Grandma smiled. She listened. Her voice and her laugh were gentle, like her. She radiated love. You were drawn to her. In her company, you’d find acceptance, compassion, a shoulder to cry on, a friend who listened, sympathy, encouraging words, and a smile. Always a smile.
One of my earliest memories of her was when she and Grandpa Bonnie would come to Evansville and bring their black lab, Gypsy. I couldn’t wait to sit beside her. I was fascinated with the kindness and gentleness in her voice. I loved all of my grandparents, my family, and friends, but I had never known anyone who spoke with such a sweet and loving tone. I remember sitting beside her on the patio swing and her handing out Juicy fruit chewing gum to us. I wanted to soak up every moment with her. Early on, I recognized that she was a unique individual in this crazy world.
I remember being jealous of my cousins in Indianapolis, who could see her whenever they wanted. In fact, she was who I thought of the one time I wanted an escape from my parental units. I was probably about seven-years-old, maybe eight. All I know is, I had been sent to my room by Mom, possibly a punishment I deserved, but who really knows. Being the middle child is a lot harder than you’d think. 😉 So anyways, I’m in my room on Scenic Drive, and I am fuming from the injustice of it all. Mom just didn’t understand my point of view. Instantly, I knew who would understand. There was a phone in my room. And I made the decision right then. I was running away. I’d heard enough horror stories of kids being abducted by this point though, and I’ve always been sort of a chicken or the weakest link in the sibling tribe, so I decided I couldn’t run away the traditional method. It was too risky. But Grandma Phyllis, if she heard my story, and I knew she’d listen and understand, she’d drive from Indianapolis and pick me up.
The funny part is, I loved my Grandma and Grandpa Standring, and I had their number memorized – and they were right across town-but I didn’t call them. I knew the area code for Indianapolis was 317, and I began confidently. I dialed the first three digits, and then panic struck me. I didn’t know they rest of Grandma Phyllis’s phone number. I clutched the phone in my hand and just willed the numbers to show up, but after a moment I sighed. I hung up the phone, and along with it, my plans to run away. Within moments, a peace filled me, and I was perfectly content being right there at home on Scenic Drive with the family who might not always understand me, but loved me nevertheless. I think the very thought of Grandma and her peacefulness and goodness just comforted me.
When we’d drive up to Indianapolis to visit my grandparents, visiting Grandma Phyllis was the highlight. If you were her grandchild, you may have played with the Fisher Price castle in her basement, you might remember the green glasses she poured orange juice in for you or her teddy bear collection. You probably played checkers with her on her coffee table with the reversable checkerboard table-top. On one of those visits, she taught us how to play the card game Rummy 500. She was good. She smiled at you as she stomped your behind…In cards or ping-pong. But you didn’t mind losing to Grandma. Not when she smiled at you and let out the world’s most gentle and heart-warming laugh.
In 97, when I was finishing high school and was starting college at UE, Grandma retired from the Jet Credit Union in Speedway, and she and Bonnie moved to Evansville. I remember how excited I was. I thought, “Finally, we get her in Evansville!” Those few years we had her in Evansville were filled with lots of laughs, smiles, and of course, food. Grandma fed everyone. I recently read a journal that Grandma kept in 1999. Let’s just say, there is a reoccurring them of my brother, my sister, and myself-plus friends, showing up for playing cards, ping pong in her basement, and you bet- for food. Here are three sibling specific snippets from that journal that made me smile…
“Sam and his friend, Brad, came over and finished putting our ping pong table together. I fed them and baked cookies for them.”
This next entry I thought maybe she accidently wrote my sister’s name instead of mine, but I read it twice. It clearly says Coleen. To be exact, it says, “Coleen came over and visited with us. We love to see her. She is so pretty and so sweet.”
The next one though was definitely an entry about me. Ahem, “Sarah came over, and I fixed her a bacon club.” 😉 I won’t read anymore, but let’s just say that some of us showed up at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, more than the others, and were fed fairly often at Grandma’s- according to her journal.
One time I asked Grandma about the story I’d heard of her being held at gun point when she worked for the credit union. A man came in and told her to put all of the money in the bag. Grandma said he had a gun pointing straight at her. I said, “What did you do?” She said, “I looked back at him and said, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me…And he put the gun away and ran out of the bank.’”
I was thinking about it later on. That guy probably heard the same angelic voice that I had all those years and looked at the nicest lady he’d ever met and thought, “What am I doing? I can’t rob her!” Just by being her sweet, gentle self, she changed his path that day.
I wonder if we all tried to be kind and gentle like Grandma Phyllis, how the lives of those we come across each day would be better.
People have always talked about my grandma’s beauty. My whole life people have said things like, “Your grandma is so beautiful,” or, “your grandma was so beautiful,”- talking about how she was when she was younger. Even in the nursing home, a lady said to me, “You look a lot like your grandma, and that’s a compliment. Some people say she used to be the most beautiful woman around.” First of all, being compared to her at all I took as a compliment. And yes, I always thought she was beautiful. But more than any physical outward beauty, to me, her beauty was the way she treated those around her. So many Bible verses make me think of her, but one that comes to mind often is Proverbs 16:24. It says, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” For the forty years I knew Grandma, her words were certainly that…sweet to my soul…and to anyone else’s who was paying attention.
In the final months, one of my favorite memories with Grandma was when Uncle Marvin and Reta would show up on Sunday, and we’d all take Communion together. I was reminded in those moments that Grandma was a woman of faith, a child of God, and we’ll be communing with her again, one day in Heaven, -only she won’t be suffering at all then. She embodied kindness and grace, and left a trail of encouragement, compassion, and love for all who were blessed to meet her. From the would-be bank robber to people like you and me, she impacted lives. I know I’m not alone in saying, we will miss Grandma, we’re thankful for the lessons she taught us, and we’re thankful we had her for so long. The memory of her alone will always make us smile and encourage us to be better people, one kind word, one smile, one moment at a time. I look forward to the day I’ll see her again in Heaven.