This is the story of my grandmother, who left me a priceless legacy of faith. She was born Gladys Jane McKee on April 1, 1906 in a small town in Pennsylvania. She was the youngest of four children. She lived to be 84 and died of cancer in 1990.
I loved her dearly, and have wonderful memories of her. She paid attention to me and listened to me. She was one of the few people I felt love from during my childhood. I remember that she loved Jesus and her family. She was a devout woman of faith. She liked to laugh and eat. She was always up for a party or family reunion and there was invariably an abundance of food!
She taught me to drink coffee with lots of milk but no sugar. Kindness and generosity was modeled, even though she was never financially well off. She laughed a lot, but took her Christian faith very seriously. She did have some funny ideas: she believed it was a sin to place any other book on top of a Bible, for instance, and she was very strict about resting on Sundays.
These are the highlights of my memories of her. It’s a legacy of faith in my life, you could say.
But here are the hard circumstances Gladys lived through. Her older sister died when Gladys was a baby and her mother became severely depressed. She was never the same, unable to function. Her mother passed away a few years later and her father remarried. The new stepmother didn’t like Gladys much but favored her brothers. Gladys worked in a factory from the time she was a young teen and brought the pay home to her stepmother, who rarely let her keep any of it. She married at 18 and had several children very quickly. They struggled financially but were happy together. After being married 10 years, her husband developed a brain tumor and endured two years of primitive and painful treatments during the early 1930’s. While Gladys was pregnant with her sixth baby, her husband died.
She was a widow with six children during the Great Depression, and there was no such thing as welfare or government assistance. At times, things were so desperate that Gladys went knocking on doors, asking the lady of the house if she could do washing or ironing for a few dollars. My father, who was the oldest, remembers going to the fire station with his wagon and picking up the weekly charity handout. It was surplus food that was given out to poor people. Whatever it happened to be – rice or beans or cheese – was their mainstay for the week. He worked odd jobs whenever he could to contribute to the family’s income.
Eventually Gladys married a widower farmer. It was not a love match, but more a convenient arrangement for them both. He provided a home and security, and she was a good mother to his boys. My dad described the farmer as odd and felt sorry for his mom. She lived on the farm until all the children were grown, and then she moved back into town. They never divorced, but had no more contact until his death.
And yet when I knew her years later, she was everything loving and kind. She was cheerful and radiated contentment. She lived in a very small, run-down cottage and I remember her saying that she “loved her little house.” She told me everyone was beautiful when they smiled. She encouraged me to love my hard-to-love brothers.
During my rebellious teen years, I threw a wild party and everyone in the extended family heard of my bad behavior. I received a card from my grammy around that time that said, “we still love you.” I can’t tell you what an encouragement that was! I was pretty sure she was the only one who still loved me.
This was a woman who did not let the hard things of life turn her to bitterness. This was a woman who showered love and kindness on others even though her life had not been easy or fair. She left a godly legacy to her children and grandchildren, and trusted God through some very tough circumstances.
It has been 27 years since my grammy Gladys passed away. There are only around 20 people alive today who knew her well. It makes me sad to think that as the years go by, there will be fewer and fewer ones who remember her.
But I remember. And her love and kindness to me wasn’t wasted. And I want to continue that legacy of faith and trust in God to my children and grandchildren.
What do you hope your children and grandchildren will remember about you?