Monday, May 11, 2009

String of Pearls

I saw my mom Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of this weekend. It was so great. On Friday I went by myself, and we tried on clothes in anticipation of what we were going to wear to the Mother's Day lunch at her church on Saturday. It is so wonderful to see my mom be able to try on clothes, just like the old days!

On Saturday, she and Lucy and I went to the lunch together. This is the first year I've brought one of the girls (with the exception of Elaine when she was an infant--and then I just stuck her under the table and she slept through the whole thing). Lucy and I got to my mom's house as she was getting ready and putting her jewelry on. Lucy said, "Oh, I forgot to wear any jewelry today, Manga," so my mom pulled out a tiny ring for her.

"Look," she told Lucy. "Here is a sweet little ring with your great-grandmother's initials on it: AK. You can wear this if you're very careful of it."

"Is it your mom's, Manga?" Lucy asked.

"Well, yes," Mom answered, "she was very much a mom to me, and she is your great-grandma, up in heaven."

The one whom she is talking about is actually my godmother. She died when I was only three years old, and I just have one vague memory of her--she was wearing an apron, and we were all seated in the dining room of her and my grandpa/godfather's house. It was somebody's birthday--maybe Grandpa's--and there were muffins for everyone with a birthday candle in each muffin. I remember being thrilled at having a little candle of my very own to blow out. That is all I remember of her.

That is certainly not all I know of her though. Her name was Arvilla Kirchofer Garner--I thought Arvilla was a beautiful name because it sounded like "vanilla" to me. She was the only child of a well-to-do German family in Chicago. Her father owned a printing business.

She and her mother were terrified of bees. Her dad knew if, when he came from work, his wife and little girl were sitting out on the front porch that there was a bee in the house that he needed to deal with before they would go back in.

Here she is; isn't she cute?

Arvilla grew up to be a very tall and thin and beautiful lady. She loved to play tennis and sing, and her best friend was a missionary. They wrote lots of letters back and forth overseas. She grew up at Moody Church in Chicago, and one Sunday she was supposed to sing in a trio with two of her friends. (If you've not been to Moody Church, it's quite imposing and seats 4,000 people.) The hymn they were to sing was, "I Am a Pilgrim." They were each to sing individually "I am a pil-..." and hold the note until the third girl chimed in, then they would sing the hymn. However, when they got up in front of all the congregation and started with "I am a pil-...." Arvilla got the giggles, the other two followed, and they finally ran off the stage in disgrace (still giggling).

She married my grandpa, Harold, who was from Canada and also an only child. Grandpa was a pastor, and his great joy was taking dying little country churches and bringing them back to life again. They never had any children of their own, and it was a sadness to them though they never really showed it.

Arvilla first was the secretary to Harry Ironside, then worked for Gospel Light Publishing, then became a professor at Moody Bible Institute. It was there that she met my dad. He was one of her students, and he had the audacity to turn in a paper to her written in pencil. She was outraged. However, she had also heard that to earn his tuition money, my dad did painting and wallpapering so she asked if he would come to her house and redo her mother's room (by this time, her mother was widowed and lived with her).

He did, and the rest is pretty much history. To Harold and Arvilla, my dad became their son. It's because of them that my dad moved to Wheaton, where I grew up. When he married my mom, she became their daughter, and my parents' children were without a doubt their only and greatly-prized grandchildren. In 1966, the year my parents got married, Grandma and Grandpa were jointly awarded the Alumni of the Year Award from Moody, the first couple ever to receive it.

Both my parents' house and our house are filled with beautiful things that belonged to my grandparents. Grandma died of cancer in 1972. Grandpa died of a sudden heart attack in 1982. They had a gorgeous, ornate statue in their home that Grandpa told Dad, "When I die, the first thing I want you to grab is that statue." I remember so clearly the night that the Wheaton College student who was boarding with Grandpa called us to say something was wrong. Dad rushed over to his house while we waited at home for him to call and tell us if Grandpa was in the hospital.

Instead, after several hours, we heard the back door open, and there stood Dad in the back hall--tears streaming down his face--holding the statue.

In these last few months that my mom has been sick, she has been talking a lot about Grandma Garner. How she and Grandpa dedicated their lives to serving God. How they loved working with children and students. How they sat around and laughed and laughed all the time because they thought that life devoted to Him was such a blast and a joy.

How when Grandma got sick, my mom was so devastated--she cried and cried and cried--this was her children's only grandma and now she was being taken away. Mom said, "After she died so soon after my sister died, I just didn't think I could pray anymore that someone would be healed from cancer." She talked about what a truly great lady Grandma was and how she faced all of this with grace and strength. What an example she was. My mom talked about her own illness and how she knows that any cancer in the bone will end in such great pain.

"I'm holding on to this verse from the Psalms, though," she said, " 'I will not fear evil tidings. I will remain steadfast. The Lord will uphold me.' "

I thought, as I have often thought, what an awesome heritage of women I have walking before both me and my girls.

While my Grandma Arvilla was in the hospital, dying, she wrote a letter each to my brother and to me, in a shaky hand, on some letterhead from her dear Moody Bible Institute. Mine says, "My darling Alice, I'm here in bed looking at those pretty flowers you sent me. They make me very happy. Thank you so much. I miss seeing you so much. Maybe pretty soon I'll be out of here, and you can come to see me. Don't ever forget that Grandpa and I love you so very much. Do you know what I've been doing today while here? I've prayed especially for you and Chuckie. You're growing up so fast, and we hope you'll always love the Lord Jesus and do what He wants you to do and to be a real worker for Him. Even now you can show other children that you love the Lord Jesus. You'll never forget that we love you, will you? Very, very much love to you. Grandma."

On my wedding day, I had the choice to wear either my mom's pearls or Grandma's pearls. I chose Grandma's because I had some other things of my mom's to wear, and in addition--my mom was there. I wanted Grandma included in the day. I wanted her to know that I've never forgotten her and how much she loved me.

Here she is, on her wedding day:

And here I am, on mine:

Yesterday, on Mother's Day, my mom presented me with a long, thin box.

"Why are you giving me a present, Mom?" I asked. "I give you presents today, not the other way around!"

She just smiled as I opened it and found Grandma's necklace inside. Mom and Dad had had it restrung for me, and Mom wrote a note to me that I will treasure just as much or more than the pearls themselves. I'll be keeping it together with Grandma's long-ago note to me.

During these months, I have carried a sadness in my heart, particularly for Elaine. It hurts me so much to think how my mom absolutely adores her, but that will become a faint and distant shadow for Elaine. She might just have one brief memory, a flicker of candlelight, just as I do of my grandma.

But then I think of how much I truly know Arvilla. My parents have kept her so incredibly alive for me. I know her story. We don't have the same blood flowing through us, but she is my true grandma. My mom is tiny and petite, but I am a tall, lanky stork just as Arvilla was. I'm terrified of bees and tend to laugh uncontrollably at the most inopportune moments. I love china and teacups and beautiful linens like she had all through her house. I've worked in publishing and taught college students and thinking living a life for God is a blast and a joy.

People have come to our house and seen those two wedding pictures--hers and mine--hanging up in the hall and have said, "You look so much like your grandma!" I picture her up in heaven getting a big chuckle out of that. I know when I get there, I'll know her the second I see her.

When my mom was in the hospital recently, she said that her pearls and Grandma's pearls were mine to give to the girls at my discretion. I haven't made my final decision yet, but I think Grandma's will go to Elaine. They'll go to her so that she'll have a piece of our great legacy to hold in her hand...the thread of God's goodness that you can know and love someone dearly though they might only be a faint memory or even though they're someone you've never met on Earth.

And to Grandma--You are gone but never forgotten. You are a beautiful branch that was grafted onto our family tree. Thank you for your courage and grace, even in your darkest hour, and for your beautiful string of pearls. I'll probably give them to my girl who giggles the most. I love you.


Kacie said...

What a great story and what great photos. Isaac's family has amazing stories connected to Moody as well. His grandfather was a boxer that got saved, and went to Moody. He used to be the school barber, and he'd cut hair at the hitching post outside of the guy's dorm, which is now outside of Smith in a little display.

When his first wife died, he met another lady at Moody church, and Isaac's aunt (who is in her 70's) told us that her first memory of her step-mom was her pretty dress when she walked towards them across the foyer of Moody church.

She also remembers the day she walked down the aisle at Moody church and got saved. She's spent her life as the busy wife of an evangelist.

Crazy... the history.

Ann-Marie said...

Well, that's a great way to start the day - with a good cry. What a beautiful story, Alice. So honest, pure, and touching. I'm so glad to have shared a Moody heritage with such an amazing woman. This will be such a treasure to your girls! Just reading this added a huge blesing to my day. Thanks so much for sharing!

picturingme said...

That was my kind of post! Family history with pictures while tugging on the heart-strings...whew. It's never about the item itself, it's always about the history of the item...& boy, do those pearls have a fabulous history...