If you haven’t read my earlier post about Sarah Elline, please do. Not because it’s so great, but because this one is all the more amazing with that context. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Ok. So I read that piece I wrote about my Grandmother at her memorial service. And in retrospect, it was a mistake. When I got to my mom’s house before the service, she gave me a 3-ring binder full of photos of my grandparents, as well as news clippings and other treasures. Tucked away in this meticulously assembled binder (my mother does nothing if not meticulously) was also a series of memories that my grandma had written about her own mother when I was about a year old. I did not know this document existed. Later at home when I sat down to read it, it was a matter of moments before I was weeping (I do that). Had I read this before the service, I would never have bothered with my own words. I would have shared hers instead.
What really gets me about these writings is how very similar the things she says about her own mother are to the things I most treasured about her. The power of a heritage is astounding.
I would love to see the entirety of what my grandma wrote published one day, but for now, I’d like to just share a few passages:
First of all, you will need to know that Mama had an indomitable spirit. Even when she seemed dominated she never lost her desire for experiencing the finer things in life – reading, music, plays and even movies (back when they were wholesome).
When [our town] came to have a movie theater, it was in the silent movie days, and she liked to take us occasionally. Daddy looked on the thing with disdain. On one rare trip to the theater, Mama pointed to a spot to the right of us, about three miles out of town. We were rounding a curve that went downhill. She said, ” I want a house on that hill! I was reared on a hill, and I”ll never feel at home until I am on one again!”
That was the first inkling we had that she was not satisfied with the old house that was our home. Life for us had been full and interesting but we were unaware that it was her influence that helped make it so. She is the one who first introduced us to the wonder of the pastures and the woods. The one who would go outdoors with us son a moonlit night and skip down the lane; the one who read Pollyana, Elsie Dinsmore, Helen’s Babies and Bible stories aloud to us. She taught us to play indoor games such as Thimble, Hide-the-Scissors, Tall Betsy and many others. These things were reserved for rainy days and nights when Daddy was out on a call.
Once, late at night on the way back from the theater, she playfully asked, “Well, shall we go home?” as her eyes looked toward the place she had mentioned earlier on the hill.
Those were the only references I ever heard her make to “the Hill”, but somewhere along the way, she quietly had the land surveyed and put some money down on the purchase of 40 acres. When she paid it off in bits and pieces, she told Daddy.
My grandma goes on to tell the story of how her mother, in the middle of the Great Depression, through ingenuity, creativity, and her trademark indomitable spirit, managed to build a house on that hill. A house that would be her home until the day she died.
Mama had a favorite poem by Edgar A Guest. It was, It Takes A Heap O’ Livin’ In A House To Make A Home. Our house was a home because it had a heap o’ livin’ – anticipation, fulfillment, joy, disappointment, suspense and sorrow – marriages, births and deaths…Overall, there was love that just never stopped.
Though her splendid traits were not always apparent because of her quick tongue and her ability to trigger tempers, she had a magnificent strength in times of crisis and sorrow. When [my brother] left home to go away to college at Knoxville, I saw her face after she had just come from his bedroom. Her eyes did not meet mine, but I saw them dazed with pain, and for an instant she just stood seemingly transfixed to the spot, but then shook herself into motion and went about her business as usual. It came as a shock to me that she was suffering such loneliness for her only son.
When Red and I were married she shad a quiet sweetness about her that actually radiated; though, I knew she did not really want me to marry my U.S.N. lover and go off into an unknown world.
When Daddy died, she greeted people at the door. Everyone cried on her shoulder, including me, but she remained strong and comforting to those around her. The only emotion she showed during those days was at the burial when the casket was about to be lowered into the ground. She started forward and put her hands out to grasp [my sister] on one side and me on the other, but there was not a word or sound.
I was not there for my brother’s funeral, but Oh how I wanted to be so that if I had any source of strength that could help, she might tap it. (More than likely, it would have been the other way around.) This time her only son was leaving forever.
Our final journey and reunion at the House on the Hill was just preceding her death. We three sisters had stayed up late that night, and had just gone to bed when the telephone rang. It was Dr. Littleton Eubanks saying that Mama had died.
An era had come to an end. But Mama’s spirit had not ended. I remember how briskly she used to walk when we walked together and how she would have to stop and wait for me to catch up. In later years that process was reversed. She seemed to sort of dawdle, and I would stop and wait for her to catch up. The few times we were together, it became so ingrained in me that as we were leaving the church from her funeral, I involuntarily stopped to wait for Mama to catch up. It was only on looking back I realized that she had preceded me, and that I would never again wait for her to catch up with me.
On going back to the precious place we had called home for so long, I wandered from room to room. It seemed the walls were crying out, “She’s still here! As long as I stand, she’ll still be here. So will all of you, for it was within these walls that I sheltered you. I knew your joys, your dreams, your ambitions, your secrets, and your fulfillments.”
Your own children have memories interwoven in the overall pattern of the lives lived here. Never forget! Never let them forget how precious it was.