Today, October 7th, is a day on which I think of my grandmother. And thinking of grandma brings joy to my heart.
Certainly I loved all of my grandparents and was privileged to have all of them be active in my life until my young adulthood. I never had every-day sorts of relationships with them because both my maternal and paternal grandparents lived far from me all of my life. But that seemed to make the infrequent visits even more wondrous.
My maternal grandmother lived in a small city (that to me seemed more like a small town) in Iowa. When my brother and I were children traveling with our parents, the car rides to our grandparents' seemed interminable.
Before freeways made the trip more efficient, we slowed down for all of the little towns - making the journey longer but more appealing to my child-self (there might be parks or ice cream!).
Once freeways came about, it was rows and rows of corn fields, hour after hour. Once we had worn out the usual travel games, we were left alone with our thoughts.
By the time we approached the small city, it was often after dark and we were weary - but excitement rose as soon as we caught sight of the large billboard welcoming us to town. I could not help but smile as comfortingly familiar landmarks came into view.
And then we would pull into the graveled alley to grandma and grandpa's driveway and start unloading our luggage as grandma stood in the doorway to greet us. There were almost always fresh baked cookies awaiting us as well.
Once my family moved to Ohio, the trip became a two-day affair by car but, even in my adulthood, I would hitch a ride with my parents. However, when my aged grandfather lay dying, it was a difficult time for me to get away and we finally decided that I would fly out to be with my grandmother a couple of weeks later for Easter so that she wouldn't be alone.
Thus began my solo trips to visit grandma. Those wonderful trips when I had her all to myself.
My grandmother was a remarkably alert and able woman for her age. Occasionally we would take walks, with her clutching my arm because of the uneven sidewalks and the ever present fear of broken hips. We might play gin rummy in the kitchen or work the Jumble in the newspaper. We would visit with "the girls" (her older sisters), first at the large old house they shared and later at the nursing home.
When I could no longer handle the icy air conditioning of grandma's house, I would go out walking on my own for awhile, to the park at the end of the street or "downtown" to wander about "the mall". The summer heat felt like a blasting furnace, but a welcome one - until I got so hot that I again longed for the comfort of my grandma's chilly dwelling.
On October 7, 1992, I received two phone calls. I was living in a tiny apartment in Pittsburgh then, having just finished my internship. I was searching for a job - hopefully in Cleveland - without much success. The first phone call was from my mother: grandma had died at age 93.
The news was dumbfounding. My mother told me that, two days earlier, grandma had been canning apple sauce. The morning of her death, one of her neighbors had peered in her large picture window and thought something didn't look right. My grandmother was sitting in her easy chair with the newspaper on her lap and a cup of cold coffee by her side. She was no longer breathing.
I remember bursting into tears while making the plane reservation, explaining to the airlines representative on the other end of the phone that she was the first person I had told. It was so hard to believe that grandma could be gone - just like that.
As I was trying to gather my bearings, as well as my belongings to pack for the trip, the phone rang again. A psychologist was calling to chat with me and offer me an opportunity to interview for a job. He explained that he had thrown out my resume - could I send another? - because someone had put in a good word for me and now they wanted to meet me.
I ended up getting that job and working there for the 20 years that followed.
Grandmothers can be such wonderful people. I like to think that that second phone call came about because my grandma, who had worried about my unemployment, could at long last help me with it. Now part of the eternal community (often called "heaven"), grandma had become a vehicle of even more abundant grace than she had been during her human lifetime.
As I was pondering my relationship with grandma today, as I do on every October 7th, I was thinking about how I will never be a grandmother myself, since I have no children. This, however, is no cause for great sadness. I am blessed with several "surrogate" grandchildren, shared with me by dear friends.
One of them, in fact, came over to my house just yesterday. The last time we had played together, I showed her my alcohol inks and she was anxious to learn to paint with them. We had a lovely time while she painted on a tile that she proudly brought back to show her grandma.
As I was cleaning the blue out a brush she had used, I playfully showed her another way of spreading the ink on paper - by splashing it from the brush. As she moved on to another activity, I dabbled around a bit more and finished the impromptu painting below:
Not surprisingly, I decided to entitle the painting, "Joy". For the joy of grandma. For the joy of all the grandmothering (and grandfathering) experienced on this earth - and for the promise of an eternity of it in heaven with and through our loving God.
(Comments or contributions for the Week of Joy? E-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)