Grandma Rose’s worn, white farmhouse was nothing fancy. When visiting you were just as likely to see a turtle she’d trapped dangling from a tree as you were a fresh apple pie cooling on the counter. The brown linoleum floors were cracked, Berber carpet frayed, the furniture tired and worn. The only adornments on the walls were utilitarian shelves displaying a clock collection. And her prized possession was a mounted deer head, shot by her beloved grandson.
Grandma was a no-nonsense farm-woman who valued the practical over the pretty. It wasn’t that Grandma didn’t have an eye for lovely things. She just didn’t have much use for them. If gifted with a trinket, she would smile with delight and exclaim, “Well isn’t that pretty!” (Pretty being the only adjective she ever employed to describe the beautiful.) Then she’d fetter it away in one of her china cabinets – right next to the local Fox 9 News mug she’d received once when they did a story about our huge family on her mother’s ninetieth birthday.
For all of her rough edges and practicality, Grandma treated people with a pure, uncomplicated grace. She loved her family with a ferocity that knew no bounds. She would move heaven and earth to help a neighbor in trouble. And she paused her farm duties of gardening, canning and baking to sit and have coffee with anyone who stopped by.
When I was a teenager I remember asking Grandma if she’d ever thought of sprucing up her house. I pointed out it needed a good cleaning as much as it needed a decor overhaul. She looked around at the threadbare carpet, worn cabinets and stove caked with evidence of years of cooking for those she loved.
She smiled knowingly and mused that she’d rather we remember her as someone who took her grandkids fishing and turtle trapping than someone who spent all of her time dusting trinkets and cleaning house.
It was a sentiment steeped in truth and evidenced by the way she valued people over things, investing all of her time loving others.
And I never forgot it.
The only pretty memento I have from Grandma is a porcelain serving bowl. Chipped on the rim and dotted with a gaudy wild rose pattern, I’m sure she picked it up for twenty-five cents at a rummage sale. I remember the look of admiration in her eye when she handed it to me on day, remarking it was “kind of pretty” and that she thought I’d like it.
I always thought it was funny that my no-nonsense grandma thought something so frou frou was pretty. In a way the bowl reminded me of her – a beautiful but flawed vessel having the potential to hold all manner of love and goodness. I put it to use as a fruit bowl on my counter and there it has lived for the past twenty years, bringing me joy and a daily reminder of my precious grandmother.
Recently I returned home and discovered my bowl broken in two.
My heart started pounding as I stared in disbelief at the pieces. My kids warily watched my reaction from a distance. They knew mommy loved that bowl. And they knew how much I miss my grandmother.
My oldest slowly approached and gently placed her hand on my arm. With eyes full of compassion she whispered, “Mom, it was a total accident. He was just putting an apple back and tossed it too hard. He really didn’t mean to do it.”
It was then that I registered my five-year-old sitting on the couch, his watchful eyes brimming with tears and full of sorrow. And I heard grandma’s voice in my mind, “I’d rather my grandkids remember me for taking them fishing and turtle trapping than for spending my time dusting trinkets and cleaning house.”
Taking a moment to collect myself, I walked across the room and dropped to my knees in front of my little boy. He threw his arms around my neck and started sobbing. I squeezed him close and murmured reassurances over his head of understanding, love and forgiveness.
In that moment, I wanted my son to remember me for my grace and forgiveness – not my love of precious things.
Because more so than a beautiful bowl, the heirloom passed from grandma to me is her legacy of grace and endless love for her family. It’s an heirloom I hope to pass along to my children as well.
And I know she’d find it pretty.