused by caring for others; the frailties of the human flesh all weigh a person down.  Whatever part of loving that my grandmother got wrong over the course of her life has now been purged and perfected.  I believe that she's now in the presence of Jehovah, God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, the God of the Old Testament and the New.  I believe that she was instantly and without any effort on her part was perfected and transformed into a new body with a new heart and mind and that all her lackings and all her frailties were done away with by the grace of God.  I believe that she's among old friends now and I believe she's with my Granddaddy.  I don't believe they're together as husband and wife but as two believers in Christ who shared so many personal memories of their lives together.  I believe that they can share memories of triumphs in this life.  I believe that without the burden of ego they can share lovingly and faithfully their memories of owning a little business, of growing older together and of raising two children and several grandchildren and that with each memory they can praise and glorify the Lord who strengthened them and gave them the grace to handle each situation laid before them.
But of all my memories, and my heart is filled with many, the one that came to mind so suddenly after my Dad's phone call was something she admonished me with as a young boy.  I don't know exactly how old I was but I know that she told me over and over again to follow this piece of advice.  It sounds simplistic and simple minded but I believe it shows an integration of her faith.  It demonstrates how she believed that her service to the Lord was most powerful when it was one-on-one.  She used to tell me to "Always give the other fellar a smile."  It doesn't sound Earth shattering but it was how she followed it up that made such a powerful message to me.  She'd say, "Always give the other fellar a smile 'cause you don't know but what that's the only smile he'll see today and you don't know but that's the way the Lord's gonna deal with him today."  It wasn't a call to the mission field or to build houses for the homeless.  It wasn't a request for money.  I know that she valued the mission trips that the youth of her home congregation went on.  I know that she valued the outreach that the congregation makes into the community.  But I also know that she felt a responsibility to just be available for the Lord to work through her to pass out some niceness to anyone on any day. 
Of all the things I heard said of her over the weekend, one thing that people kept saying over and over was that she always had something nice to say and was always in a good mood.  Now I know that she, like everyone else, may have had a bad day here and there or been in a foul mood but in my experience, she was one of the most upbeat and positive people I know.  I'm sure you can imagine the frailties that come with being 92 years old.  She had difficulties and she'd had heartache and loss but overall she was in a good spirit for just about anyone and she was happy to share with everyone.
She loved well on this Earth and she served her Lord faithfully during her life.

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