My maternal grandmother died yesterday.
The old adage goes, “There’s no place like home.” That’s probably true, though I might make one small change:
There’s no place like home … except Grandma’s house.
I remember driving up to my grandparents’ home at 407 Kelly Street in Woodville, Texas. My brother and sister and I could hardly wait for my mom to park the car before we jumped out and raced through the kitchen door, each of us trying to be first!
My grandmother would look up, and say in a delighted voice, “Look here … it’s those Terry children! I was just telling Daddy Red that you would be getting here just about any minute now, and here you are! I am so glad to see you!”
I spent many summer days at my grandmother’s home. She loved to host a “cousins’ week” for all her grandkids. No parents allowed. Just our grandparents and our great-grandmother and all seven of us grandchildren.
Boy, did we have some fun adventures!
We went set up tents and camped out in the backyard … at least until humidity melted us and the mosquitos got us and the night noises spooked us. Then one-by-one we snuck back inside to the a/c.
We swam in the backyard pool until we were too tired to enjoy our popsicles. We walked around the block and down the street to the old cemetery. We picked berries, played loud games of dominos (Chicken Foot was our favorite, but we liked Mexican Train too), and watched old Jimmy Stewart movies in the heat of the afternoon.
Breakfast never arrived without watching cartoons in bed with my grandmother and large mugs of coffee milk served by my grandfather. Lunch was never served without a big plate of sliced tomatoes, and there was always rice with brown gravy for dinner. Bedtime never came without big bowls of Blue Bell ice cream. (If we picked enough berries, rather than eating them all straight off the bushes until our bellies ached, our great-grandmother would bring over a big berry cobbler for us to eat with that ice cream.)
Those summers with our grandparents weren’t complete without a short trip. Sometimes they took us to Galveston Island, where the best part of the whole day was crossing over to the island on the ferry and feeding the seagulls bread that we tossed into the air. Other times we went fishing at nearby Dam B (later renamed Martin Dies, Jr. State Park) near Jasper, TX. On other occasions they would take us to visit my grandfather’s family in Lufkin.
My grandmother was a talented seamstress. She always had multiple sewing projects going on at the same time, as evidenced by the pile of bright fabrics by the sewing machine and the perpetually set-up ironing board next to it.
My cousins and I often wore matching holiday dresses. I was the oldest so I wore my dress only one season. My poor baby sister had to wear her dress, then my cousin Steffi’s dress, and later on my dress. If you look at old family photos, it seems that my sister Brooke only ever owned about 2 dresses for her entire childhood.
My grandmother loved to host “hot water tea parties” with her granddaughters.
She would cover a large cardboard box or coffee table with an old sheet. Next, my grandmother had us set the table. We would pick a small bouquet of flowers from around the yard and set it in a vase on the center. Then we took the tiny tea set from her china cabinet and set out the cups and saucers, the sugar bowl with tiny sugar cubes, the milk in the pitcher. Meanwhile, my grandmother added some hot water (or rarely a weak tea) to the teapot. She put a plate of pink sugar wafer cookies on a pretty plate and set that on the table too.
Now we were all ready to enjoy our tea party. My grandmother acted as hostess. You had to wait for the hostess to serve the food before you could eat, and no one could slurp their tea. Sometimes we brought our baby dolls, and practiced introducing our “children” to our friends.
Later on, when I was about 10 years old, my grandmother gave me about five old teacups. I kept them on a shelf in my room, and in high school I decided I liked them so much that I started collecting teacups. Each time I look at my teacups, I am reminded of my grandmother and her hot water tea parties.
My grandmother also introduced me to England’s royal family.
Okay, she didn’t actually introduced me … but she is the one who turned me into an Anglophile, or lover of all things English.
During my teen years, my grandmother and I often discusses Princess Diana and Fergie. Years later, when I watched the movie The King’s Speech, I recall how my grandmother had shared this story with me during my childhood. If I ever get to travel to England, which I hope I actually get to do, I know I’ll wish I could return home to share all about my English adventures with my grandmother.
There is so much more that I could tell about my grandmother … for example, she was an avid traveler who visited 49 of the 50 states in this great nation, but loved Texas best of all. And while all of those things are special to me and the rest of us who loved her, there is truly only one important thing about her life.
One a stormy night in 1947, as she rocked my infant mother in her arms, my grandmother decided that she was going to follow God. The next morning, she told my grandfather that she intended to join the church and be baptized the following Sunday. According to her, he didn’t say a word and the subject never came up again during the next few days. She assumed that he wasn’t going to try to dissuade her from joining the church, but he wasn’t going to join her either.
On Sunday morning, as the music for the invitation began, my grandmother moved to step out into the aisle. My grandfather stepped out of the pew, she thought to simply allow her to get out … but then he took her hand in his and together they walked forward to join the church. They were both baptized and spent the rest of their lives dedicated to their faith in Jesus Christ and in Christian service.
From leading GA’s (Girls in Action missions) when her daughters were young to traveling the nation building churches with the Volunteer Christian Builders during retirement to knitting prayer blankets when she was homebound, my grandmother loved sharing her faith in her Savior and using it to bless others.
Her one decision, made as a young mother, has rippled through my family through the generations, paving the way for the salvation of her husband, her daughters, her seven grandchildren and her 29 great-grandchildren.
Her’s is a legacy worth leaving. Her’s is a life well-lived.
And sparkle, she did!
She was a beautiful, vibrant woman with a bright mind, big heart, and a bold personality.
Yesterday, she left this earthly home for her heavenly one.
I sort of imagine her hearing her Savior say as she walked through the pearly gates and onto the streets of gold, “Look here … It’s Thelma McGee! I was just telling the Father that you would be arriving any minute now, and here you are! I am so glad to see you!”
I will miss her.