When I was born, I had 72 living grandparents. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but thanks to short generation gaps and good genes, I have vivid memories of time spent with grands and greats. Grandpa Joe pickled his own cucumbers in gallon jars. Grandma Bea gave me pennies in recycled jelly jars. Grandpa Claude walked around with a pipe in his mouth that he never smoked. Grandma Marge (whom I called “Grandma March” because I thought that was her actual name for far too long) kept a step stool conveniently perched next to the cookie jar.
|Grandma March and Grandpa Claude at their 50th wedding anniversary party|
Some of my earliest memories are of visits to older members of our church’s congregation with my mom. We’d drop by, sometimes unannounced, and I’d sit on floral-printed couches while my mom spoke in hushed tones to ladies who seemed older than the Earth to me. They’d talk about their grandchildren, their children, their husbands who had passed--sometimes decades before, or about their Bible study group or recent trip to the grocery store. Most often, my mom would not need to ask more than three questions to fill the hour with listening opportunity, and almost always, I would fall asleep in her lap to the squeak of a rocking chair.
When we moved to Olympia, WA, we attended a hip-ish church for a few months and never felt “at home” for lots of reasons. When we signed Ben up for preschool at a Lutheran church, we decided to attend a service. Our second Sunday, Scott was gone, so I attended a Sunday school class by myself, and I was the youngest person in the class by thirty years. Most of the members of the class had me by forty, fifty, even sixty years.
One lady came up to me after class and bear-hugged me. When she let go, she grabbed my wrists and squeezed, not letting me go. She introduced herself as “Lucille” and quickly told me that her husband had been in the military--I knew she was my people when she ribbed me a little about the difference between Army wives and Air Force wives. Before we left, she took down my name and phone number and stuck it in her purse before shuffling off toward the sanctuary.
Over the next few weeks, our church attendance was a little spotty because of summer activities, and I got a note in the mail from Lucille saying how nice it was to meet me and my little family. One day, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. When I said hello, she launched into a conversation.
“Leia? This is Lucille from church. We met at Sunday school.”
“I was wondering how you are. I haven’t seen you the last few weeks.”
“Yes, we’ve been really busy--out of town a couple of weekends--”
“Well, I hope you’ll come back. I want to see you.”
“I’m definitely planning on it!”
“Okay, see you. Bye.”
You are right to assume I was right back in Sunday school the next Sunday. Over the last couple of years, Lucille has remained a ray of sunshine in the Washington rain. I see her occasionally in the middle of the week at church because my women’s Bible study meets at the same time as her senior exercise group. Twice, I’ve run into her around town running errands, and she pays no attention to the people waiting behind her in line when she stops to tell me glad she is to see me and to ask how things are going, always brightly dressed and smiling.
Today, Will and I ran to our favorite farm stand to grab some produce before we had to pick up Ben from school. I saw Lucille standing by the potatoes and onions. I scooted past her buggy and hugged her. Immediately, she started talking about how much she loves me. Right there in the store. She grabbed my arms, my face, my hands, and said, “I’m just so happy to see you. I love you so much!”
When I said, “I know! I love you, too!” she stopped me, grabbed my hands again and said very seriously, “Those are important words--I love you.”
Will was standing behind me, playing his 3DS, which has a camera. He said, “Mom, let me take a picture of you guys!” We posed with a random guy who was looking at potatoes. The two of them started chatting about how kids are so smart about technology. Lucille said to this stranger, “Do you know that I’m going to be 95 this year?” And his response struck me. “Well, good on you! I’m almost 70, and anyone who would get out in this weather is either healthy or stupid.” They laughed and laughed, and I said a tiny prayer of thanks, like I do, for this little miracle of a moment in my day.
Then I grabbed my phone and taught Lucille about selfies.
Much is said about how older generations get frustrated with “kids these days” and younger generations complain about how out of touch their parents and grandparents are. Maybe it’s because I’ve been old since I was born, but I have always had a healthy appreciation of the people who made me, the people who have lived more life than I have. More often than not, I prefer to learn from other people’s experiences when possible--good and bad. When it comes to all the things that really matter--the way I explore my faith, the way I love my husband, the way I mother my children, or the way I cultivate friendships, I take cues from people who have lived well.
When Lucille was leaving, she walked up to Will and cupped his face in her hands in a moment that was too beautiful to interrupt with a picture. She said, “I need you to come to my house and teach me about my iPad!”
I love Lucille. I love her for the number of years she’s lived--almost three times mine. I love her for her cold hands and bright yellow rain jacket. I love that she’s 94 and still gets out to buy onions. I love her because she’s who I want to be when I grow up--someone who writes notes and makes phone calls, someone who recognizes the importance of finding common bonds with people who seem very different by appearances, someone who knows the value of saying I love you.
Today is for Lucille. We’ll be paying her a visit next week to make sure she knows how to read this on her iPad.