As one of eleven children whose parents worked constantly just to scrape by, I would characterize the general ambience of my childhood as Lord of the Flies squalor. Grandma's visits were glimpses of civility. She'd clean the house and brush my hair. She'd pay attention, show enthusiasm, make us feel special. She taught us games, made finger puppets, told stories, tucked us in. All the maternal, nurturing sorts of things that bored my mother.
Grandma had her share of pain and dark emotions too. The man she really wanted to marry was killed in World War II, and while I have no doubt that she and Grandpa loved each other, I don't think she ever got over that loss. She planned her death for as long as I can remember, how she wanted her funeral conducted, which possessions would go to which grandchildren. "Be Still, My Soul" was the hymn she wanted sung at her funeral. The last verse:
Be still, my soul. The time is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointed, fear and grief are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joy restored.
Be still, my soul. When change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
Grandma experienced a lot of sadness and periods of depression, but she had unwavering faith that if she lived the Gospel and endured to the end, once she died, she'd be happy.
Grandma was a worrywart. Because we had all been warned of this, we were to avoid actions that would make her worry. They lived in the same town as us when I was eleven to twelve years old. One day I went over. Actually, my sister had sent me over to borrow some laundry detergent. When I knocked on the door, Grandma was so excited to see me, hugged me, siphoned me into the house for an afternoon of games and cookies and jigsaw puzzles. She seemed so happy that I had come and treated me so lovingly, I didn't have the heart to tell her that really I'd only come for soap and not to visit.
After a couple of hours, I left, but I didn't go straight home. I found some friends at the park and played there until almost dark before going home. Grandma was waiting there, furious. "You said you were going home and all this time we couldn't find you and didn't know what happened to you." I had made her worry. The guilt was paralyzing. "Don't you have anything to say?" she implored. I couldn't talk. "Not even 'I'm sorry, Grandma'?" Her voice broke and tears filled her eyes, and she left. I had hurt this sweet, gentle woman who loved me.
My grandparents' commitment to the Church influenced my own devotion. Family reunions always included testimony-bearing sessions. The stories of how our ancestors had been miraculously led to the Gospel were handed down. I felt proud of our heritage and determined to live up to that legacy. I had one opportunity to attend the temple with my grandparents. They were both very proud, and I imagined what it would be like to meet them in the next life after having followed their examples of being faithful and enduring to the end.
Six months later, I was excommunicated. I never told my grandparents. I don't know if anyone else did. If they knew, they never said anything or treated me any differently.
Grandma loved babies and sent me an outfit and a handmade quilt when I was expecting my first. When he was eight months old, I had a feeling that I really needed to see my grandparents. I planned a trip to Utah when they would be visiting my parents there. Grandma gushed with pride as she watched me care for my son. "Oh, Leah! You're a mama!" We worked puzzles, sang songs, played with the babies, all the stuff Grandma loved to do.
Two days after I got home, I got a phone call. Grandma had had a stroke. That trip was the last time I saw her healthy.