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The phone call came at 6:45 on the evening of the 16th. At 8:58 I sent out an e-mail message to friends about my Grandmother's death. Many of those friends are former and current church members of congregations I have served as pastor. By the next morning I was receiving e-mail messages back. The ones from former and current church members had a common theme. In addition to expressing their sympathy they all said that they felt they had known my grandmother: "We remember your grandmother from the stories you would tell us of her."
That is the nature of memories. They can be collective, shared, or private. They may be special moments - remembrances of her as a sister, a wife, a mother, or a friend. But, when we share those memories they become a part of someone else. The memories become the possession of others. When the Bible tells us to be kind to foreigners in our midst because we were once slaves in Egypt it assumes we have made that memory our own. We were once slaves in Egypt. The sacred memory has been passed down to us. Today, I want to share just a few memories of my Grandmother.
She was a determined woman. Yes, she was a woman who could be patient, but that was restricted by the limits of her determination. When I was small she decided it was time to clean the attic. She had asked my Grandfather to place the wagon underneath the attic window so she could drop the stuff she wanted to be rid of. Well, my Grandfather was busy with other things. One day she decided she had waited long enough. She went to the attic and opened up the window and began to hurl items from the window. Imagine my surprise to items raining from the sky. Imagine my Grandfather's surprise upon his return.
Then there was the time she was after my Grandfather to clean out the chimney. My Grandfather was up working in the fields when a chimney fire broke out. I was still a baby and my mother picked me up and went running next door to Aunt Mid's house. My Grandmother called the fire department (instead of calling for my Grandfather). My grandfather saw the fire trucks coming up the road from town - followed by cars of just about everybody who lived along the way! My Grandfather saw to it that the chimney stayed clean after that.
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Her determination had an effect on other aspects of her life. She loved to travel. She had recently traveled to Washington D.C. with my Grandfather on a visit to see Loyce and Kurt. She got to see the cherry blossoms in bloom. Something she had always wanted to see. That was the sort of thing that made her happy. She loved nature, and human interaction with nature. My Grandparents loved to travel. They traveled alone, with family, or with friends - such as the Johnsons.
Around 1970, my family was on its way to Niagara Falls. My Grandmother said she would love to go. My mother, jokingly, said that she would have to ride up with one of the children on her lap. She opened the car door and crawled on in, placing one of the smaller children on her lap and said, "Let's go!"
Her determination also showed in the way she cared for people. I can't remember a time when I haven't spoken to her this past year when she didn't remind me that she said a prayer for all of her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was determined to make that a part of her life. In the same way, that care shows in the detail and work that went into all of those quilts she made for us. I look at the quilt she made for me; made from squares cut from the dresses she had worn through the years. I cannot look at that quilt without seeing her in those dresses.
I must confess that smells often evoke memories for me. That is especially true for the smells of foods. The last time I saw my Grandmother was during Thanksgiving last month. Whenever I smell certain foods (e.g., turkey, pumpkin pie) I remember so many meals spent at her house on the holidays. Fried chicken and mashed potatoes bring back memories of Sunday dinner at her house after church.
It is no coincidence that so many of the Gospel memories revolved around food. The disciples remember Jesus the same way. They remember how he fed the multitudes, they remember the meals by the sea. They remember the last supper. Two disciples recount how the risen Lord walked with them to Emmaus. There hearts burned within them as he opened up the scriptures for them. But, it wasn't until he took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, that their eyes were opened and they recognized him!
Jesus often compared heaven to a great banquet - to a wedding feast. In the book of Revelation it is written, "Blessed are they who are invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb." Heaven is a place of great rejoicing, and fun, and fellowship. The same sort of things we would do at a great feast. The sort of things we would often do while gathered around my Grandmother's table.
Growing up next door to her meant my immediate family spent a great deal of time at her house. Indeed, we lived at her house until my father finished building ours. Sometimes children stray and are in need of discipline. For us that sometime meant a switching. The switch of choice were cut from the peach tree that was just outside of my grandmother's house. One day that tree became so diseased that my Grandfather cut it down. I will never forget watching him pull the stump out of the ground by a chain attached to his tractor. While I was watching from the window I think I had my first religious experience. "Hallelujah, the tree is dead, the tree is no more, Hallelujah!"
This last year has been difficult for my Grandmother. There were problems with her diabetes, the kidney failure, being on dialysis three days a week. When the doctor said she needed heart surgery, it was too much. She said she had had enough. "No more." She was a Christian. She had placed all of her hope and trust and confidence in her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There are certainly things worse than death; at least, for a Christian.
Her heart stopped on the 16th while eating supper with the man she loved. The man she had been married to for over 61 years. I cannot begin to imagine his pain.
I remember what the apostle Paul said:
This perishable body must put on imperishability.
What is mortal must put on immortality.
When this perishable body puts on imperishability
and what is mortal puts on immortality
then the saying that is written is true:
death has been swallowed up in victory.
Where O death is thy sting?
Where O grave is thy victory?
Thanks be to God who gives us this victory in Jesus Christ.
May the good Lord sanctify our memories of Ida Mae, and may they be a blessing to all of us.