I have been thinking a lot about my Gramma today. Viola Mae Hauber Hudson, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, matriarch, farmer. Gramma and I bonded from an early age over an identical left leg birth mark. One round, small spot on our left leg we shared that seemed to mark us indelibly as kindred spirits. I still see her puzzling over her crossword puzzle as I catch glimpses of myself pondering over the precise selection of words when I write. I still hear her barking orders to the cows, the milkmen, the barn cats (scat!) and as I age, my voice takes on her deep tone and wistful humor, particularly with my students. I still smell her cooking, and taste her apple pies, baked in her own well aged pie pan. I often say, “It takes all kinds…” when I agree to disagree with the many kinds of people who pass my way and push my buttons. This strong woman, my Gramma, is always close in spirit.
In my spiritual journey, I am grateful to my Gramma for her pragmatism, inspiring faith formation within ordinary, daily activities of life. She was one of the women always hosting the church bizarre, planning the strawberry festival and dolling out fresh berries over home-made biscuits and ice cream. She cooked nearly every after-funeral gathering, except for her own. She probably would have done that, too, if she could have. She would speak her mind to any clergy person, not in the lofty language of abstract theology but in the practical, everyday reality of how to live in harmony and respect each other. She lived for each day, and focused on the needs of the present moment. She attended church whenever she wanted, and didn’t attend when she didn’t want to. We said grace before big family meals, and she meant it when she thanked God for harvests, crops, weather, and health. We had what we needed, but often little more than that. And, for what we had, we were grateful.
Did she pray? Did she doubt? She was a young widow who had to raise a family and run a farm. You could argue she didn’t have time. But you could argue that her daily steps forward to live and work in stubborn strength were, in themselves, both prayers and acts of faith.
I am sure that my Gramma cried sometimes, although we didn’t see it…well, other than when she fried strong onions, perhaps. Those were the only tears I saw for years. Until she was dying. I remember that time vividly, turbulently. My Mom and my Aunts, especially Joyce with whom she lived, were caring for her to the very end. They were doing everything possible to maintain her strength and integrity. Cancer was making their job harder by the day. I was visiting from out of town, along with my daughter who was, at that time, a playful and oblivious 18 month old with chubby cheeks and mischievousness oozing from every pore. She would play peek-a-boo around the walker and oxygen tanks. Gramma, in a haze of pain medicines, would moo like a cow and send her little great-grandchild into peals of laughter.
But, it eventually came time for me to leave. My flight was scheduled, but I didn’t want to say good-bye. I sat on Gramma’s bed and held her hand. I promised her I would live true to our shared birth-mark. I assured her I was raising the next generation of strong women, present there at bedside full of her clumsy and lavish unconditional toddler love. Gramma cried, big tears. So did I. My Mom and Aunt Joyce had to leave the room. But all of our spirits stayed and lingered there together, strong women of four generations. All struggling to put something beyond words into words. We never did find the words. But we shared those moments.
A few hours after our flight returned us safely home, Gramma died. We returned for her funeral barely 48 hours after we had left her bedside. In the meantime, it had snowed and there was ample toddler playtime in the midst of funeral preparations. It was like a vintage picture, the whole family walking from small church to the cemetery down the road through swirling snows and moist eyes. What I remember the most from all the blurry funeral moments, though, was my little daughter in the old country church, waving and playing peek-a-boo toward the casket. She didn’t see the death. She saw the life, just as she had seen it around the bedside and the oxygen tanks. I actually have no doubt (nor did my spouse) that she was seeing what we could not that day: the loving, present, playing spirits of the strong woman and the little child. The archetype of mother, grandmother, strength, family. The eyes of the young are open even when ours are closed.
During this Holy Week, we are challenged to walk through the last days of the passion narrative, to hear Jesus ask for the cup to pass from him. I imagine the words of Jesus reflecting the human desire to live and avoid death, the same way my Gramma’s tears showed her desire to cling to life. Jesus became more real for me during my spiritual journey when I began to stop heading in a bee-line of expectation for Easter. Instead, Lent and in particular, Holy Week ask us to take in the doubt, the denial, the struggle, the pain, the mockery, all wrapped together in the the deep and abiding love present in this narrative.
In my readings and meditations this week, I began to notice the strong women, the women of faith who were at the last supper, at the cross, at the tomb. Were there children in that scene, too, whose stories and experiences were not able to be fully captured by the words of the grown-ups? Were they able to see past the suffering and death, and seeing, instead, light and life?
I believe they were there. And they saw something the adult disciples could not. And they still do.
Strong women and little children are profound sources of light in my life, and in the world. In them, we see the Kingdom of God present here and now in the everyday wonder of living.
“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17)