My grandma Virgie was born on a farm in Clyde, KS in 1931, one of 11 siblings. Legend has it that she had a bit of an ornery streak when she was a kid, easily finding or creating mischief. I would imagine that to survive on a farm in the middle of 1930’s Kansas, with 10 brothers and sisters, a little girl would have to have some moxy.
Yesterday we brought my grandma Virgie home for the last time. She had been dying slowly and tediously for the past several years. My grandpa, her husband of 71 years, used to ask my medical opinion about treatments that might help her get better, but more recently he started questioning how her body continued to hang on. Then on February 19th, whatever unseen forces that had been tying her to this life loosened and she was finally released from the frail body and failing mind that had contained her for so long.
Initially, my dad and his brothers thought they would just take my grandpa out to “the country” to bury her ashes, but as the date approached, in-laws, grandchildren and great-grandchildren asked to make the journey as well.
Yesterday we woke up early and packed up the kids for the 3.5 hour trip to Clyde, now a town of 680 people. We followed my parents and my uncle Lance and met my uncle Kurt, his family and my grandpa at Brantford Covenant Church. Brantford is the church my grandma grew up in and we have family members that still attend today.
When we arrived, we walked through the old church, showing our kids where their great grandma and her brothers and sisters had walked, worshiped….and likely stirred up trouble.
(OK…..can’t figure out how to get the video embedded into the post, but you can click on the FB link if you want to see my Lady Gaga moment)
After gathering at the church, we walked the dirt road from the old church to the family cemetery. The last time I walked this road was at a family reunion, my grandma present, probably eight years ago. At that time, we had taken a leisurely stroll to stretch our legs and to look at the graves of our ancestors. The walk yesterday felt much different in its mood and in its purpose.
We arrived at grandma’s gravesite and seated my 94 year old grandpa in a chair near the headstone they purchased together several years ago in anticipation of this day. My grandpa wept audibly when the country pastor from the country church began his message. And when I glanced over and saw the tears welling in the eyes of my dad and my uncles, I wept as well. The tears, a manifestation of sadness, hope and love, stung as they tumbled out of my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. A cool breeze swept repeatedly through the nearby fields and into the cemetery, brushing over my face, soothing the sting of the salty tears and drying my skin. The clouds over head moved in concert with the range of our emotions. Deep shadows of darkness and sadness, followed by bright rays of sunshine, laughter and joy, bursting triumphantly through the grief.
My uncle Kurt recited from Psalm 103 as I held my sweet Annie, looking out over the cemetery.
As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children– with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the LORD, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the LORD, O my soul.
“Children’s children.” Annie rested her forehead against my cheek, wet with fresh tears, as we stood amongst the graves of generations of our family, dating back to the 1800s.
After the service finished, we walked across the cemetery to find our great-grandparents, and their great-grandparents. Our roots, just under foot. Palpable as they both grounded us and propelled us on.
We finished up at the cemetery and walked back to the church where our extended family had prepared a meal for us so we could eat and rest before heading home.
The impromptu baseball game reminded me of a pick-up softball game, probably 30 years ago, on the ballfield at the elementary school down the street from my grandparent’s house. My grandpa was pitching as the batter….a formidable Virgie Balderston stepped to the plate. She knocked the tar out of the ball and lined it right back at my grandpa who could only duck and try to shield his body from the impact. As she ran to first base, a mischievous grin spread across her face.
Rest well, Grandma. Happy Mother’s Day to you and Mildred, and Anna Sophia, and Anna Mary and Grandma Johnson. Your children’s children thank you.