Toward the end of my college career, I felt a tug. I was about to embark on adulthood of the beyond-the-books variety, and suddenly my courses in calculus, business administration and literature felt insufficient in preparing me for the task ahead. Milestones at any age can send us seeking, and looming college graduation certainly had this effect on my young heart.
My Gramma Ann lived several hours away, and on my next visit, I resolved to ask her the kinds of questions that would provide insight and direction on how to lead a life well lived. Gramma was born in 1922 and, current appearances to the contrary, had lived a life of adventure.
A perfectly coiffured widow living in the same little house in the same little town my mother had grown up in, Anna (her given name) was one of eleven (!) children of Norwegian immigrants. She and Grandpa moved from rural North Dakota to Seattle, Washington, during World War II, where they both worked in factories supporting the war effort. My grandmother – she of the daily bird-watching and Bible-reading type – was Rosie-the-Riveter personified during WWII. Incredible!
Back in North Dakota after the birth of my aunt, she cooked for a crew of cowboys on the open range as a young mother. When I burn popcorn in the microwave or forget a key ingredient in a recipe, I picture Gramma making meals from scratch under a wide-open sky, and I shake my head in wonder. How did she do it? With a baby in tow, and grandpa off managing cowboys and cattle on behalf of a rancher, that’s how.
Mind you, I was old-hat (in my own mind) to a few of life’s lessons at the time. I had been engaged at 17, married two weeks after high school graduation, and together we’d worked our way through college. I’d figured out by then that when the honeymoon was over, it was really over. Despite rumors and wedding day winks to the contrary, the first year of marriage turned out not to be a picnic. I didn’t do the dishes on his timeline; he didn’t get a job outside of school on mine. We couldn’t agree on the question of children – an issue years away, but something that wanted settling right then, by golly! (We now have two charming offspring, by the way.)
The afternoon arrived when Gramma and I were able to sit down for a visit, just us two, and I asked her lots of questions. Chief among them was my need to know, looking back over life so far, what was the “very best time” in her life?Gramma smiled, and I prepared to bask vicariously in the glow of whatever adventure she shared. Would it be fun times in a sod schoolhouse? Meeting Grandpa? Leaving small-town life behind for the urban excitement of Seattle? I’d seen a professional photograph of young Gramma and Grandpa striding down a city sidewalk, taking on the world. I couldn’t wait to hear which of Gramma Ann’s life experiences she would settle on as best and brightest. I couldn’t wait to share in this grown-up secret with her, and hoped her glory days would rub off a little on my own life, somehow.
“Well,” she said as I held my breath, “When I was forty years old, I discovered I could have a personal relationship with Jesus, beyond reading my Bible or hearing about him. I learned how much he really loves me, and that was the very best thing of all.”
Little Anna had grown up, fallen in love, left home and returned to tell the tale of it, tamed the prairie, raised two incredible little girls of her own (my aunt and mother), worked outside the home when it wasn’t fashionable to do so, survived her husband by many a year, travelled a bit, loved her family well, kept the same olive green and white shag carpeting clean for decades, fed the birds, gardened, journaled meticulously ... and her favorite, best-of-all thing amid the many adventures of this life was her relationship with Jesus.
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A few years ago, we celebrated Gramma Ann’s 90th birthday with pink, purple, and blue barrette extensions in her hair (tiny bright-colored braids, as I recall) and a sparkling tiara atop her head. There were girly goody bags, good food and good times among family, and both her daughters and their families were there to cheer her on. It is a wonderful memory for all of us.
When she passed away unexpectedly just after Christmas that year, we mourned her loss, but not one of us doubted she was beside Grandpa, smiling down from Heaven. The minister said, “Do not mourn the loss of Ann – she has achieved the goal of her faith.” When I think of Gramma, with all of her adventures, her love for her family, and the stories woven into the tapestry of her life, I imagine Jesus embracing her in a hug just through the pearly gates, and maybe placing a medal around her neck for a race well run...
“Well done, daughter of mine. Well done.”
Gramma, thank you for sharing your best-of-all adventure: your love for Jesus.
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