"Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past..." Deuteronomy 32:7 (NIV)
I have been thinking about my grandparents a lot. They, like many of my generation's grandparents, lived through the Great Depression. They had two of their three children during that turbulent time. My grandfather used to dig ditches for fifty cents a day to keep food on the table and a roof over the heads of his young wife and kids. Those difficult years marked both of them for life. Even thirty years after America had passed through that awful economic downturn and was thriving, they continued to live as though they might lose everything they had worked for their entire lives the next week.
Thrift was the name of the game at Gramma and Grampa's house. There were absolute no-no's that were not permitted at their house-and that was wasting anything. If you put it on your plate, you were greatly encouraged to eat every last bite. Everything was rationed. Not a dime more was spent than was absolutely necessary. The paper was scoured and coupons were clipped. Although they were living the American dream and had achieved great success, they lived far below their means.
But what wasn't rationed was their total and complete devotion to their grandchildren. Some of my best childhood memories were spent at their house. What did we do? I never remember eating out at a restaurant with them even one time because Gramma was an artist with food. She simply was not going to pay for a meal outside of her home that she could make better inside her home. She showed her love to us through her cooking. Raised in Arkansas, her sweet tea, homemade bisquits, fried chicken, and green beans with bacon were the best comfort food to be eaten anywhere. She made cinnamon rolls swimming in gooey goodness from scratch. Cinnabon has nothing on Gramma's recipe.
I remember her rocking me in her lap and singing me the song, "Go Tell Aunt Rhody":
"Go tell Aunt Rhody,
Go tell Aunt Rhody,
Go tell Aunt Rhody,
The old grey goose is dead."
I think about those lyrics now and wonder how I could have loved such a morbid song so much. I know why. It came from the lips of the woman who loved me second only to my own mother. Gramma rocked with me on her lap in the same rust and gold flowered upholstered rocker for a decade before I left with Mom and Dad to Congo. At just barely over five feet tall, the bottom of my feet would touch her ankles as we rocked away. We would laugh together as she said for the millionth time,
"Now, Shawnee, you are just going to have to stop growing! Gramma is not going to be able to rock you anymore if you don't!"
Spending the night with my grandparents always meant routine--one that I grew to love and expect. Its familiarity spelled out security to me. As darkness descended, she would tell my sister and me to take a bath and put on our pajamas while she popped us a big bowl of popcorn, topped with just the right amount of butter and salt. We would take the bowl into the family room where she laid down the same white blanket on the floor in front of the big television set. If we happened to be spending the night on a weekend, she always turned on her favorite show, The Lawrence Welk Show. We would watch the dancers and hear the tunes that she had loved as a young girl and wife. During a commercial break, she would pull out the blender, drop in several scoops of vanilla ice cream and chocolate malted powder, and mix it all up with milk and ice cubes. After a minute in the blender, she would scoop out the best treat of the night-one that would leave chocolate moustaches on our upper lips. We would drop on our pallets on the floor near her full-sized bed at 11:00 p.m., exhausted and happy.
Gramma left us in 1994. Grampa joined her in 1997, one week to the day after my first child was born. I mourn the void in my children's lives that is the result of their not getting to be loved by Cale and Ruth McKown. Their love for me was simple and uncomplicated, with a depth that was unconditional. We did the same things together year after year. Predictability was a given at their house. They were incredible examples of two people from very unprivileged backgrounds who worked hard and made a wonderful life for their kids and grandchildren. They never bought on credit or took anything for granted. The years of hunger were never forgotten. Their work ethic and devotion to their family are qualities that I continue to admire. Their generation gave its life's blood, sweat, and tears to give their descendants a life better than they had known. I fear we have squandered all their careful work.
On any given Saturday night, my girls and I can be found watching reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show on PBS. It is then that I tell my girls about the wonderful memories I have with their great-grandparents. They can't wait to meet them one day.
There are times when I miss them painfully. Today has been one of those times. One day, though, because of our shared faith in Jesus Christ, this earth's good-bye will be changed to heaven's hello. And I cannot express the hope that surges within the lonely places their absence brings because of that wonderful assurance.
Jesus, thank You for blessing me with such wonderful role models. Thank You for memories worth their weight in gold with two people I continue to love so dearly. Thank You that heaven will reunite me with my grandparents. With You, death does not have the last word.