I was banana pudding…
As long as Tenacious Grace exists as a ministry, we will never receive a gift that means more to me than the one I received this week. When I pulled the tissue paper from the weighty black and white bag, I discovered a leather covered book. The tears in my eyes beat the message to my brain.
My grandmother’s Bible.
With her pen and highlighters still tucked in the front pocket. I wish you could have met her; she was just about the sassiest little woman to ever love Jesus. So this week’s post is dedicated to her; it’s a piece I originally wrote for She Magazine just weeks after she passed away. Allow me to introduce you to Winnie Mae.
It was prom night in Sumter, and the neighbor girl was preparing for her grand departure. Her dress fit flawlessly; her nails were precisely polished, and she smiled delicately in the photos snapped by her parents. My mom, Aunt Shelby, and Grandma peered with nosy interest from their darkened bedroom window.
It was dusk as the couple paraded to the car, so the sneaky, spying trio had a clear view of the fanfare. Their covert observation was proceeding as planned.
That is…..until devilment got the better of my mother.
She knew full well that the curtain in their room easily dismounted and often fell unprovoked. My mom yelled the neighbor’s name as her chivalrous date was opening the car door. My mom and aunt hit the deck, flipped the light switch, dislodged the curtain in all the commotion, and left Grandma standing in the naked window, completely illuminated and exposed by the bright overhead light, as the neighbor’s gaze followed the sound of her name.
“Becky would get me coming and going,” she would chuckle as she often recounted their misadventures.
After retelling the prom night debacle she would usually, in her mock exasperation – fighting the urge to just get plum tickled – tell about how my mom would narrate scary stories to her five younger siblings. My mom would speak in a whispered tone and embellish her tale with spooky details as she concocted one scary story after the next. My Grandma would laugh and confess Mama’s stories scared her as much as they did her children.
Grandma and PaPa were married fifty-five years and parented six children: four daughters and two sons (Whew!). She was most complete when surrounded by her children, and she would often say that it took all of them to make her happy.
She was always petite but possessed a strength that I still cannot wrap my brain around.
And her house was always a place where people gathered; I mean people besides her family. There were always grandchildren running to and fro, sons and daughters bickering, people bringing or retrieving cars my PaPa repaired, childhood friends stopping in, extended family members paying a visit, sometimes unusual pets hanging out in the back yard (a pig, a horse, and ducks), but always a dog named Tiny with nails tapping across the floor as he/she scampered through the house (the name was always passed down to his/her successor).
The smell of steak and gravy invited whoever turned the knob on the back door, so there was always a house full at eating time. Kids parked it on the floor, and the adults packed out the living room and kitchen for Sunday lunch. Laughter and comfort food were always on the menu.
Grandma had a specialty (or two or three) for each family member, so there was a special scoop of lovin’ on Sunday if Grandma fixed your favorite.
I was banana pudding.
She was in the restaurant business for many years; in fact, at one time she was part-owner of the now vacant Mama’s Kitchen on Lafayette Street in Sumter. Her gracious hospitality made her the star of that place.
Somehow she made this amazing connection between feeding someone’s hunger and feeding someone’s heart. Her customers left with a satisfaction that comes from more than a full stomach. She knew their stories, how they liked their coffee and their eggs, and she loved them.
In fact, after Thanksgiving in 1984 a regular commented to her, “Winnie Mae, I didn’t have Thanksgiving dinner this year since Mama’s Kitchen wasn’t open.”
Well, that would not do.
She announced to her children that she could not enjoy Christmas at home with her family, knowing that others were alone and hungry. So we all, even me at eleven years-old, suited up and served 300 free meals on Christmas Day that year, and she also organized and delivered 66 fruit baskets to individuals who were homebound.
Later in life, she and PaPa met up with Jesus, and He took it all to a new level. She began to love people in His Name.
That lady had the most audacious faith I have ever seen. I have witnessed her write a tithe check when she absolutely did not know whether they had enough money to pay their bills or buy their medicine. She had a heart for underdogs and people who were hurting, and she would fervently pray for innumerable people and their situations on a daily basis.
She called me the morning of the Ocean Isle beach house fire in October 2007, so we could pray together for the families of the seven college students who died.
She encouraged through cards she mailed, and she was a student of His Word. She could not get enough of Him. She was ordained as a minister in her church, and it was a joy to hear her speak before the congregation she loved. What a blessing to have witnessed her passion and devotion!
My final visit with her I sat at the foot of her recliner and talked with her as my then three year-old sang “Jesus Loves Me” in the background. I welled up with tears even then, realizing the beauty of the moment. I, however, did not realize it would be my last.
To many people she was Winnie Mae, but to me she was Grandma Springs. She was a five-year breast cancer survivor battling emphysema. Rather unexpectedly, she received complete healing at the hands of her Father on August 30, 2008.
She lived large and her absence has left a hole the size of the Grand Canyon. I will think of her and only seconds later remember that she is not just a phone call away. I can still hear her voice speaking common phrases – like how she referred to PaPa as Shug (short for Sugar).
Shortly after her passing, I awoke from the sweetest dream where I laughed with her again. It left me feeling as though I had been given one more visit until my own time comes. This is mourning with hope.
We cannot help but grieve our own loss, but we also cannot help celebrating her life. Her laughter was infectious. Her love was deep and broad. Her influence was far-reaching.
So as her family we can know that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
We can praise Him for her freedom to run if she takes a notion to.
Ours is a mourning with hope.
We praise Him.
We celebrate her.[Feature Image: jbstafford]