How do you talk about someone like Grandma? How can you fairly tell her story? In my experience, the best way to tell a story is to start at the beginning.
Annette Weatherford Turner was born on October 4, 1921, ninety-three years ago. She had a front row seat to Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam, and a host of other major upheavals in the world that many of us will only read about in a history book. She’d tell you those stories if you took a moment to stop and listen – even though she was a quiet lady who spent most of her time watching you!
She married the love of her life, Harry AKA Pop, in 1945. The two of them had survived World War II together- communicating via letters and notes that kept them connected in the midst of the war. She took care of the home they built, planting flower gardens on the property- especially roses. Like the woman in Proverbs 31, she also took to working with thread, and her work as a seamstress would later be used to make pajamas from feed sacks or bridesmaids dresses from pale green organdy, just one of the ways she shared her blessings with others. But Annette’s marriage to Harry was just another chapter in the story, because before too long, she became “Mama.”
Harriette Evans was born to Annette and Harry in 1950 and “Mama” became the role and life’s work that she threw herself into. “Mama” learned to drive so she could take her daughter to school rather than have her ride the bus. Harry would tell Harriette how to get places and then she would direct her Mama on the route, even getting out of the car to give directions on parking! (For the record, Mrs. Evans still gives lots of driving directions).
One of Harriette’s Christmas memories is of a church pageant: “I vividly remember Mama and Daddy as Mary and Joseph in the LUMC Christmas pageant. I thought she was more beautiful than Mary could ever have been. It was as if she had a magical glow about her.” The fact that her parents were part of the pageant had a lasting impact on her view of them – and of church.
Mama was steadfast in installing the values of right and wrong and the importance of honesty in her daughter, and the trust they had bonded them together. Mama became Harriette’s advisor, confidant, and friend- even when she took on a new name: “Grandma.”
As Grandma, Annette Turner first had Jonathan, and then Joanne. She spoiled them from the time they were little on up, with vegetable soup, string and butter beans, head rubs, and the most lavish Christmases. Her sweetness was only matched by the twinkle in her eye, and the quick retort to one of her grandchildren’s teasing remarks.
Jonathan remembers “coming home from traveling abroad in 1998 and teasing Grandma about never being on a plane. She informed me that she most certainly had – that a neighbor used to charge them a dollar to go up in the crop duster. That made me realize she wasn’t just the lady that cooked my ham biscuits but someone that had also led an interesting life. I tried to get her to talk about her life; some of my fondest adult memories with her are of her telling stories from her childhood and young adult life.”
Joanne remembers how Grandma and Pop were always there – like her mom and dad are there for her/our kids. How it always seemed like Grandma was winning games, even though she wouldn’t brag about it! And how she must have been the best mom in the world, because of how she taught Harriette to be a mom, too.
Over time, Grandma also inherited two “in-law” grandchildren. First, she met me – and I tell people she was the first Evans to give me her blessing, even over my wife! Then, she met Ashley, who says she leaned over and gave her a hug and immediately treated her like one of her own.
As we grew in our own marriages, the grandchildren realized what a testament to love Grandma was, both to us and in her relationship with Pop. Jonathan remembers the day that Pop died, that Grandma admitted she didn’t know what she would do. It’s a feeling that people here today can relate to. I always thought of her as one of the most courageous people I knew personally, because after losing Pop, she found joy everyday in us and in life for fifteen more years! Yes, she celebrated fifteen more sets of birthdays, outlived her first great grand dog, and received another name: “Great Gran.”
Sure,”Great Gran” loved to play bridge with her friends- and beat them- but she warmed to playing Chinese Checkers, proving her mind to be sharp and quick, beating her great grandchildren over and over again.
We’ve shared several laughs about our family trips to the beach in the summer, four generations of family packed into one house for a week. Great Gran loved to be around you guys, Adam, Carter, Laurel and Andrew, and she took great pride in who you are and what you are becoming. I do know we all gave her fits sometimes. I remember walking into the room one day, and the kids are running around like crazy. I spoke to her and she didn’t respond- I thought something was wrong. I bent down and put my hand on her arm, and she said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.” And then conspiratorially… “I took my hearing aids out.” And then she winked.
Those great grandkids took to her like bees to honey! With hugs and stories and jokes and game playing. She loved to see them and they loved to see her. She was willing to do whatever craziness they asked about, whether playing pretend or learning how to use an iPad. She wasn’t afraid! We are thankful that they got to know her, and that she was able to show them love these last seven years. And we’re thankful that they love her.
The night of the day she died, we were saying prayers, and the boys both mentioned Great Gran and asked God to “watch over her.” But I was struck by the innocence of Andrew’s three-year-old prayer, and the wisdom of it, that passes my understanding and is deeper than my sadness. “God,” he said, “help Great Gran grow.”
You know what? He’s right.
From Annette to Great Gran, her names might’ve changed but who she was stayed the same. As we celebrate her life, I am reminded that for all of the things we called her, she was really “Blessed Child of God.” Her love for her church, and her passion for the mission work of the United Methodist Women, gave her great joy. She loved to tell us about what her church was doing, who she had seen at church, and especially about the way that the children were involved. She was always growing! She was the seed planted by her parents and God who grew to be a mighty, sturdy tree.
Grandma was the tree that withstood time and storms and loss and stayed firm. She was the one who believed, and who hoped, and who knew. In our Scripture today, I Corinthians 15 hinges on this verse: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” It’s the truth I know Grandma believed.
That Jesus Christ did die on the cross and he did rise again.
That all of those who had and have believed in faith in his resurrection, that they will all rise, too.
I miss Grandma today. I wish she would have heard me share these stories about her. But I know what she believed, and I know where she is. She fought the good fight, she finished the race, she kept the faith.
Now she’s beating Moses at bridge, and Peter at Chinese Checkers.
Dancing with Pop.
Sitting in the sun.
Soaking in the glory of God in a pain-free, arthritis-free, unfiltered heaven.
Celebrating a faithful life, well-lived.
So how do we honor Grandma? How can we represent Great Gran?
By making someone else’s favorite food and then giving it to them;
By listening to stories, even ones that don’t make sense;
By laughing with joy with someone else;
By sharing your stories so that others can learn too;
By welcoming in those new to your family and community like they’re your long-lost missing piece;
By serving at church, by being in church so that others can grow too;
By being fully present for others. By being steady, steady like a rock.
By carrying on, with joy and wisdom, and recognizing that every day brings something good, something new, something blessed.
By always growing. Amen.