Today, March 30th, is my grandmother’s birthday. I still miss her. She was just one of those people you enjoyed being with. I was reflecting on my love of poetry and music this week and realized that she helped uncover that place in my heart that likes meter and rhyme, melody and verse.
When I was a young girl, I used to tuck myself away behind a chair in my grandmother’s living room and look at a book entitled Hiawatha, by Longfellow. A few years ago, as we cleared out my father and grandmother’s possessions from their century-old home, I wanted the 1898 copy of Hiawatha. It’s only slightly valuable, but that wasn’t my reason for wanting it—it was the memories held there.
There aren’t very many photos in the book, but as a child it intrigued me. It was given to my grandmother on December 4, 1911, when she was 10-years old. She treasured it, and at one point hid it away before it could be ruined by one of us grandchildren.
Before I could read, I remember wanting that skill so I could read that book. My grandmother read parts of it to me on a number of occasions. I can remember sitting beside her, nestled beneath her arm, listening to the cadence of the words. By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea-Water, Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis. Dark behind it rose the forest, Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees, Rose the firs with cones upon them; Bright before it beat the water, Beat the clear and sunny water, Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water. I was enchanted.
I was young. I didn’t sit long, but I loved the pulse of the words. Perhaps that was the beginning of my love of poetry.
Her sister, my great-aunt, taught piano and lived half a block away from my grandmother. Most Fridays from age six to twelve or so, I’d go to my grandmother’s to spend the night and wake up the next day for piano lessons. My sisters followed suit. We often battled about who would go first. It meant missing The Lone Ranger on television—or perhaps it was Mighty Mouse. (Heaven forbid that we miss Oil Can Harry or Pearl Pureheart.)
I wasn’t a great piano student, but the memory of waiting in the hallway for my turn is still there. Sometimes the person who preceded me was gifted. I remember hearing Beethoven’s Fur Elise and Liszt’s Liebestraum coming from the classroom. His playing often urged me on, and the glorious music of great composers enraptured me.
My grandmother also taught me Bible verses, especially from the Psalms, and she took me to church. There I heard wonderful old hymns, and the choir often sang arrangements of great inspirational classics, like the Hallelujah Chorus.
I adored her love of great things, even though she grew up on a farm with a large family during part of the Depression and struggled as a single mother to feed and clothe her two children. She still loved great thoughts and ideas and wanted us to share that passion. She wanted more for us than she had experienced. She bought records of composers just so we could hear the sound of truly complex compositions and appreciate them rather than (or at least as much as) Elvis or the Beatles. (Sorry Mona, I liked them, too, especially the Beatles.)
This is my salute to Mona and all grandmothers and grandfathers everywhere who invest in the lives of their grandchildren. You carry a large basket of possible seeds. Sow well into this next generation. Sow love, character, beauty, joy, and truth. Sow a love of grand things, like literature, poetry, art, and music. And above all sow for eternity’s sake. It’s a short life here, and a much longer life hereafter. Help them live well!
I want to thank you, Mona,–if you can hear me past the chorus of angels singing praise as they gaze at the glory of God’s design. I know you’re happy now enjoying all that beauty. Thank you, Lord, for her life and what it meant to me.