In a weird week, both Becca and I lost our grandmothers, our mother’s mother. Arlene Force, Becca’s grandmother, died on a Thursday. My grandmother, Josephine DeWitt, died on a Sunday.
I’ll let Becca talk about her own grandmother, who for all she endured in the name of what was right, quietly, will receive great reward in heaven.
But I’d like to take some time to talk about Jo DeWitt for a moment.
She lived in West Virginia most of her adult life, although she was born in Maryland. She was the oldest of nine kids, and Jo’s mother died in childbirth along with the ninth. Jo was left as a youngster to care for all her siblings. Then at a young age she agreed to marry Harry DeWitt, my grandfather and raised five children, of which I am the firstborn son of her youngest child.
As a kid, we lived far away in a distant, flat, hot land called Alabama. Every Christmas we would make the long drive up to a different, mysterious land of mountains and snow called West Virginia. In those days we had a thing called “the radio” and we listened to such songs as “Country Roads”, singing them at the top of our lungs as the old Dodge Aspen traversed windy mountain roads to get to where my grandparents, all four of them, lived at the time. It was the 70′s. For those of you who weren’t there … it was awesome.
Jo DeWitt’s house was where we usually stayed, and for the first decade or so of my life, that was where I had Christmas morning, presents waiting for me under the tree. Christmas evening would be a grand party where the whole DeWitt clan would congregate in Jo’s house, eat fudge and sugar cookies, get rug burns from the shag carpeting in the basement, and receive presents. It was as idyllic as you can imagine. Norman Rockwell himself would have yelled “halt!” just to try and capture the moment on a canvass.
When I was younger, we called Jo DeWitt “Mom.” When I asked about this strange behavior as a child, I was told that Jo didn’t feel she was old enough (or looked old enough, for that matter) to be anything resembling a grandmother. I think she had great-grandkids before someone could wrestle her wiry frame to the ground and force her to take the “Grandmother” moniker. It was probably my cousin Jo Marie.
Which leads me to one of the most important aspects of Grandmother. Jo DeWitt was always quite the lady. She never looked frumpy or wrinkled. She held court from her recliner throne in full regalia of fashion and exquisiteness. And she liked her house to be as impeccable as she looked. She was always beautiful.
One summer my parents went to Ireland without me and left me and my brother and sister with Grandmother for two weeks or so. It was supposed to be only one week with Grandmother, but my Grandpa got sick and so the other set of grandparents couldn’t take us for the other week. My Aunt Twila did help out, but we were mostly there with Grandmother.
Our misbehaviour was off the charts, if you could ask Grandmother about it. As the years went on, how bad we were took on mythical proportions, legendary status, up there in Grandmother’s mind with Pearl Harbor and the assassination of JFK. I don’t doubt it. It was the only time I heard her cuss. But as I get older, I start to blame it more on the sugar rush from all those little pink candies she had stashed all around the house … and that she probably needed a cigarette.
Well, the years passed and families got bigger and grandparents got older, and we didn’t have the Christmas dinner together anymore. It is the natural way of things, but last week, sixteen of the eighteen grandchildren got together there in that old house with new carpeting and pigged out and told funny stories. It was the kind of healthy noise and laughter that house hadn’t had in a while.
More recently, somehow Grandmother and I got to talking about death and heaven. I told her, “Heaven is a noisy place, you know.”
To which Grandmother answered, “Oh, I hope not.” She kinda liked the peace and quiet.
My sister, Gina, and I tried to assure her she would like the noise, but we weren’t able to convince her.
As she grew closer to death, and as we all knew it was soon, names were placed on items in the house that we might want. Bicentennial plaques and naked baby paintings were claimed.
But my Grandmother had 60+ decendents (grandkids, great-grandkids, and great-great grandkids), of whom she was fond of saying, “Not a bad one in the bunch.” And I cannot disagree, honestly, when I looked out at most of them there at her funeral.
If I could put my name on something, it would be that. Next to an eternity with Christ, what better reward than to get to the end of your days, see those that have emanated from your body and say, “Not a bad one in the bunch.” I can’t think of one.
Good thing about that is … there’s room on the bottom of that one for everyone.
She will be missed. She has been missed, but praise God she’s in a much better place.