Thursday, October 6, 2011

Faith, Love, and a Third Grade Education

Great Grandma Maggie was born in what she referred to as "oh three"--1903, not 2003. Although she only had a third grade education, that didn't mean she was ignorant. She read her Bible and any other religious books the traveling salesmen brought to her door. When she didn't agree with an author, she would not only mark out the section but would also write in the margin what he should have said according to her knowledge of Scripture.

She was a rather severe-faced, big boned woman with thin strands of grey swirled around into a makeshift bun and loosely held in place by dozens of hair pins. Although there is a picture of her in a polyester navy church dress, white buttons straight up the front, I only remember her in thin checkered house dresses, two strong trunks sticking out beneath the hem.

Grandma's house was as wonderfully odd to me as she was, her front lawn hoed to dust inside the rough-cut cypress fence because she had no lawn mower. Outside the fence by the cast iron cattle troughs ever-brimming with water lived her yard chickens and roosters. Each visit, I collected and kept those iridescent feathers.

Inside, her house was always dark, even the sitting room lit by a single table lamp. On her dining room shelf was the big white Bible with the picture of Jesus on the front cover, the captivating paintings of hell, the Garden of Eden within. In her kitchen were tea cakes made from scratch and without a recipe, always tea cakes, whether she knew we were coming over or not.

It was this Grandma who filled my head with stories of a world beyond this one, stories of sitting up nights when people were ill unto death, of seeing the light of angels around the person's head when he breathed his last. After Grandpa Calvin died, she often recounted the story of when the mantle clock suddenly started playing music, then Grandpa coming through the front door and walking to get his pipe tobacco. When she spoke to him, he vanished. Grandma wasn't one for fabricating stories; she spoke only the unvarnished, blunt truth "as Maggie saw it," so I listened intently to stories I might have otherwise laughed at.

Saturday mornings often found her calling my daddy at 6:00 to come down because Lucky had trapped a possum or raccoon under her house. Sundays always found her at church, her personal faith leaving behind a spiritual legacy for my family.

Although she had little money, one time when I was sick, she cut the cover off an old card she'd kept and taped it over someone's well wishes to her, then added her own well wishes to me. Even at age nine, I knew her grammar wasn't right, but that didn't matter. The card was precious because it was from her.Towards the end of her life, she stayed a week or so on the fold out sofa bed in my home. At my mother's prompting, I would crawl up on the bed each day and "interview" her, recording on cassette stories from her childhood. The plan was to transcribe them and surprise the family with a book of her stories for Christmas.

But, the cancer was aggressive, and she didn't make it to Christmas. My mother couldn't bear to listen to that voice we all loved so dearly, and so the stories were tucked away in the safe.

It's been close to three decades since Grandma Maggie died of cancer and went to be with her Jesus. Since then, no one has been able to duplicate those tea cakes, not even my aunt who wrote down the ingredients as Grandma Maggie measured them. Since then, no one has listened to that voice again on tape either.

Perhaps it's time to remember the stories I have long ago forgotten from a woman I can never forget.


  1. Beautiful tribute, Jennifer. Truly.

    So glad you joined the community writing project. I hope you share this with your family.

  2. Thans, Ann. I love the High Calling.

  3. Oh Jennifer ... those recordings? How tender. How touching. I'm so glad you have those.

    I gasped at seeing the photo of that opening letter. It looks like my grandmother's handwriting. And many folks called our Grandma by the name "Maggie." So you really brought me back "home" with your recollection.

    Your images here are vivid, Jennifer. I'm so glad you shared. I hope it was healing in a way?

  4. Jennifer--it seems we just keep having so much in common. Grandma was such a fantastic woman that even now when someone acts like her, we'll go, "Well, Maggie!" Twenty years and she still weaves herself into daily conversation. That's the blessing of having spiritual powerhouses as my heritage.

  5. What the hound dog?! GDWJ-Jennifer stole my comment! I was going to say your grandma's handwriting looks like MY grandma's handwriting! I want to scan in a letter, now, and e-mail it to you, both.

    You know, Jennifer, I just want to say: this post touched me because of what it reveals about YOU. The fact you've kept this card all these years, and all the rest, tucked in your heart.

    I'm going to follow because--if you write more of your grandma--I don't want to miss it.

  6. Oh, I'm sure you will create many beautiful memories on your road trip. We used to take road trips a lot with our kids. For the most part they'd be fighting the whole time and making everyone else miserable. that they're all grown up they say those were the best of times. Go figure. I'll be praying for traveling mercies for you...

  7. I came over here from The High Calling. I think it's time to transcribe those stories for this Christmas.

  8. My grandma's handwriting too!! I am so thankful you have that card! My grandmother "made it" to the eighth grade. She filled in the blanks in a whole library, maybe ten books, of children's Bible studies. I treasure them. I am sure she got them from a traveling salesman.

    Thanks for sharing about this great lady. Can't wait to meet her in heaven. :)

  9. Megan--I'm thinking the same thing! Hoping my husband can help transfer cassette to DVD so I don't break the cassette.

    Dea--I love your grandmother's story. We have such a wise group waiting for us in heaven.

  10. Hi Jennifer,

    What a lovely tribute to your grandma. I hope you get those DVD's made: what a gift to your family to hear her voice again, to hear her tell the stories that made her who she was.

    Thanks so much for sharing this.