Grandmother: A Portrait of Goodness

Lois Marie Thomason / My Grandmother in her Wagner, Texas kitchen
Lois Marie Thomason / My Grandmother in her Wagner, Texas kitchen

My grandmother, Lois was a beautiful woman.  She wore simple dresses that she made herself on a old treadle Singer sewing machine.  Her thick, brown hair waved around her sweet face, except for the strands she managed to keep off her forehead with bobbie pins.  She had a figure any schoolgirl would envy: a stomach so flat her skirts hung from her tiny waist the way they would on a runway model.  The colors of her clothes, as well as their cut and form, were modest.  She tried not to call attention to herself.  She was quiet and hardworking. She was my definition of “Good”.  She was a Christian woman and she didn’t have to proclaim it.  You could see it, everyday, in her simple life as a farmer’s wife.  She was everything I wanted to live up to but always seemed to fall short.

Maybe, I have her built up in my mind more perfect than she really was.  Still, I like to keep her like I have her stored there.  She seemed almost angelic.  She suffered much in her short life.  The amenities that I take for granted, she never had.  I could fill a book on her life but I will try to tell the story I meant to tell: my last living memory of her.

Our family had gone to her house, along with my mother’s brother, Tommy and his family, for some holiday.  I can’t remember, now if it was Easter or Mother’s Day.  I picture the three women (Grandmother, Momma, and Aunt Wanda) along with my older sister, Tina and me.  We were in the west bedroom of her Victorian gingerbread house.  My grandmother had called Momma and Aunt Wanda in there to show them some pictures.  Tina and I had tagged along.  I sensed some importance in this meeting.  We circled the bed like tribal women surround a fire, eyes forward, ears listening.  I was the youngest.

Laid out on the bed were old, framed, black and white photographs.  Some were of my grandfather shockingly handsome and young with his basketball team all lined up on the black-land dirt.  Their uniforms neat and almost modern looking.  His hair in sunlit waves brushing the forehead above his sparkling, mischievous hazel eyes.  Some were of their small school; children lined up at its rustic sides according to age and height.  So few they were that the whole school could be fitted within the frame of the photographer’s lens.  Some wore fancy, frilly dresses with bows almost as big as their heads tilting heavily to one side of their wavy bobs.  Some wore overalls and freckles, but no shoes; toes displayed proudly.  The teacher stood off to one side; clean, polished, an example of the education they would receive and the ethics they would learn.

I realized how somber Grandmother was.  This was serious to her.  She pointed to a couple of pictures that I had seen lying on the chenille bedspread but had averted my gaze from.  Now, as they were forced to my attention, I realized the weightiness of the images.  There, in a fancy coffin was the creepy, emaciated  remains of my great-great grandmother.  I was revolted by the thought that someone would take a picture of a loved one in their deceased state. Why, I thought, would anyone want to remember someone that way?  Wouldn’t you want to remember them with a smile on their face and laughter in their breath? Momma and Wanda felt the same.  We were united in our disgust.

Grandmother spoke in her quiet way.  She told us that she had always hated the macabre pictures herself, but her mother had made her promise to take care of them.  She was a good daughter and had honored her mother’s wishes, storing them away out of sight.  This was what she had brought us together for: to exact a promise from her own daughter.  I was witness, along with the others, of the promise Momma made to her.  When she died, she wanted Momma to take the funeral photos and burn them.

This request was like an exclamation point on that day because it was on that day that I saw her take my mother’s hand and place it on her swollen belly.  I had not noticed in my youthful mind that there had been a physical change in her.  I had ignored her lack of energy and the way the natural dark circles around her eyes had darkened.  I saw, then, Momma’s eyes widen as she felt the knot beneath her hand.  Grandmother asked her if she felt it.  Momma nodded.  Wanda reached out her hand to feel as well.  She, too, felt the tumor.  In unison, they pleaded with her to see a doctor.  Soon, she did.  Our lives were never the same.

I vaguely remember going to see her as she lay in her eastern room, dying.  I’m not sure if it really happened or not.  I think Momma tried to protect us from witnessing  the pain she was going through.  Maybe she was caught up in taking care of her and didn’t realize we might want to see her.  I know I was not there when she passed from this world.  Momma was.  It was Momma’s birthday.  She came home from the hospital for the supper and cake we had made for her.  She returned to the hospital and was with her beloved mother that night when she slipped from this dark world.

I’ve run her passing over and over in my mind.  What if someone had been willing to loan her the money for an operation years before…what if they hadn’t been farmers…what if she hadn’t wore herself out taking care of everyone but herself.

This I know:

My grandmother took care of her mother when she was deathly sick herself.  My grandmother was a good wife.  My grandmother was a good mother.  I will continue to put her on a pedestal and try to be the daughter, mother, grandmother, and wife that she was.  I pray that the Lord would put in me whatever He put in her that I might attain it.  I love you, still, my grandmother.

Grandmother and Granddaddy (Bud Thomason)
Grandmother and Granddaddy (Bud Thomason)

Our Own Little Nests

My husband, James stood behind me, arms around my waist.  I leaned back into him and fought back the tears.  Texas country music artist, Zane Williams was singing his song, “While I Was Away”– a song about missing the special everyday moments shared by his wife and children while he was away trying to make a decent living for them all.

I once asked my daughter, Michelle to listen to the song and she could barely stand to hear the haunting lyrics.  That’s how close the words hit home.  Our little ones don’t just stop growing because we have other things to do.  In this, time is not our friend.IMG_1229

The next morning, I was thinking about the song, again.  It caused me to remember this story:

Once,there was a young man who had small children.  On a hot summer afternoon, he came home a little earlier than usual — not quite dinner time, and his youngest daughter ran to him crying, “There’s my Daddy!”  He looked down on her. Her hair hung in damp ringlets, for she rarely kept still.  She wrapped her tiny arms around his legs, undeterred by the filth of his work jeans.  Sweat and dust still clung to his clothes.  He had worked so hard that day.  He worked hard every day, trying to get ahead.  He had dreams of giving his family a better life than the one he had growing up.

He exclaimed in a fully animated way, “You are getting way too big!  If you don’t quit growing so fast, I’m going to have to take you to Belittle, Texas!”

The little girl’s eyes got big.  She could sense that her father was teasing her.  He liked to tell her tall tales.  “Belittle, Texas?  Where is Belittle, Texas?”  She asked.

He laughed and squatted to get down on her level.  “Haven’t you ever heard of Belittle, Texas?”  He asked.  She shook her head.

“Why, Belittle, Texas is a town that has this special place.  You can take your children there and they can make them stay little forever.  That’s why they call it “Belittle”.  You will always stay my little girl!”

The little girl laughed and said, “Nugh, ugh!  You’re teasing me, Daddy!”

“Oh, no!  I’m not!  You better stop growing so fast!”

The father began telling this story to all his children every time he felt time was passing him by.  They loved to hear him recite it even though they knew it wasn’t really possible. It became their term of endearment and they talk of it to this very day.

Well, you can figure for yourself what happened.  The little girl did indeed grow up, along with her sister and brother.  The father stayed extremely busy.  His ambitions, he told himself, were noble and yet, he missed so much of those little ones’ lives.  He missed their games.  He missed putting them to bed at night.  He blinked and it was all gone.

So many of us look on our children with our hearts exploding with love.  We truly want what’s best for them.  We see them playing with other children and we want them to have just as much as any other child.  We look after their safety.  We make sure to warn them about strangers.  We make sure their carseats meet all the safety requirements.  We make sure their day-care providers don’t have any criminal records.  We move to the safest neighborhoods we can afford.

 

I wonder if, while we are buckling them in that carseat, we remember to teach them to love God.  Will their providers or teachers make sure they learn to be kind? Who will make sure they know to love their neighbor as themselves? In a system that tells the children of our society that they can do no wrong, where the teachers are not allowed to punish a unruly child, can they learn the respect they will need for authority?

Please, remember!!!  Our children are with us for only a very short while.  Talk to anyone who has an empty nest.  Let them tell you with what speed their children grew and left them.  Mothers wake in the middle of the night, struggling to nurse a child who cries but seems unwilling to latch on to the the breast she provides them.  Toddlers defiantly poop their pants and rub its contents on the walls.  Teenagers look at you with a burning hatred because you told them to clean their room.  You think it will never get easier.  You will never get one moment to yourself to sit and think.  Believe me…you will.

There will come a day when you can go to bed at a decent hour simply because you have no idea where your children are.  They don’t live with you.  You don’t know if they stayed out all night, or not.  You say your prayers, asking God to put his wings of protection around them.  It’s the only peace you’ll have.

You’ll come home to an empty house and turn on the television, just for the noise.  That peace and quiet that you so longed for?  It will drive you crazy.  You’ll hear their sweet laughter as if in a faraway dream.  You’ll long to drink in their faces, but their lives are busy, now.  They will call you when they have time.  That time will be very rare and precious.

Young mothers and fathers, this time that you have with your children is the most precious time you will have on this earth.  What other pursuit could be as worthy as teaching and mentoring the young minds, hearts, and souls the Lord has placed in your care?

When my own children were young, I went to a community college for one semester.  I wanted to be a nurse.  Already, I was feeling guilty for the soccer games I had missed and the evenings I had been away from them.  Part of me loved that alone time with other people close to my age.  The teachers encouraged me.  It boosted my ego.  I pushed the guilt aside as I went to meet with my counselor for my second semester.

I will never know what led that kind woman in the words she said to me that day.  I was forever grateful, though.  She said, “Honey, your children are little.  It won’t be long until they won’t need you so much.  You have all the time in the world to go to school.  You only get this one chance to be with your children.  Can’t it wait?”

I thought about her wise words and decided it could wait.  I never did go back to nursing school, but I spent all the time I could with my children and I’ve never regretted it.  Sure, we sacrificed a lot for me to stay home with them, but God always provided what we needed.

I know there are many men and women who are led to a calling beyond raising children.  I know there are mothers out there raising children all on their own.  I know there are fathers doing the same.  It is a tough time to be a parent.  Many times it takes two incomes just to make ends meet. The world never seems to give you a break. We all have good intentions.

Just try sitting together each night at the dinner table and be truly interested in the tales your children tell you.  Read them a story, or tell your own, when you tuck them in at night.  Say prayers with them.  Take them for walks and point out all the wonders of God’s creation.  Remember the eyes with which you looked onto this world when you were a child.  The wonder of it all is still there.  You need only to look and listen.

Precipice

What am I to do?

IMG_3135

What is the purpose that

I have been given?

 

Later years.

Children grown.

Motherhood tucked in like

A blanket.

 

My days are full.

Busy work.

Shopping.

Errands for others~

Others with jobs.

Careers.

 

My time

Worth little to others

Priceless to me.

Heavy with threat.

 

How many days

Left to explore?

Play?

Create?

 

Sickness

Hangs over.

Thick stormy clouds.

 

 

Will the torrents pour?

Wash me away

Before I am ready?

Or…

 

Will the Winds

Blow them over

Leaving me to bask

In the sun

 

For a while longer?

 

Holly Y. Smith

 

 

My Autumn

 

Cooler weather.

Windows open.

Breezes enter.

 

It is fall…for the earth

And for me.

This is the fall of my life.

 

Like a leaf that has been too long

On the tree,

I have begun to dry up

 

But, oh…

Look at my colors!

 

I may not be new.

No longer supple.

Youth left a season ago.

 

Yet, I have become

More interesting.

Something to press between the pages.

 

This is a time

I will savor

For the winter of my life.

 

Holly Y. Smith

Strands of Golden Web

I’m getting older.  I’m 52 years old; two years older than my father was when he passed away from lung cancer.  At the age of 45, I, too, was diagnosed with cancer of a different variety: leukemia.  I’m happy to say that I’ve been in remission for seven years, now.

People react to a cancer diagnosis in different ways.  I had this feeling that I would be suddenly transported into this wise woman.  I would have a new, appreciative outlook on life.  People would look at me and say, “There is a lady who has been to hell and back!  Look at the joy on her face!  Look at the purpose in her life!”

I wish it was so.

I seem to be more lost than ever.  My faith in God is greater.  I can say that.  I just still don’t know my purpose.  I keep waiting for that lightening bolt…that “Oh, YES!” moment.  I want to be wise.  I have five grandchildren and another baby girl on the way.  I want them to feel like they can come to me for good advise.  I want to gather them around me like baby chicks and feed them.  I want them to feel God’s love through my love for them.

A few weeks ago, I was walking down a dirt road that is not far from my home.  This is something I love to do.  My mind feels at peace and my thoughts run free as my feet press against the hard, dusty earth.  The trees offer their shade and protection, reaching their arms over me as in a game of “London Bridge”.  Birds sing their sweet songs to me.  Rabbits dart in the brush and watch as I pass by.  I’m alone and yet, I’m not.  I know God is with me.  Being in full view of his creation makes this reality ever more present.  So much of my walking time is spent researching, analyzing and sorting out my life.  My need to create clashes daily with my need to feel useful.  The absence of my children in my everyday life has left me in a puzzled existence.  I don’t quite know how I fit in anymore.

On this particular walk, I ran into a spider’s web.  This happens often on dirt roads.  It has alway been a wonderment to me how they get that sticky thread all the way across the width of the road, but they do!  I reached up my hand to try and wipe it’s creepiness from off my sweaty face with a feeling of disgust.  As I walked on, I made a mental metaphoric connection with the spider’s web and wisdom.  I pictured the spider’s web.  It, like wisdom, is such a beautiful thing.  In the early morning light, it is covered in dew and each drop of moisture sparkles like a perfect crystal strung upon a glistening thread.  It is expertly crafted by a superior, intelligent being, waiting to serve a intended purpose. How much skill went in the weaving of it!

When we get “caught” in the web of wisdom, do we fight it?  Do we try, like I did with the real one, to get away from it so that we are free to do our own will; or, do we wait patiently to be “transformed” into usefulness for someone else?  Do we take that wisdom and feed the souls of others?

There is so much wisdom out there.  “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  Jesus said this in Matthew 9:37 (New King James Version).  Our elders are all around us waiting for someone to listen to what they have learned through their years on this earth.  Do we despise them?  Are their weaknesses and infirmities all we can see?

If it is God’s will, I hope in the months to come to share some wisdom, some strands of golden web, from the sages I come in contact with.  I also hope to share stories from my ancestors, as well as poems and short stories of my own.