“Grandma, where are you?”
A bit flustered and slightly more concerned, I entered Fairmount Cemetery all the more clueless. I tend to do this – if I don’t know where I am going, rest assured, I’ll figure it out. That’s what I tell myself, anyway.
Per my father’s advice, I did try and go to the main office to ask for directions to Grandma’s gravestone. However, on a day full of tractors, construction, and barriers, I was unable to find my way to the main office.
Back in my car, I said a quick prayer, Alrighty, Lord, please show me where she is.
I drove around with direction and determination, but with equal levels of uncertainty. The windy roads took me past thousands upon thousands of massive tombstones. Around since 1890, and the second oldest in Denver, you can just imagine the sheer amount of names visible every which way at Fairmount.
Blazing bulldozers drowned out my music yet before reaching for the radio, I glanced left and immediately remembered where her small plot had been established. In a garden nook, somewhere on the North side, lies a beige-red stone with the name Genevra Newell, 1937-2011.
Thank you, Lord.
When I went to visit Grandma yesterday, I didn’t stay terribly long. Maybe, 15, 20 minutes? Still, it was life-giving and something I knew I needed to do. I prayed to God, spoke to her, and just sat in the blustery rain, flat on the ground.
As my time drew to an end, I was full of incredible gratitude. Here lies a woman that so intimately influenced who I am while growing up; yet, how blessed am I, that now, my maternal grandmother is doing the very same thing. Without question, she has taken the reins.
Monday thru Friday you will find Mary Lou behind her desk at the Aurora City Municipal Court processing paperwork, filing documents, answering phones, and delivering customer service that would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. She has been doing this diligently for something like 13 years now, and she’s absolutely brilliant. If you are looking for someone who can treat a person with genuine kindness, she’s your gal. It’s in her blood.
Born in Wausa, Nebraska, a small Swedish community of around 700 people, Mary Lou knew manners, generosity, and humility. When founded, the original settlers – a group of 12 families or so – had called the place Vasa after the Swedish King, Gustav Vasa. However, it was altered to Wausa when combined with letters from the acronym “USA.” That’s an American story, if I have ever heard of one.
Her grandmother had emigrated from Oopsala, Sweden (that might be the most fun word to say, like, ever) and moved to the mid-west, speaking only Swedish when she arrived.
When grandma finally came along, and grew up in this little community, she graduated in a class of 25. She knows what it means to know everybody. Literally.
She’s naturally a Cornhusker; journeying off to the University of Nebraska for school. She was hardly “just a student” though: she was a daughter, sister, and community member, carrying her Wausa roots every which direction she went. This was all the more important when she wistfully recalls her precious relationship with her father. Watery eyes and a strained smile, you can tell how much she loved him. He died at an early age, when she was 23, after a successful career as dentist and mayor. Without a doubt, she was a daddy’s girl.
Imagine then, the boldness it would take to leave these small-town loyalties and move to Chicago, one of the biggest cities in the United States. More than just a move, she would become a flight attendant for United. In perhaps a small plight of destiny – as flying in the air often brings – she met my grandfather on a flight too. “Charming,” she said, “and traveling with an old friend from my high school,” they chatted and connected in a scene that seems a bit Hollywood-esque to me. I suppose that’s because when I board flights these days, whether to Africa, St. Louis, whatever, I talk to anyone and anything that moves….still no husband yet. I’ll keep you posted.
Mary Lou – Grandma – would become a mother as well and move to Brighton, Colorado, where my grandfather became a mayor and architect. Her daughters, she has told me, “mean everything” and they are truly her “pride and joy” in life. Numerous times, especially when I was young, my parents would drive us by mom’s childhood home in Brighton and I would ohhhh and ahhhh. It’s a classic American home; blue with white trim, with a Victorian touch. To me, that’s the kind of home I would love to have a family with. Old, rustic, worn.
Raising four (yes, 4) girls is heroic, in my opinion. I recently watched a friend from high school hold her 1-month old daughter in her arms, and feelings of awe, amazement, and respect filled my heart. The kind of investment raising a child requires – emotionally, financially, spiritually, everything – is the most selfless thing you can do. I believe that.
Fast forward 50 years.
That’s half a century. In that time, birth, life, joy, death, sorrow, separation, and love has happened to my grandma. It boggles my mind, sometimes, when driving together after church, to think that this woman has put so many years into life. And yet, it propels me to share as much as we can together. Not for the sake of solely wisdom (that’s great too) but also because that is the kind of beautiful, positive legacies that God can call us to create with our families.
In the last 9 months or so, we have been spending most Sundays in the pew together at Colorado Community Church; we have cleaned house together on Sunday afternoons; and we also have shared wonderful meals for dinner – at Mimi’s Café, Rosie’s Diner, the French Press, you name it. Aurora is full of good eateries and we have tried a good bulk of them.
Our conversations, however, are what sustain this guidance and love that she has placed into my life. We honestly share our difficulties, our struggles, and our wounds. So, in this time, I have moved away from just seeing this woman as my grandmother. She’s truly a woman, a human, a child of God, and seeing her in that light changes everything.
I mused over this yesterday at Grandma Jenny’s grave. I never got to see my fraternal grandmother this way – with this kind of intimacy. As a growing child and teenager, she was my angel. Certainly, I don’t think this was simply because she took Lance and I for frozen yoghurt or let us watch too much Care Bears or purchased us Oregon Trail for the computer. I think on some larger level, I knew she was protecting me, nurturing me, and loving me. That was enough.
Now, as a young woman, my other Grandmother is filling a different – but equally important – role. She is my encourager, supporter, and defender. You see, being 26 brings different problems than simply wanting to play soccer at recess with the boys or going to Dairy Queen for an Oreo blizzard.
What do I do with questions about love, identity, career, God, Jesus, friends, family, and making decisions?
I go to her. And for this season of life, I can’t really think of a greater blessing. To have been companions, in a sense, with both of my grandmothers is only something I can attribute as a unique, rare gift from God.
My family is far far from perfect. I assure you, we don’t prance around in flower-fields, holding hands in the sunshine, and singing songs of praise for each other all the time. That would be nice.
No, there is brokenness, there is hurt, and there are issues. But, let me say this:
this is normal. THIS IS NORMAL.
I think I’m emphasizing that for myself more than anyone.
In a lot of ways, I think I spent the first 20-ish years of my life wishing and hoping my family could be “perfect” and that we could sweep our issues under the rug and call it good.
What my grandmother has now been able to demonstrate and show me is that with family, perfection will never be in the equation. However, if you are so blessed to have your family within reach, then by all means, accept, love, and grow together.
I’m packing today for a 2-month training this summer in ministry. My hope, above all, is to grow intimately with God. A big part of that – I anticipate – will be learning how to accept family, how to honor them, how to give thanks for them. We carry around brokenness in backpacks, taking it along for all of life’s journeys. A good chunk, though, can be set free. That’s what I am most looking forward to. In a one-word summary, that’s what the Gospel gives. Freedom.
Grandma is dropping me off at the ministry’s campus tomorrow, which is all the more appropriate. It’s been her, praying alongside me this last year, and filling my mind, soul, and heart with a kind of compassion that only a woman full of life could know.
Thanks Grandma. I’ll miss our Sundays together, but in two months, I know we’ll be at it again.
I love you.