Note: It was a little over five years ago that my maternal grandmother passed away. A remarkable lady, she always reminded me of Katharine Hepburn with her grace and quick wit, and of Margaret Thatcher with her impeccable demeanor, steadfast conviction, and mastery of the language. She helped raise me, and her death hurt harder than anything has in a very long time. On this Mother’s Day, in light of the friendships I’ve been fortunate enough to form on Ricochet, I’d like to simultaneously beg your indulgence and then take it for granted by introducing my grandmother to you through something I wrote only a few days after she passed away in 2008. It’s a story of her, of family, of my own mom who cared for her mother, and it is heavy on faith as well, for to separate Granny from her faith would be like trying to separate warmth from the sun, or the smile from Mona Lisa. Happy Mother’s Day.
My earliest memories of her are of being carried in her arms as she would sing “I love you a bushel and a peck.” I was too young to be really good at walking yet, I was too short for her to press her cheek against mine unless she were carrying me, and I couldn’t move as fast across the floor as she did (neither could anyone else for that matter). I knew that she was “Granny Bob,” and though I didn’t know exactly what a bushel or peck was, I knew my Granny loved me and I got the impression that she thought I was incredibly special and just about the best thing to hit town. As the first of four grandchildren and many great grandchildren, I was not the last person to have that impression.
Marguerite Beeson Young was the oldest of two children born to Myra and Ben Beeson. My great grandparents were both strong willed people, but I think even they must have been surprised at the little firecracker they brought into the world. Marguerite’s younger brother, B.F. Beeson says that as a youngster, his big sister’s name was difficult for him to pronounce and came out sounding something like “Bob-eese.” This was eventually shortened to “Bob,” and became her calling card throughout the family. It was entirely appropriate that she would have a masculine nickname, for though she was surely a lady with far more class than most, I’ve seen my Granny address a room full of deacons and seem like the only man in the room. She had no equals with one exception. Her little brother grew to be not so little after all. A tall man with an equally sharp wit and powerful mind, my Uncle BF was the only person I saw who could debate Granny to a draw, if not actually get the better of her. My cousins and I used to sit in the next room and listen in on the debates. This, sports fans, was the true clash of the titans. That they loved each other dearly was obvious, but a debate amongst this bunch was not for the faint of heart.
My second oldest memory is of sitting next to Granny Bob on what seemed like a very tall bed, watching television. When my family and I would visit Granny and Grandaddy, the beginning of Johnny Carson’s television show would signal the start of bed time. I would climb the bed and perch next to Granny to discuss things. You see, Granny didn’t engage in “child speak” with me. It wasn’t Mr. Rogers saying, “Can you say Tonight Show?” No, Granny spoke to me as an equal, and I did my best to reply in kind. I’m sure my sentences were mangled beyond comprehension, but I reasoned that if she was going to talk to me like I was smart, then I would have to sound smart. That’s how Granny taught; by example. She taught me the proper and effective use of the language.
As Johnny Carson got into his monologue, Grandaddy would bring Granny and me a plate full of seedless grapes. Now, this was living! Granny and I discussed the monologue, or any subject we pleased. Whether it was politics, cars, music, or why I shouldn’t have climbed to the top of the outside television antenna that was attached to the house, we munched on grapes and had a grand time. Granny Bob was the first person I remember talking to me on an adult level.
I also have distinct memories of going to a department store downtown with Granny. A trip with Granny was an adventure, but one needed to be rested in advance. Granny shopped the way she drove her car, and she drove her car the way she lived; in high gear. When Granny was behind the wheel, I would find something to hold on to and say that we were going to “ride the horsey.” For someone raised on the Lone Ranger, riding the horsey signified something very nearly like high speed pursuit. So Granny and I would take off in a cloud of dust for Mullers, the big department store in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Granny approached shopping as if it were a surgical strike by a Navy SEAL team: get in, get it done, and get out. Of course, with her “Little David” in tow, she took time to take me to the second floor where there was a soda counter for refreshments. Here, Granny introduced me to the wonders of a Cherry Coke. It was like grapes during Johnny Carson all over again, we would enjoy a simple snack and chat.
Part of visiting my grandparents was going to church with them. As a little fellow, I would lean over to my parents or to Granny when the preacher would get really worked up over something and ask, “Why is he yelling at us?” The guy was red faced, sputtering, hollering in our general direction, and I had never met the man and so couldn’t figure out what I had done to tick him off so much. Granny would tell me he wasn’t mad, he was just very serious. As long as I wasn’t in trouble with the guy, it was okay with me, and I’d fall asleep in someone’s lap.
As years passed by, I learned more of Granny Bob’s faith. Church was a central point of her life, but it wasn’t an end to itself. It was a means. A means to bring her closer to God. It’s a distinction lost on many churchgoers … the goal is not the church … the goal is to serve and love the Lord and in turn to bask and grow in God’s love for us. Granny didn’t just teach it, though she taught and served in the church for her entire adult life. Like everything else, she lived the example.
I remember around 1977, after my mom and my Sister and I had moved back to Lake Charles and were living with Granny Bob and Grandaddy. The church had lost its pastor and was searching for another. The search committee had located a promising minister and he came to preach one Sunday and spend a little time with the congregation.
Well, he must have impressed everyone because the church voted to invite this minister to be their pastor. This was a large church, a prestigious position for any minister to occupy, so it never occurred to anyone that the minister would turn down the church’s offer, but that’s exactly what he did. What followed was an exercise in self-loathing by the congregation. One person after another, usually men, stood to make the case that the minister’s refusal to be their pastor meant that they had fallen short in some fashion. Surely, if this good man didn’t want to be the pastor of this church, something must be wrong with them.
I was sitting next to Granny and could see that she was not going quietly into this wilderness of guilt with the rest of the speakers, whether they were deacons or not. So my grandmother stood and, with eloquence and grace yet with conviction and a command of the language, she completely rejected and destroyed the very premise of the other speakers’ arguments.
Did we not, she asked, routinely pray to the Lord asking that His will be done? When the church prayed about extending an invitation to this minister, did we not say, “If it be Thy will?” Could it be, she asked, that the Lord heard our prayer and took those words more seriously than did we? “Has it occurred to anyone that just maybe it wasn’t the Lord’s will that this man be our pastor?” Granny asked. Granny asked if anyone had considered the possibility that the Lord had another minister in mind for this church, and that rather than kicking itself, the church should give thanks that His will had been revealed? You see, while the other speakers were focused on what was happening to their church, Granny’s eyes were focused on her Lord, and she knew that if she was faithful in that, God would take care of the details.
That’s how Granny lived her life. Through the good times and the bad, when we were all together and happy, or when a divorce or death in the family would break hearts, Granny stayed focused on God and his will. In this and many other respects, she was a giant in our family.
As the years went by, Granny and Uncle BF buried their grandparents and then their parents. Though the grief was strong, Granny and her brother were stronger. Granny knew that one day she would see them all again. Eleven years ago, Granny buried her husband of over 50 years. When her beloved Woodrow went to heaven, we think Granny’s heart went with him. From that point forward, she wore his wedding band on an elegant little gold chain around her neck. Growing up, I noticed that while others cried profusely by a coffin at funerals, Granny recognized the body as an empty shell, and looked forward to the day that she would be reunited with her loved ones. On Tuesday, March 11, 2008, Granny finally made it to the reunion.
Cancer had taken Granny’s strength, but not her spirit. As I wrote at the time to my cousin, “Gran is awake for an hour or two at most before going back to sleep. When she is awake, it takes every ounce of energy she can muster to try and communicate, and at times her speech is indecipherable. It’s tough for her to keep her eyes open for any amount of time. I was taken aback by how frail she looks. She still musters the energy to get off a witty remark now and then, to let everyone know she’s not down for the count. But it was heartbreaking to see her in this condition. As you know, she’s always been a woman of indomitable will, impeccable manners, consummate dignity, and a razor sharp mind. Her spark is still there, but the light burns dimly.”
The knowledge that cancer was running its course gave Granny some time to spend with family. Christmas was magical as always. With Granny there was laughter and a certain ease that made everyone around her know that they were home, and that in this home there was love and happiness enough for everyone. On February 24th, my own Mother retired from 30 years of church work (another strong and remarkable example of Granny’s influence). Granny attended the retirement banquet, though her body was weakening. Afterward, the family gathered back at her house. My sister told me that Granny was in the bedroom resting, but that she had not wanted to go back there for fear that her “Little David,” wouldn’t come visit with her. As my mind went back 40 years, time was erased, and a few minutes later I was sitting on that bed next to my Granny eating grapes and talking. What a special time. What a special lady.
In a eulogy delivered many years ago, William F. Buckley Jr., struggled to find the words that focus on the special spirit of one of his loved ones. Unable to articulate that special quality, he finally asked, “How does one illuminate a sunburst?” How indeed. How does one put into words that special feeling that Granny gave everyone in her home, that they belonged and that they were loved. How can one articulate that look of complete joy and elation she would get when one of her grandkids or great-grandkids entered the room? At her funeral, Granny’s pastor said that for those that knew her, no words were needed; while for those who didn’t know her, no words were adequate.
Toward the end of her life, Granny lived daily with my Mother always at her side, gently and lovingly tending to her. With typical grace and eloquence, Granny told my Mom, “You gave up part of your life to help me live mine. Thank you.” Granny departed this life with her eyes still focused on her Savior. As her example and her words linger in our minds and in our hearts, we say, “Granny Bob, you lived your life in a way that showed us how to live ours. Thank you. We love you dearly.”