Friday, July 14, 2017

Neighbor Down


I have a book titled "Mommilies." It is a compilation of sayings that all moms everywhere repeatedly rehearse before their children in an effort to illicit wise choices from their offspring. I have compiled my own list that I call Grandmommilies. 

One of my earliest memories is sitting in Grandma's brown and gold flowered velour loveseat on Bunkum Road. After checking Todd and me to see if we were wearing undershirts to keep warm, she would bend down our ears and say "goodness gracious, I could grow potatoes behind those ears."

As a teenager when I got a little self-righteous and judgmental she would bring me down a notch by saying, "You don't know what all they've been through.  You can't judge a man till you've walked a mile in his moccasins."

When a baby cried, she would diagnose with conviction: "that baby's hungry!" She would feel their toes and declare, "well he's cold as a frog!"

Grandma was a worker, and in the years before her health declined was not comfortable sitting idle. When at the end of a meal her girls wanted to just sit and talk/rest, she would say, "let's just fly in and get this mess cleaned up."

When my kids were adolescents, she loved to entertain them with endless games of chicken foot while the women would do the Christmas shopping. She would say, "You girls just go on about your rat-killin' and don't worry about us." 

Eventually her hearing began to fail, and she would often startle to see someone show up in her basement living room from upstairs. To remedy this, as someone began descending the stairs they were to call out "neighbor coming down" it was abbreviated to "neighbor down" and eventually just "neighbor!" One Christmas a very young Bethani slid down the stairs calling "naybo down." Apparently she thought this was her name, and the term of endearment stuck to this day.

Grandma was truly the essence of a Proverbs 31 woman in her own right. She cared for her household, working outside the home to help support the family after Grandpa's heart-attack. She invested in Branson property and May Company stock. She loved to sew. Her handmade quilts that she designed and sewed to match each of us uniquely is proof. She loved to entertain and was always planning a dinner or fish fry. She brought her food from afar back when Aldi grocery first opened in Southern Illinois. I distinctly remember making the three hour trip, filling 3 shopping carts with cases of canned goods, stacking them to the ceiling of Aunt Sissie's van, and then organizing our own "grocery store” in her 3 closet pantries in her Bunkum Road basement. 

Speaking of the basement, what fun we had down there as kids. At Christmastime the cousins would dodge the potatoes growing eyes, and play store behind the counter, or rehearse a skit to be performed for the adults upstairs.

Grandma loved to cook. She was good at it. Most of us can attest to that because she showed her love by serving in her kitchen. If you close your eyes and breathe deeply, you can almost smell her yeast rolls baking in the oven. If you were her pastor, neighbor, hairdresser, mechanic or ride to church, she showed you her love at Christmas with an Italian Cream cake. When she discovered what her favorite people enjoyed, she made sure to have it ready when they came: fruit salad for Boo Boo, pecan pie for John John, cheesecake for Jayme, blackberry pie for Butch, and egg custard for Todd and Jeremi, who never had the heart to tell her that he really didn't like it.  She gave up trying to please me with my “health-nut” “no butter please” way of eating. My kids thrilled at the idea of exchanging my boring oatmeal for her special Malt-o-meal. She  claimed there was just a little butter and brown sugar but nobody was fooled. 

She was generous with her talent, and used it for kingdom work. She knew how to organize a church fund-raiser. I was very little but can still remember the peanut brittle factory in her basement. When she called out "shakers" that meant she had just added the baking soda to the peanut brittle and little "crumb catchers" like me had to scramble to the basement stairs to get out of the way. At least two church ladies were needed to relay--carrying metal tins of boiling peanut brittle to rest and cool before being popped out and bagged up to sell. If I remember, it was $5 for a bag of two patties. How proud we were to have a brand new blacktop paved parking lot at the church--completely paid for by the ladies auxiliary.

Having such talent did have some drawbacks however. She loved home-cooking, and sought out mom-and-pop restaurants when they would take a trip to Southern Illinois or Sesser. Inevitably when the food would arrive she would take a bite and then call the server over. "I'm so sorry, I never do this, but this just isn't fit to eat." 

There was one thing with which she struggled, and I could empathize because it is one of the things I have inherited from her: she had a particular aversion for water. I do believe every trick in the book has been tried to get and keep her hydrated. Gatorade, coconut water, infused water, flavor packets, big glasses, small glasses, stem glasses, colored straws, and lots of bottles by every chair. One trick that seemed to work was when we gave her a bottle of water at the beginning of a drive to Uncle Bud's house. We hid the bottle cap so she could not lay it in the seat and was forced to hold it. "Gimme that lid!" She said, but it was “lost.” She sipped on it without even thinking as we chatted and by the time we got there all 16 ounces was gone. That was quite a feat for her.

Grandma has left such a rich legacy but the thing that I will cherish most is not her hot roll recipe, or her stainless steel or even her hand embroidered heirloom quilt. I will always honor Grandma and Grandpa for the day they accepted the call of God and submitted to this precious Truth.  That was the greatest gift they could ever have given to us. They were the one who paved the way for us and now I can pass this hope for eternal life down to my children and they can pass it down to their children. It is that very hope and relationship with Jesus Christ that is sustaining us today. Grandma was not wealthy with this world’s possessions, but the gift of the Holy Ghost that she had received made her rich beyond measure.  The  inheritance I will get will not go through probate, I wouldn't trade it for anything—it is out of this world. 

I asked her what she would say if she had the opportunity to share some wisdom and advice gleaned from 93 years. I knew what her answer would be.  She said: "Always live for God and put Him first." Yesterday when I had some alone time with her, I promised her and God that I would make it to heaven.  I've got more to go to heaven for than I had last week.  So Grandma, let's meet just inside the Eastern Gate over there.