My Grandma Katie used to say the funniest things. As a child, I grew so used to her funny little adages that I never really gave them much thought. But now, as an adult. I find more and more just how wise and accurate her colorful statements really were. Like, “beauty is only skin deep, but ugly is to the bone.” Just think about the truth in that!
But to truly understand her aphorisms, it is essential to know Grandma Katie. She left college during Christmas break of her first year and married a widower with eight children. They had six more children of their own. My father was number 13 out of 14 children, and I was the 31st grandchild out of 37.
I never met my grandfather, since Grandma Katie had been a widow for several years when I came along. And to me, she always seemed old, but in reality, she was only 57 when I was born.
She lived to be 98 and was pretty mobile and active all that time. She never drove or owned a car (except for one disastrous attempt); she never owned a home; she never traveled outside this country; and yet, she never bemoaned any circumstance in life. I can honestly say I do not recall her ever complaining about any aspect of her life.
Now, she wasn’t perfect by any means. She could be as cantankerous and stubborn as a mule. She was inclined to stir the pot in touchy situations just for the fun of it. And she never minced words or held back her opinion. But more than anything, she could not stand laziness in any form. Continuous hard work was her goal, as well as her goal for anyone around her.
She had been a sharecropper’s wife, so life in those days had always been hard. Always. She never dwelt on those hard times though, and I never remember her telling stories of those times, as other people her age often did. If we wanted to know something, we asked and she gave us the facts. So, I find it ironic that the most emotional experiences of my childhood center on her – a woman who controlled her inner emotions at all times.
She was not a physically affectionate grandmother, but I never felt more loved than when I was playing beneath her quilt frame with my sister, as she endlessly sewed and hummed. And she made every little chore an adventure, not by diminishing the work, but by treating us as adults. She assigned us a task and trusted us to carry it out. That autonomy was exhilarating and empowering. To this day, I still love the fearless feeling of trying something new, something almost impossible to accomplish.
I credit so much of who I am to Grandma Katie. And so many people in my family would concur; they say I am a lot like her. I think they mean that comparison negatively, but I take it as the highest compliment.
My mother always smiles and agrees with the “Katie to Joy” comparison as well. But I never really thought much about how that made her feel. My mother’s mom died when I was just a toddler, so I have very few memories of my maternal grandmother, Mama Farr. All I really know of her came from pictures and anecdotes passed down to me from older cousins or other family members.
I learned over time that Mama Farr was quiet and gentle, with a steely determination. She was truly beautiful, but her beauty outside matched that of her inner grace and beauty. It was said that my grandfather was always enamored with her, quick to do anything he could to please his beautiful bride.
She loved pretty things, and she loved to shop. (It got her into trouble now and again.) She was also known to worry and fret over small details, wanting things to flow perfectly. Her daughters all inherited her eye for details and her knack for making everyday things more beautiful. She was fun-loving though, known to always have a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
She was bedridden the last few years of her life. She surely knew her days were numbered, so that must have changed her entire outlook on life. They say she never complained or gave up, but it must have been such a difficult time.
During that time, my mom (a young wife and mother at the time) and my dad moved us into my grandparents’ home to help care for Mama Farr. It must have been almost unbearable for my mom, but all I remember is laughter and joy during those years.
In fact, I only have one distinct memory from that time, and it revolves around a morning ritual of drinking orange juice with Mama Farr in her hospital bed and clinking our small oatmeal-box glasses in a daily toast. It is one of my fondest memories, a moment of pure love and security.
Not long ago, I went through a hard season, a time of deep, soul-searching prayer. I found myself evaluating my past and contemplating my future. And while looking back, I saw such a thread of that love and security running throughout my life.
Despite some really deep, dark, trying times, I have always known I was loved by God and my family. And I realized how very blessed I was in every situation. All my life, I could distinctly see that I had been covered and protected by that loving security. And I had somehow miraculously always managed to stand strong and immovable in those stormy times.
So, one night, in tears, I thanked God for keeping me safe and secure, for helping me to not only endure but to overcome those hard times. I thanked Him for the salvation I found in Him at a young age, for the parents who led me to Him, and for a loving Christian husband and sons who stood beside me in all things. I even thanked God for the strong, tenacious nature I inherited from Grandma Katie.
And oh so quietly, I heard His still, small voice speak to me, “And thank your Mama Farr for the prayers she prayed over you as a little girl, prayers that you always be found inside My will, secure and protected from everything, especially your own, headstrong self. I am still honoring and answering her prayers for you.”
Wow. I was speechless. God is still answering prayers from over 50 years ago, prayers from a woman I never really knew. Yet, Mama Farr loved me so much that she left a legacy for me — on the altar of God. And her legacy, her prayers, are still being answered.
That one moment in prayer taught me so much. It reminded me that God never forgets and He never fails. It reminded me of just how loved I have always been and always will be. And it taught me that our prayers are never uttered in vain, not when we pray to the I Am THAT I AM.
But most of all, it challenged me to be the kind of parent and grandparent that leaves a real legacy for those to come, a legacy of prayer. I want to leave behind prayers that God will continue to answer for generations to come. And hopefully, my descendants, women and men who have not even been born yet, will be blessed by a woman that they will not meet until eternity. Like my Mama Farr, I want my prayers to be their legacy.
So, now when people say that I am as tough and tenacious as my Grandma Katie, I immediately think of Mama Farr’s prayers as well. And I smile and thank God for both of my grandmothers. Together, they gave me the strength and security to stand in Him. A strength and security that I intend to pass on — through prayer.