Something Very Personal By Edna Specht Beyer

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I am pleased to introduce my first guest blogger, Edna Specht Beyer, my paternal grandmother.  She actually passed away when I was in elementary school, and I never knew her very well.  Recently my mother uncovered some of Edna’s writings, and I have gotten to know her much better.  It turns out that she was a writer like me.  Or maybe I am a writer like her.

                I had heard that Edna had met her husband Lenard through a personal ad in the newspaper.  The story was so vague that it never seemed real to me.  Well, now I have the true story, told by Edna herself.

“Something Very Personal”

By Mrs. Lenard K. Beyer

GREETINGS from corn belt!  Isolated young woman, book-worm, wishes interesting correspondence.  Favorite novel, “Old Wives’ Tale”; favorite Waltz, Blue Danube; favorite sport, hiking; favorite dog, Irish Setter. Pet aversion, bridge.  Yours?  Corn Belt Miss.

 Sitting in a corner of my quiet little room one November afternoon a good many years ago, I scribbled the above lines in lead pencil.  This originated one of the small human interest ads that filled a back page of “The Saturday Review of Literature” each week.  Having gotten around to launching into this journalistic adventure I had had no idea what I was going to write when I tentatively jotted down my friendly opening line.   After a puzzled five or ten minutes another sentence formed rather limpingly.  Then an idea popped into my head, and the mention of a book I loved gave me enthusiasm.  Now I really got under way!  Dashingly I wrote other favorites, and recklessly topped them with something I really hated, “per aversion, bridge.”  Signing off with “Yours? Corn Belt Miss”, I felt flushed and excited.  Filled with a sense of wonder at what I was doing, I went to my desk and clicked off a copy on my portable typewriter.  Rereading my paragraph neatly typed, I thought it looked pretty good.

Rereading the same paragraph today in a yellowed copy of a 1933 magazine I am surprised at how gay and casual it seems in the company of the “Cultured, widely traveled” woman and the young man “with no degrading habits”.  I know not whether these more dignified neighboring ads brought any results.  I do feel sure that none of the other “personals” on the page could have had more important consequences to their writers than my own lively little paragraph.

But as I sat in my room rereading my neatly typed copy I expected nothing in particular, although I felt excited and filled with a vague sense of adventure.  What fun it would be to look in the mail hoping to find letters from persons with similar interests — anyone, anywhere.  How thrilling the possibilities of bursting the boundaries of one’s familiar environment!  What interesting friendships might come to me!  And perhaps even —- romance, whispered a sly little inner voice.  But no, I silenced the silly suggestion with my school teacher’s sensibleness and authority.

Then an incident occurred which might have kept me from mailing my “personal”.  There was an imperative knock at my door and my mother called to me announcing a long distance call from another part of the state.  It proved to be an offer of a teaching position which had to be accepted or refused immediately.  It was accepted.  But in the midst of packing shopping and getting ready to leave for school the “personal” was not quite forgotten.

“You are not going to send that now?” was my mother’s dubious question in regard to my silly little experiment.

But it seemed that I did want to send it.  So I counted the words, wrote a check to the editor and addressed an envelope to the magazine.  And in my haste I did not forget to include the stamps that were to bring me the letters from the interested readers of my “personal”.  However, I had all but lost interest in my experiment.  As I dropped the letter at the post office on a trip down town to shop for dresses and shoes for the schoolroom I was too preoccupied to feel any continued sense of adventure.  I had entirely gotten over my thrill at bursting out of my little prison of conventionality.  So I rushed on to my shopping and packing.  I was starting to teach once more, and it seemed like any other Fall except that it was six weeks late and I must hurry.

One sunshiny morning in October almost a year later I was waiting in a state of high excitement for a Ford V8 to turn into our driveway.  I have never experienced at any other time such a strange mixture of thrills, curiosity, hopes, fears and excitement as the morning that I waited for Lenard to arrive after his long trip.  Lenard and I had corresponded for most of the preceding year, our letters steadily increasing in number and intimacy as the time went on.  I had spent hours and hours writing to him and he to me.  Early in the correspondence he had told me of the pitiful tragedy of the loss of his wife and new-born child.005  I felt all too strongly how much the letters from the girl in the west had come to mean to him.  As I started at the approach of each passing car I was almost overwhelmed by my sense of responsibility at letting him drive a thousand miles to meet me.  As I peered at the girl in the mirror in my room I wondered again and again if I would look like the person that he had built up in his mind out of the many snap shots that I had sent him.

And he — would he really be like his pictures and letters?

Early in the morning I had put on my nicest house dress and arranged my unruly black curls as smoothly as possible.  Since then I had wandered restlessly and nervously about the house waiting for a car with an eastern license plate to drive in. Should I have let him drive that thousand miles to see the girl of the letters?  Would I come up to his ideal?  Would I like him?  Could we take off where our letters had left off?  When we met face to face would we be the same persons that each had thought he was writing to?  Or would we be really strangers?  I knew what music he liked, what books he read, what views he held on many subjects, what his hobbies were, what he liked for breakfast.  But I didn’t know the sound of his voice, how he walked, what mannerisms he had.  How would we react to each other?  How would our personalities “mix” when we were together in the flesh?  The hours dragged on and I began to think that perhaps he wouldn’t arrive that day after all.  I went about doing some housework absent-mindedly.  It was nearly lunch time now.  By this time I had begun to just glance at the cars going by.  Then suddenly my Mother’s, “There’s a car ——-“.

“It isn’t ——–?”

“Yes it is ———-a Ford V8 and he is driving in.”

Now that my “big moment” had arrived I became suddenly fussy about going out to meet “him”.  My hair needed smoothing and so forth.  Finally with my heart seeming to stand still I hurried to the door.

“Edna,” asked the young man at our front door.

“Yes.”

“How are you?”

“Why – a — I’m so excited I don’t know what to do.”  It was the last thing I had meant to say.  We looked at each other uncertainly for a moment and then a little blankly.  After all our months of writing, waiting for each other’s letters, and counting on each other, we seemed practically strangers at that moment.  He seemed a very nice young man, even finer than I had imagined.  And he was better looking.  But he seemed to be another person.  With bewilderment I felt that the person I thought I had been writing to for the past eleven months had never existed and someone slightly resembling him stood in his place.  His voice was the greatest surprise.  He had a quicker, almost hasty way of speaking.  And I was overwhelmed by the unlikeness of the real person from his pictured likenesses.  And in my confusion I realized that without a doubt he was feeling the same way about me.  A few minutes later I was helping him carry in things from his car and showing him his room in our home.  Somewhat gropingly we were trying to make conversations based on our letters.

The next two or three days I like to pass over even in my own thoughts.  I still feel strained and embarrassed when I think of that stage of our experiment.  Then one dull October afternoon when we were walking in the deserted natural park near my home, we sat down on a park bench and faced the situation together.  We did not really know each other very well, it seemed, and there was great doubt of our achieving the deep feeling and companionship that we both wanted so much. Strange as it may seem, that painful admission brought a new sense of understanding between us.

Then a few days later, on Halloween Eve, we experienced a sense of revelation.  I will never forget that evening — the tang of the Fall outside, the mantel decorated with pumpkins and autumn leaves, the cheerful open fire and the magic of our feeling for each other.  And being entirely feminine I will always keep the dress that I wore that night, the one of midnight-blue with the frilled collar and cuffs and the full swirling skirt that Lenard liked so much.  After that enchanted All Hallows Eve the days and evenings passed all too fast.

Early one crisp frosty morning we stood together in front of my home saying reluctant good-byes.  Lenard was about to retrace the thousand mile trip that he had made alone to see a young woman he had discovered in a magazine  I said that we must put the third of a continent between us once more before deciding that we were sure.  I myself felt entirely sure, but wanted to give him every chance to know his own heart in regard to the girl that might fill the empty place in his life.  As he drove off I stood watching as long as I could see him.  Then I stood alone once more shivering in my wooly white sweater and wondering whether, if I pinched myself, the past two weeks would turn out to be a dream. But many letters and telegrams the next few weeks reassured me that my happiness was all very real.

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002At noon two days before the following New Years, Lenard and I stood before the holly and evergreen decorated fireplace of my home and exchanged marriage vows before a local minister.  A few days later his friends were surprised by the news that he had married a bride in the west.  And my friends were equally puzzled by the announcements that I had married an easterner and gone east to live.  Only one of his friends and one of mine have ever learned how it happened.  Even yet we are sometimes startled by the innocent question, “And how did you meet?” A staid college professor and his faculty wife can hardly answer that it was through the “personal” column of a magazine.

To the natural question of the reader as to how it has turned out I can answer more frankly and say that we seem happier than most of our friends.

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Edna, Lenard, and George

And not long ago Lenard and I told each other that if we had it to do over we would repeat our unconventional romance.  Other results of that little “personal” of years ago are occasional nature articles that we write and publish together, a home that we think is lovely and a son who is a leader in the religious and social work of his city.

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Edna and Lenard’s son, George, my father

Lenard and I and more especially our son often marvel at the part that chance in the form of a small item in a magazine can play in life.

I hope you have all enjoyed reading my Grandmother Beyer’s true story as much as I have!  I think she and I have a similar style of writing.  I am so happy to know her better and to realize that I share in her heritage.  Now I think I will go curl up with Edna’s favorite novel as stated in her personal ad, Old Wives’ Tale, and see it we share the same taste in books.

Nobody Knows in Advance Which Day Will Be the Day of Their Death

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For my Grammy, that day was February 4, 2011.  Sometimes you get an inkling that this life is drawing to a close.  With Grammy, I was completely shocked.  I was thinking that she could live another ten years, being from a family of long livers.  She was even improving and starting to eat and walk again.  I had no idea that February 4th was her day.  I simply thought it was my last day with her for a time, since I was flying back to Pennsylvania on February 5th.  I am so thankful for that last day with her.

Grammy was cozy in her new room at Harbor House, a memory care facility.  She was confused about a lot of things, but she kept on insisting that she was going to move back to her apartment at Primrose.  She had spent the Christmas holiday in rehab after a stroke.  She was unable to get any of her mail.  So she and I spent a long time on her favorite love seat, reading every single Christmas card she had received.  I was amazed by how many people still sent her cards and how detailed their letters were.  She remembered every single person and told me nice things about each one.

Then I read to her the scripture God had given me when I was praying for her before this trip, Isaiah 43:1-4.  I saw Jesus carrying her through this strange new trial like a lamb on his shoulders and he was saying, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.  You are precious and honored in my sight and I LOVE YOU!”

Grammy paused from her talking for a moment.  I wondered what was going through her mind, and I hoped that she felt God’s love.  Then she started right back into discussing moving back to Primrose.

Soon she became very tired, and we tucked her into bed for an afternoon nap.  She looked comfortable and peaceful.  I kissed her on the cheek and said goodbye.

Chris and I spent the evening with relatives.   What a wonderful evening we had!  We returned our rental car since a shuttle would be taking us to the airport in the morning.  Our relatives drove us back to our rented room at Primrose.  Chris and I were so worn out from our busy week.  We wanted to just flop into bed and sleep as much as we could before our early morning flight.  However, we still had to pack our bags.  As we were getting everything ready to return home, we received a phone call.  A young nurse from Harbor House informed us with a shaky voice that Grammy had passed away!  She had slept away the afternoon.  One of the nurses had tried to rouse her for dinner, but Grammy said she was too tired and just wanted to keep on sleeping.  When they checked on her again, she had no pulse.

My heart started to beat fast. Was this supposed to be happening?  Grammy dead, this soon?   I had left too early in the day!  I should have stayed at her side all evening.   I had missed the moment when she left this earth.  I immediately felt sad and guilty.  Chris quickly pushed those thoughts aside.

“There was no way that you could have known.  You did just what you were supposed to do this week.”

I began to feel a peace fill me.  All I could do was what I had done.  Grammy lived a long life and died peacefully in her sleep.  She didn’t have to suffer.  May we all have a death so sweet!

We called our relatives and asked them if they could drive us back to Harbor House.  We wanted to say our final goodbyes.  I had never experienced death so closely before.  When I entered Grammy’s room, she looked just the same as I had left her, peaceful and snuggled under her blankets.  I expected her to open her eyes and see me standing there, yet she was still.  I felt that I was standing on holy ground.  Jesus himself had just been there to gather Grammy into his loving arms and carry her home.  His presence still lingered, and it was so sweet.

I really couldn’t know Grammy’s personal relationship with Jesus, what transpired in the depths of her heart and spirit before she died.  But the presence of Jesus in the room gave me the peace that I would see her again in heaven.  None of us can make it to heaven on our own.  It is the same as trying to get to the moon by jumping our very highest.  It doesn’t matter how hard we try or how well we train, we just can’t reach the moon.  Jesus lived and died in order to carry us there.  He is alive right now, constantly loving us and praying for us that we will trust him to do it.  So let’s do less jumping and more trusting. There is nothing to fear and EVERYTHING  to look forward to. For those who trust in Him, death is a reward and it is holy.

I Heard God Serenading Me

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It was late January of 2011.  Christmas had just passed.  It was the bleak midwinter, and Chris and I found ourselves emerged in the cold and snow of Wisconsin.  We were in a situation we never anticipated and were unprepared for, in over our heads and praying for strength and wisdom.

My grandmother, who I always affectionately called “Grammy”, had suffered a stroke.  She was placed in rehab and we expected her to make a full recovery and return to her assisted living apartment.  Then my mom received a call from the fancy, new rehabilitation facility.  A social worker informed her that Grammy had refused all rehab and had hardly walked since the stroke.  Grammy had developed dementia and was deemed unable to make her own decisions.  She certainly couldn’t return to her apartment and the very expensive room at the rehab facility was doing her no good at all.  Yet she was still paying for both places.  We were told that if a relative didn’t come to Wisconsin and become her guardian, she would become a ward of the state.

We all felt that Chris was the best candidate to travel to Wisconsin.  He would take care of Grammy’s finances and get her situated in a nursing home. He was so gifted at organization and decision making. His time as an employee of Home Instead Senior Care had well acquainted him with the needs of senior citizens. At the last minute, it worked out for me to go as well.  I left my seven children with trusted friends and traveled with Chris into the unknown.  I felt a special grace for this time, yet I felt a huge weight of responsibility as well.  Grammy had always been able to take care of herself, being very healthy and as sharp as a tack.  Now at 96, she was to become our responsibility.  I was used to Grammy telling me what to do, not the other way around!

We rented a guest room at Primrose, the assisted living community where Grammy had an apartment.  It was new and beautiful and very comfortable.  We were only supposed to be there 3-4 days which meant our schedule would be non-stop.  We had to see a lawyer and then a judge to be granted guardianship.  Then we had to visit nursing homes and chose one.  We had to visit Grammy several times, of course, and work things out with rehab and Primrose.  We had to think about applying for financial aid.  Although the nursing homes were not nearly as nice as her current home, they charged a lot more, and we had no access to Grammy’ financials until the judge said we did.  Once the judge granted Chris the guardianship, we had to visit all Grammy’s banks and clear out her apartment.  We had to sell her car and forward her mail.  The list went on and on without end.  I kept a pen and paper with me constantly to write down every new name and number, every new appointment.  My mind was so overwhelmed with details that I could hardly think straight.

When visiting Grammy, my heart was torn.  She spoke so intelligently.  She sounded so much like the Grammy that I had always known.  I would think that I was making a horrible mistake by taking control of her life and moving her to a nursing home.  Then she would remind us of why we were there.  She would think Chris was one of the nurses.  She would talk about the “seed soup” that she loved to eat.  It turned out that “seed soup” was just tea with thickener added to it so she wouldn’t aspirate.  That was about all she would ingest.  She had stopped eating most food and had stopped walking.  Yet the nurses would mash up a horrible concoction of all her medications and force her to eat it, usually on an empty stomach.  Awful!

She would take a phone call from her boyfriend.  After a minute, the phone would slip out of her hand and into her lap, yet she would continue talking as if the phone was still up to her mouth.

I knew we had made the right decision, transferring her to a memory care facility.  Grammy was still very strong willed and feisty, and I wasn’t sure that she would agree that we had her best interests in mind.  I told her gently that she couldn’t return to her beloved apartment but that we would be moving some of her things to a new place.  She became so upset that she started feeling sick and displaying all manner of symptoms.  Then she promptly fell asleep, sitting up and in the middle of our conversation.  I prayed desperately that God would comfort her.  She woke up a few minutes later and was in much better spirits.

It was Tuesday morning and like every other morning of the trip, I woke up at 4am and my stomach fluttered with nervousness.  I felt so overwhelmed with all we had to do that day, and it seemed like more than we could handle.  In addition, I was supposed to be flying home on Wednesday to be with the children.  There was a historic winter storm with blizzard conditions and freezing rain from the Rockies to New England.  The airports were being shut down, and I wouldn’t be able to fly home.  My heart ached for my children.  I hated to ask our baby sitters to stay with them for a whole week, but we had no choice.

I felt sad that I hadn’t visited Grammy in the past 12 years.  We didn’t have the money to travel to see her, and it was hard to coordinate to take the whole family all the way to Wisconsin.  Yet, here I was now, when I had to be.  I was grateful to be able to help Grammy in any way that I could.  Yet we still didn’t have the money to travel, and we weren’t sure how we were going to purchase plane tickets home (whenever the snow cleared) and how we were going to pay our babysitters.

I thought about how we had to go through all of Grammy’s belongings and decide which things she would like to keep with her at Harbor House and which we had to get rid of.  I thought of going through all her personal papers and financial documents, all of her private memories and treasured trinkets, and I felt wretched, as though I was betraying her trust!

I felt awful about putting her in a nursing home.  I wanted to bring her back to Pennsylvania to live with us, but I just couldn’t see how that would work.  Could she even travel?  Would she be devastated to leave the town that she had spent most of her life in?

All these thoughts wouldn’t allow me to get anymore sleep.  I slipped out of bed as quietly as I could and got into the shower.  The spiral of thoughts and emotions continued until I just wanted to curl up into a ball and cry.

“I just want to go home and be with my children, but there is no way that I can!” I said to God.

Then sweetly and softly I heard God singing over me!  It was a song by Mercy Me that I had heard on the Christian station, and God sang it to me something like this:

“You’re Beautiful!  You’re Beautiful!  You are treasured, you are sacred, and you are mine.  You’re beautiful.”

I felt wretched.  I felt homesick.

God was calling me beautiful!

I felt overwhelmed.  I felt inadequate.  I felt like I was doing everything wrong.

God was calling me beautiful!

And I experienced his deep, deep love for me when He sang it.  It was like the love of a husband watching his wife have a stressed induced meltdown over some silly thing.  He understands her thoughts and knows the depths of her heart.  He is used to her swirling emotions.  He knows that all the details that she is so concerned about will simply fall into place.  He knows that she doesn’t need to worry at all, and her freaking out will accomplish nothing.  Yet he looks at her and he can’t help but love her, despite her failings…because she is his beloved bride. Even though her face is red and blotchy with tears, her husband can’t help but see her overwhelming beauty. He is totally and completely in love with her at all times, no matter what.

That is how God made me feel that day in the shower.  Isn’t He an amazing God!  That He loves us so completely!  His love was all I needed to take courage again and keep pressing forward, through the rest of the week, through moving Grammy’s stuff and moving Grammy and preparing everything that needed to be done before we returned to Pennsylvania.

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Now, years later I look back on that frozen week in Wisconsin with awe and wonder.  It was a blessed miracle.  I saw God give us favor with the right people and witnessed Him work out all of the details.  I got to spend precious time with Grammy.  And the blizzard?  God worked it out for my good.  Instead of traveling home early, I was able to see Grammy comfy and cozy in her new little room.  I got to see her happy in her new home (even though she did call it a “nut house”).  I got to see her enjoy food and walk again!  I got to kiss her and say goodbye before she took an afternoon nap.  It turned out to be the last afternoon nap she would ever take on this earth.  She finally felt at peace enough to let her spirit fly…and I got to be there…while God sang.

 

“He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zeph 3:17

 

Happy 100th Birthday, Grammy!

La Vera Senior

La Vera Gisselman, Senior Picture

If my grandmother, La Vera Gisselman were still on this earth, she would be 100 years old today.  She was an extraordinary woman, and I remember her with such fondness.

John and Amelia Seipp

John and Amelia Seipp

La Vera child     She grew up in Wisconsin.  Her small family lived in the second story above a store that they owned.  She was full of love and admiration for her sainted mother, Amelia.  She had much respect for her father, John, although she described him as being strict and favoring her younger brother over her.  She told me her father was a very handsome man, always attracting the attention of the ladies.  Yet he had a certain smell about him, being very opposed to the overuse of precious and expensive water.  (La Vera was one of the most cleanly people I have ever known, almost to a fault.  As a child, I would wait on her heels and beg her to play with me.  Yet, she could not settle down to play a game or read a comic book until she felt that she had sufficiently cleaned my parents house.  This included taking the mattress off of my bed and vacuuming underneath it!)  Well, as a young woman, she described sneaking around when her father wasn’t home, filling up the wash tub with the rationed water and taking many forbidden baths.

When she was 16 years old, she met the love of her life, Harold Gisselman, at the ice skating rink.  He was immediately taken with her and offered to walk her half of the way home.

She thought to herself, “What kind of a guy is this, that he would only walk me part of the way!”

He ended up walking her the entire way to her front door, and it sounded like they were inseparable after that!  He was 20, so he had to wait for La Vera to grow up a bit before they could think about marriage.  Yet, they waited more than 10 years before they tied the knot.  In the frugal and patient way of their generation, they purchased a plot of land and had a house built before they got married.  (I remember looking at pictures of the basement being dug and the piles and piles of rocks that were pulled out of the ground.  Some of those rocks were used by Harold’s father to build a retaining wall in the back yard.  Many changes occurred to the house and the yard over the years, but 921 Humboldt Ave. remained their beloved home for all of their 50 plus years of marriage.  I have such wonderful memories of that little two bedroom, always clean and orderly, always meticulously maintained.  I remember picking cucumbers in the perfect, weedless garden.  I recall many neighbors and friends commenting on how the yard, bordered and overflowing with plants and flowers, was the prettiest one in Wausau.  Whenever an unusually cool breeze blows through Pennsylvania, I am taken back to those cool Wisconsin summers.  Whenever our radiators kick on that first cold day of fall, I am reminded of the smell of Grammy and Papa’s radiators that they had to turn on even in the summer!)

Finally, when Harold was 31 years old, he wed his beautiful La Vera on Nov 1, 1940.

Harold and La Vera Gisselman on their wedding day

Harold and La Vera Gisselman on their wedding day

They honeymooned in Chicago to pick out some furniture for their new home. When they returned to Wausau, they separated to continue living with their own parents until their home was completed.  Harold was the youngest of his mother’s four boys, and Anna always told him that when he moved out, she would just die.  The day he moved into his own home, which was just up the street from his mother’s home, she did pass away.  Much sorrow and joy were woven together in those early years.

Anna and Erik Gisselman

Anna and Erik Gisselman

Grammy told me that one day Harold was requested to report for duty.  It was WWII, and he had received a summons, but there was a possibility that he could be sent right back home again. Grammy passed the long hours waiting for him to return home by scrubbing every inch of her home.  Then she received a call.  He would not be returning but would be entering the Army Air Corp!  He went to an army base in St Louis, Missouri.  They discovered that he was very good at typing, so the army, in their wisdom, decided that he could best serve his country by doing office work in the states.  He was never sent over seas to fight, and I was always so thankful for that.  La Vera was able to visit him in St. Louis, and she became pregnant with their first and only child, my mother!  How very important that child was!

La Vera had to spend most of her pregnancy alone, although she did have the help and company of her mother.  When she told her father-in-law, Erik, that he was going to be a grandfather, he would walk up the street to help her as well.

The time came for her to give birth.  She entered the hospital and they put her to sleep.  She doesn’t remember any of the birth!  (She would become very uncomfortable when I would broach the topic of my natural childbirth experiences.  She preferred to stay in the dark about the whole mysterious affair.)  Harold received some leave and returned to see his baby girl!

Harold and Dana

After his time in the Army, Harold was hired as a bank teller.  He worked his way up the banking ladder until he was eventually the bank president.  Everyone called him Chick, and he was known and loved by everyone at the bank and most everyone in town.  He was an honest and intelligent man, always ready with a joke and a smile.  Years and years after his retirement and even years after his death in 1994, I still heard people around town talk about him with respect and admiration.

La Vera got a job as a kindergarten teacher’s assistant at Franklin Elementary.  Then she was the secretary at Horace Mann Junior High School and worked there for many years.  She was wonderful with children.  She gave me a box full of years and years worth of crafty invitations she helped to make, promoting some sort of school event.  She would often be a part of the school’s variety show in which she and Harold (along with many others) would deck themselves out in various costumes and perform skits.

Once they both retired, they would spend their winters in Florida and Arizona and their summers gardening and visiting their two beloved grandchildren (myself and my brother Jason) in Pennsylvania.  La Vera despised the heat and humidity of PA.  She would end up playing games with us in our cool basement to find relief.  We would also go to visit them in Wisconsin for 2-4 weeks in the summer.  Oh the fun we had playing at Marathon Park, hiking on Rib Mountain or the Eau Claire Dells, and visiting the cottage up north. We would swim in the frigid water until our quivering lips turned purple.  Once we all took a trip to Yellowstone National Park.  It was one of the best times of my childhood!

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Harold and La Vera celebrating their 50th anniversary

My Papa passed away the night that I graduated from High School.  La Vera was devastated and heart-broken.  He had prepared her for his death, and she knew how to take care of herself.  She was strong and self-determined.  One of her most memorable character traits was that she ALWAYS knew the right thing to do in EVERY situation, and she NEVER hesitated to speak her mind.  She could be taken as rather prideful and bossy at times, yet to me, that was just Grammy.

Several years passed and Grammy moved herself into a retirement community, selling her beloved home and going through all of her belongings.  Years after that she moved herself into a new retirement community, because it had a balcony off the living room that she liked better.  She loved that place and never wanted to leave.  She kept herself busy with cribbage games and a string of adoring boyfriends, always much younger that she was.  She lived independently up until two months before her death at age 96.  She was a marvel and a wonder to all who met her!  Her secrets to long life and vitality?  Exercise, fresh air, gardening, and a table-spoon of vinegar and black strap molasses everyday.  Her father, who died in his own home at age 96, swore by his vinegar and honey, and she carried on that tradition with a twist.

One point that Grammy was rather adamant about over the years was that I should not be a “baby making machine”, as she put it.  She was overjoyed with the first few children we had.  Then her excitement waned with the next few.  Somewhere around the 6th child, she acted annoyed when I announced a new pregnancy.  Pretty soon I was very hesitant to even tell her that I was pregnant again, almost wishing that I could assure her that we would absolutely have no more children and gain back her approval.  Her approval was always something that I highly coveted.  Woe to the person who had lost it!  Yet I knew that God had more precious babies for me, whether Grammy liked it or not!

My Grammy, LaVera Gisselman

My Grammy, LaVera Gisselman

In her final years, La Vera appeared to become less controlling and more accepting of others.  I had the privilege of spending the last week of her life by her side. She had a stroke and was no longer capable of making decisions on her own.  Chris and I traveled to Wisconsin and moved her into a memory care facility.  She was the most talkative, most opinionated, and spunkiest resident in the entire place.  She could hold the most lucid conversations, and a few times Chris and I thought we were making a horrible mistake by taking away her freedom, her apartment, and her car.  Yet the next moment she would think that Chris was a nurse and that another resident, Leonard, was actually her boyfriend, Harry.  She had the most hilarious conversations with Leonard, still believing that he was Harry, even after he refuted that fact in many ways.  Yet Leonard was smiling the whole time as though he didn’t mind the thought of being her boyfriend.

She passed peacefully in her sleep on February 4, 2011.  I was hard to say goodbye, but I was thankful that she didn’t have to live very long with dementia.

Later, in her belongings I found at least four typed note cards listing the names and birth dates of all her great-grandchildren (including Jason’s two children), as though she was afraid that she would forget one of them.  I also found a precious little bundle wrapped in white tissue paper.  It was a group of seven silver angels, one for each one of my children that I had at that time.  Each one was inscribed with the child’s name and inset with their birthstone.  Each great-grandchild was precious to her…I could see that clearly.  Now that she is on the other side of eternity, I know they are even more precious in her eyes.  I know that she is cheering me on as I am expecting our ninth little one in April.  She can now see into the fathomless depths of time; generation after generation, thousands of years upon thousands of years.  Every good thing my children accomplish during their lifetimes is part of HER legacy!  Their imprint on history is also HER imprint on history!  And their love of humanity and their love for God add to HER eternal bliss.

I love you Grammy!  I can hardly wait to see you again!

Beauty

grammy 2

 

It makes life worthwhile.  It makes a house a home.  It makes ordinary moments dazzling.  It is beauty.  We can find beauty almost anywhere if we really look.  Yet the place that the American woman is least likely to find beauty?  In her own reflection.  Why is it hard to see beauty in ourselves?

Years ago my daughter posted a sticky note on my bathroom mirror that said, “You are beautiful Mom!”  I saw it, read it, and thought, “How sweet!  I love my sweet daughter!”  But did I take the message to heart?  Did I look at my reflection and think, “Yes, I am beautiful!”  NOPE!  I immediately dismissed it as the foolish sentiments of a child who did not yet recognize true beauty. I was the adult, and I had lived with my not-so-beautiful self for a long time, and I knew that I wasn’t beautiful.  One little sticky note was not going to change the facts.

Yet I began to consider this – perhaps children are the best judge of what is beautiful; being young, innocent, and having no hidden agendas. Perhaps if my daughter truly believed that I was beautiful, then I should believe it too.  Interesting idea… but it takes time and effort to change those ingrained thought patterns.

Awhile after the birth of my seventh child, I was looking at myself in the mirror and lamenting.  I wasn’t back to the shape that I wanted to be in.  In fact, I suspected that my body would never be the same.  Not that it was perfect to begin with.  I was feeling quite sad and disgusted with myself.  Then I heard the soft voice of God speak into the mess that was my own thoughts.

Do not direct hatred toward that which I love.  Do not despise that which I call holy.”

He said it with love and a solemn seriousness.  I felt a holy fear of the Lord, and suddenly I realized several things.  I despised and hated the way that I looked.  My attitude towards myself offended God because he created me, loved me, and valued me so highly. He said that my body was his temple and his temple was holy.  His temple required honor and I was not giving myself that honor, therefore I was dishonoring him. But more than anything else, I realized that he loved me…and his love made me beautiful.

After that I would practice loving myself the way that God did.  I would speak beautiful words over me like, “Body, you are the temple of God!  The almighty God lives inside of you!  You are holy!  You are a wonder!”  I wanted to speak blessings over myself rather than curses.

Sue Monk Kidd wrote about a touching scene that she had witnessed.  A young girl was sad and ashamed after someone had made fun of her freckles.  Her Grandmother tried to get her to see the truth.

“I love your freckles!   What could be more beautiful than freckles?” her grandmother told her.

With all sincerity, the child turned to her grandmother and answered, “Wrinkles!”

Why were wrinkles so beautiful to the young girl?  Because the face that loved her had wrinkles.  And what is more beautiful than the face that loves you?  My own grandmother was one of my favorite people when I was younger.  She was fun and spent endless hours reading comic books to me, playing games with me, and taking me on hikes.  She loved me, and I thought her wrinkled, tan, and slightly leathery face was beautiful!  She did not agree with me, however.  I would find family photos, taken during our fun adventures together, with small little circles cut out of them.  I would study them more closely and realize that the holes were always in the place where Grammy should have been.  I asked her why she did this, and she would  answer, “I didn’t like how I looked in that picture.”

My Grammy, LaVera Gisselman

My Grammy, LaVera Gisselman

To me, a photographic memory that contained an empty space was ruined!  And for what?  So Grammy could feel better that no one else would see her looking less than perfect.  But she was beautiful to me!  Love, gentleness, and kindness make us beautiful.  We need less make-up and more love!  I need to scowl less at my children and smile more!

Are you having trouble finding beauty in the mirror?  Believe what your children know about you! When you are looking into the face of your baby and thinking that this child is the most beautiful sight in all the world, I bet your baby is thinking the same thing about you!  Believe your husband when he gives you a compliment.  When he refers to you with that special term of endearment, open your heart to it and let it in!  Chris likes to call me “Cutie”, and I love it.  I am pretty cute, now that I think about it!

Beauty is always found in the face of the one who loves you!  If you can’t seem to find beauty in yourself, gaze into the face of Jesus.  In his face you will find perfect love, perfect peace, and perfect beauty.    His love makes us lovely.  As we behold him, we become like him.  And if you look long enough, you will realize that the perfect beauty…is who you really are!