Don’t know why, but really missing my grandmother today. She wasn’t a Nanna, Nanny, MeeMaw, Granny – or even a Muddy like her mother and me (my grandmother name), she was a no nonsense, witty repartee-loving Grandmother. She taught me, by standing up to her over the important things, how to stand up to everyone else in the world. She wasn’t a huggy grandmother, but she made me feel beautiful on the inside. Would love to sit at the kitchen table with her right now. So I’m sharing one of my very favorite stories about her with you. Isn’t that what you do when you miss people? What to talk about them?
Sunday Morning, Winter – 1981
I sat in my grandmother’s kitchen, Sunday morning sun pouring through the large latticed windows, spilling onto the table – a winter sun that did nothing to warm the chill that always seeped through the old house. Turning pages of print with one hand, I ate the coveted center of the baked pan of Pillsbury cinnamon roles with the other.
Bite by bite, page by page I read through the funnies, the features and paused a few turns into the fashion section – 1981 newspaper fashion pages resembled haute couture fashion magazines.
The page turning paused, the cinnamon roll returned to the plate. True love arrested my attention – a navy, thin-pleated, an inch higher than tea-length soft, durable navy wool, accordion skirt.
The pleats looked sharp enough to cause a paper cut – yet soft enough for grace.
Think 1940s. Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly – elegance personified in this navy blue confection.
Have I mentioned my favorite color was navy blue?
I called my grandmother and mother over to look. It was just too beautiful not to share. My grandmother appreciated beautiful clothes – she had the gift – the ability to go downtown to the department stores, look at dresses for her 4 daughters, come home and re-create them. She appreciated elegance, grace in the silks, the cottons, linens, organzas and wools.
Being poor and not having a lot of money are two different things. Not having a lot of money just meant $200 dollar skirts were things you didn’t buy – at least not full price – not until 70% off.
This pause finally gave way to the well-oiled machine of Sunday morning routine. We all went out different doors – old houses allow that.
My grandmother disappeared out the kitchen door to the back porch – not a back porch by today’s standards – rather a storage stuck on to a house. Old houses grew rambly like that. It had all started 200 years ago when a French man built 2 rooms separated by a dog trot. Those two rooms, like a married couple, grew into a family of rooms. The entry hall had once been the dog trot, my brother’s room had once been a porch off one of those rooms . The family room had once been a porch until in the 1950s when grandmother and grandfather added on a dining room and kitchen, tagging on a storage porch off the back. Porches were like quick-change artists of architectural expansion, becoming kitchens, family rooms, bathrooms, even storage closets.
The back porch taught me the meaning of haste – I hurried through – always. If I didn’t wear shoes, I tip-toed rapidly across its pebbled concrete floor. I guess you could almost compare it to the dark forest full of creepy things in fairy-tales that the princess must walk through in order find happily ever after.
Bags of clothes and moth balls lined one section. Tools, a cedar chest, a lawn mower, my bicycle with its white wicker basket and dusty items filled the other section. Every Fall, we sorted summer cottons into those clothes bags and every spring, we stored away wool and winter. Why? To preserve and protect from hearty moth appetites – and, because the rooms in rambly old houses provided little to no storage.
That Grandmother stepped out there on a Sunday morning wasn’t surprising – she never rushed over the cool floors. She wasn’t fearful of what she would find – she knew what was there. It was cataloged in her mind – and she made use of it.
About 30 minutes before we left for church, we all gathered in the kitchen. Mom, Grandmother, Aunt Joyce – they all sat around the kitchen table waiting. Aunt Joyce drove us to church every week. When I entered the kitchen, my grandmother stepped into the dining room, carrying something blue back to the kitchen.
“Try it on,” she said, holding up a navy, one-inch from tea-length, accordion-pleated, navy wool skirt in mint condition – exactly like the one in the newspaper. The waist – oh, it was tiny – 26 or 28 inches. It had been my aunt’s – sometime after the war and before her marriage in the late 1950s – and in 1981, I would get to wear it.
It fit me.
I twirled. I laughed. I felt graceful, elegant. That skirt, with its pleats creased enough for paper cuts moved with grace, no stiffness, no roughness – just soft grace – maybe back then I couldn’t be confident in who I thought I was – but I could wear something that symbolized who I thought I was – on the inside.
Like a fable is to a truism – was that skirt to a soul reveal. Only 3 articles of clothing ever “spoke” to me – a dress I wore when I was about 6, the dress I wore to my son’s wedding – and this skirt.
I wore it to a few senior year events. Girls schools are wonderful for providing events for their students – and, when we put winter away, the skirt was zipped back into my grandmother’s moth-ball-filled clothes bag.
The other day, I was thinking about Grandmother’s Magic clothes bag. How I never really knew what was in those bags –even though I was handed clothes Mom and Grandmother pulled out every spring and fall since I was 6.
I’d never reached into those bags, zipping and unzipping. A lot of reasons stopped me – even though those bags held my clothes, too – I didn’t think I had a right to it. Fear edged me out. Content ignorance, a soft boundary wall as effective as a prison wall, kept me out. No real curiosity, no recognition of need – maybe, just maybe, the comfortableness of allowing someone else to be in control of it – maybe that was it, too.
A few years later, on a way to a Christmas dance with the guy I would marry, Mom, Grandmother and I debated which coat or wrap to wear. Nothing suited – nothing topped it off without looking awkward.
Grandmother never announced. Never said, “HHHHmmmmm – let me think.” This bridge-playing lady always kept the cards close to her vest. As Mom and I stood there debating the issue, Grandmother just took herself off – unbeknownst to us – once again into the back porch, to reach into the clothes bag.
Minutes later, she walked back in, shaking out a black tea-length wool coat with gold embroidery.
We had lived with my grandmother for 15 years by then. I was only just beginning to realize the hidden treasures within my grandmother, what really was there, what she stored away for us for when the want or need arrived, stored away in moth balls or in the strength of her soul.
When my grandmother died, I wondered what had happened to that bag of clothes, the hidden things on the back porch. I guess someone emptied them out – and what a loss, that emptying out can be.
That winter day, though, in 1981, when the weak sun spilled over the kitchen table – that day, she pulled something out of a back-porch clothes bag that was the catalyst for a soul reveal.
“That Grandmother stepped out there on a Sunday morning wasn’t surprising – she never rushed over the cool floors. She wasn’t fearful of what she would find – she knew what was there. It was cataloged in her mind – and she made use of it.”
Disclaimer: Grandmother, if she knew I had turned this story into an allegory would probably have admonished me to “Stop that Silly Talk.”
Characters in the allegory of Grandmother’s Clothes Bag
Grandmother – Everyman
Granddaughter – Everyman
Navy, Accordion-Pleated Wool Skirt – A blessing shared
The Clothes Bag – The Bible
The Content of the Clothes Bag – Things of God
Moth Balls – The Holy Spirit
There’s a time when I moved from a child’s relationship to the Father, to an adult’s relationship to the Father. Where, as a child, I loved Him with abandon. Growing up led to self-consciousness, gracelessness from uncomfortable awareness, and learning to take the reigns of spiritual responsibility in hand.Growing up meant sifting through what I had been taught, becoming intentional in what I believed.
That meant I was alone responsible for that relationship. The training wheels were off. I was alone responsible for the reaching.
I didn’t do well early on, when those training wheels were off. My relationship with Him wobbled.
Like I hurried through Grandmother’s back porch, past the clothes bag, so I hurried past Him.
Self-consciousness, lack of confidence in who I was caused me to hurry past things that intimidated me through my ignorance – not just of the things of God but who I was to Him.
Faux gracefully, I enacted the ritual of sorting through winter and spring into the clothes bag – but I didn’t dig into that clothes bag. I stood in the kitchen and handed out.
I didn’t not know Him intimately. I could not truly catalog was what in His word. I needed to spend time with Him, with His word, to see what was there – not just the gospel, but Ruth, Jeremiah, Isaiah – all the one’s I skipped over, ignored.
I needed to spend time with Him, like my grandmother spent time maintaining the clothes bag, lined with those moth balls.
I couldn’t really help anyone. I couldn’t really even help myself – not until I delved into the contents of His word, His Holy Spirit – Him.
The Father wanted me to stop rushing past Him, open up His word and listen, really listen, catalog in my heart its content, wear it, walk it, know it – to continually wrap His word in His Holy Spirit.
“But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29)
One day, sitting in the car outside my husband’s work, waiting – which is something newleyweds still in college with just one car do a lot – the Father met me there. I asked the Father, “I want that relationship I had with you as a child. Teach me how to get there.”
He did. . . it was a journey, though – not an overnight arrival.
I learned to not rush past His word like I rushed over cool, pebbled-concrete floors. I dug into His word, like my grandmother dug into her clothes bag, cataloging, nurturing so that one day I could share what is within His word, within relationship with Him.
When grandmother saw a need – she went to the clothes bag and drew a blessing out – a blessing that caused a soul-reveal. I needed to learn to live that kind of relationship with Him.
I needed to believe what the word said about that relationship, about the hope, the healing, the speaking, the praying, the Holy Spirit, the believing without seeing.
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”(Hebrews 11:6)
When I dug into His word, when I believed His word – I discovered who I was to Him – his beloved daughter.
I discovered a Father who wanted to become the shade in the glaring, uncomfortable heat of challenges, who wanted to shelter me beneath the feathers of His wing, who wanted to bind my wounds scarless, who wanted to shelter me in the storm – that He saves me when I cry out, like a Knight in Shining Armor:
“He’s riding a winged creature,
swift on wind-wings.
Now he’s wrapped himself
in a trenchcoat of black-cloud darkness.
But his cloud-brightness bursts through,
spraying hailstones and fireballs.
Then GOD thundered out of heaven;
the High God gave a great shout,
spraying hailstones and fireballs.
God shoots his arrows—pandemonium!
He hurls his lightnings—a rout!
The secret sources of ocean are exposed,
the hidden depths of earth lie uncovered
The moment you roar in protest,
let loose your hurricane anger.
But me he caught—reached all the way
from sky to sea; he pulled me out
Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,
the void in which I was drowning.
They hit me when I was down,
but GOD stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!”
(Psalm 18: 10-15, The Message)
One day long ago, grandmother pulled a skirt out of her clothes bag. As the years unfolded, that moment became an allegory of faith. Like a fable is to a truism – was that skirt to a soul reveal – and the truism made me a beloved daughter of the King, who willing jumped on His horse and moved heaven and earth to protect shelter . . . . save.
Because I learned not to hasten away from the things of God, I find blessings He leaves me, messages He leaves me in the ordinary of a day:
like the squirrel nest high in the barren oak, sways in the thin-limbed top, twigs, old leaves woven together, how does it protect against the bitter wind? And, I marvel – because it does.
or my mother-in-laws hands, folding laundry, teaching me to slip-stitch quilt binding, making banana pudding, hugging babies and boys
nine sherbet-colored bandanas bought in 2009 quilted, backed, binded and tied with raspberry, lime green, citrus orange, flamingo pink and lemon yellow embroidery thread.
red chili sauce in Thais Gopaw – taste buds delighting after days of illness
robin’s egg blue skies outside my work window
a lunch date with my husband, just the two of us
Italian chamber music diminishing chaos
the story of grace changing lives, redeeming from the law in a Les Miserable story and song
a two hour morning delay from an ice storm that never came, giving me time to love the boys with homemade chocolate chip granola bars and hamburger, elk and deer-meat chili.
(I’m in a tying-up-loose-ends season right now – and will be returning with fresh, new soon. Please stop by as I share some of my very favorite posts through the month of June)
(for a history on my grandmother’s house, you might want to read “if grandmother’s trees could tell stories”)
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