I wish I could chat on the back porch or pick vegetables in the garden again with this beautiful lady. She was 70 when I was born. Until the last couple years of her life (she lived to be 107.5), I never thought of her as old — she was simply Granny, and I loved her with all my heart. Everyone who knew her did.
One of the last times I saw Granny, she asked if I had rose bushes — she thought I should. Sadly, I couldn’t say yes. At the time, I thought I was too busy to spend much time in the yard. My gardening wasn’t in the same league as hers — or my beautiful mother’s.
Now I’m an empty nester, and I know there’s much to learn from Granny — her life, her dinner table, garden and her roses — and that just maybe, I should have made time to apply the values, priorities and principles I so admired– even way back when I had young children. It’s never too late to learn worthy things from a life well lived.
Granny hadn’t been widowed very long when I was born. I’m sure she was lonely sometimes, but it wasn’t apparent to me. People were always at her house; she was vibrant, interesting and overflowing with love and caring. She didn’t let her struggles define her. I never heard many complaints about her own circumstances or the actions of others. To the contrary, there was a contentment about her that was very appealing. Even in the challenges of her later years, there was a graciousness about Granny that allowed her to accept her limitations with humor and peace.
A teacher at heart, she was well into her 90s when she volunteered to read at the elementary school. I’m sure she never thought of herself as “old on the inside.” Certainly not as obsolete or without value and purpose. Kid’s from all over town called her Granny — and loved her. I think they knew she sincerely cared for and enjoyed each one of them.
I always felt that way too. She wrote me regular letters in college, and when I moved nearby as an adult, she lovingly gave love and garden memories to my children and all their generation. She valued the simple things and lived a full life, much of it doing what others might consider mundane tasks. Her attitude and the joy she brought to her chores made them the heart of a beautiful life.
She cooked a big “dinner” (the noon meal) almost everyday and always had a table full of lively guests to enjoy fresh vegetables from her garden, cornbread, sweet tea… Everything was full of flavor — never lacking in protein, carbs or fat. Granny was back and forth to the kitchen — one of the most serving people I’ve ever known, but not in a “Martha” kind of way. Granny was a deliberate and attentive “Mary,” and time with her never felt rushed or stressful.
Whether on the back porch with it’s chearful oil cloth and box fans or in the dining room with sterling silver and her best china and linens, dinner was about being together — often visiting for an hour or so after dessert. We were in south Georgia without air conditioning, but it’s funny, I’ve never associated being hot with Granny’s house. I’m sure I was hot, it just wasn’t significant enough to remember.
Her house was big and rambling on small town Broad Street. When I would visit, I would let myself in the front door (which had no lock) and call out as I walked toward the kitchen. If she wasn’t there, I went right out the squeaky back door and into Granny’s garden. As a little girl, I thought her whole house and especially the back yard was a magical place… and I never grew out of that feeling.
I can see her now — doubled over working in a sleeveless, cotton dress (she never owned a pair of pants), yard shoes, and a baseball cap to shield the sun. She’d look up and push away wisps of curly hair that spilled from her bun (she never cut her hair either). She would smile like I had made her whole day by visiting. I was never an interruption, despite her earnest work. She made me feel special, loved and wanted — and she always encouraged me in all my activities.
In the days when weddings were in churches and receptions in the fellowship hall, Granny provided buckets of roses for many a bride.
Toward the end of her life, Florida State asked her to ride in the homecoming parade, as the oldest living graduate of FSU (FSCW in her day). Always humble, she declined, and they sent her a beautiful arrangement — roses, of course. During one of our last visits, she tenderly reminisced about how much TLC roses need and the privilege and rewards of tending them. Another curious thing — I don’t remember there being a lot of roses in her house; I think she gave most of them away.
She was a smart, simple, humble, beautiful woman. She loved Jesus and read her Bible — but didn’t preach or wear her religion on her sleeve; it was a natural part of all she was. She lived her faith and shared His love. She loved His creation and walked and talked with God in their garden.
She read books, kept up with the news, had hobbies and loved her family. But the purpose of everything she was, learned and did seemed to be to give it away. She was active in civic clubs and the church, but much of her philanthropy was unofficial and without a tax deduction — simply loving and serving whoever God entrusted to her by putting them in her life.
Granny never flew on a plane or saw anything outside of driving distance. She worked hard, but never “worked out” or “counted calories and carbs.” She drank a touch of wine when it was offered but didn’t take vitamins or drink green shakes. She ate small meals throughout the day and stayed actively engaged in life right up to the end.
She never dyed her hair or had a professional mani-pedi. In my memory, she didn’t wear a stitch of makeup, and her dresses were not the latest fashions. She was ahead of her time in not liking stockings. Her legs usually had scratches from the garden and her face was wrinkled with laugh lines. Yet — without any qualifiers — I think all who knew her would call Granny beautiful and her life abundant.
Remembering Granny, I think maybe we spend too much time today searching for ways to reduce our wrinkles, waistlines, gray hairs, and discomfort. And trying to increase our lifespans, our “friend” lists, leisure, and wardrobes. Maybe the good life is simpler and a whole lot more than what the world says we should go after. Granny certainly proves the most beautiful part of any woman is found in seeing her heart and soul.
The olden days are attractive to a lot of us — hence the popularity of magazines like Real Simple and the trend toward minimizing. But the reality is that times are different. I’m not suggesting we garden in skirts, avoid airplanes and throw out all our makeup! It’s worth noting that adapting to changing times is an important indicator for happiness and longevity. Granny’s life span included a lot of acclimating and re-acclimating. Nor should we start saving bacon grease to season our veggies or shun modern medical advancements. I bet Granny would use olive oil today, too.
But could it be that we give the common idols of today’s popular culture way too much time and attention? Are we running so hard and trying to do and be so much in our crazy busy world that we have no time for other people?
What can we learn from all the beautiful people (past and present, of all ages) who model abundant life? I think they share many traits (in bold above) with my Granny — traits we can emulate and intentionally develop when we slow down — resist following the culture of the day — and seek real relationships, beauty and abundant life.
The hymn to sing at Granny’s funeral was easy — In the Garden by Charles A Miles
- I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
- He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
- I’d stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.
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