Reflections, Story of my Life

A Tribute To (My) Grandparents

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I love to watch kids with their grandparents.

It doesn’t make sense.  You see, by kids’ normal standards, grandparents should be very uncool.  Their clothes are not the “in” name brand, and their cars are usually more practical than sporty.  They don’t know all the latest hip phrases, and their music selections are more oldies than cutting edge. Even during their teen years, when their parents have suddenly lost all their smarts, kids make an exception for their grandparents. It doesn’t matter that their knowledge of who’s who is decades out of date: they are still awesome. Take my own grandparents for example.

Stafford Grandparents

My maternal grandfather was named Arvey Stafford (yes, ARVEY, not Harvey, not Avery, not R. V.), but everyone called him “Pete” or “Uncle Pete”.  He died when I was pretty young, so I don’t have too many distinct memories of him, though I know he loved his grandkids and thought we were pretty near perfect.  He said once, “I’d know if I had any ugly grandkids.”  My maternal grandmother, Ollie Mae Hurt Stafford died when I was almost 28, so I have a lot of memories of her.  She had 7 grandchildren, but I was the only girl among them, so she thought I was extra special, or so she made me think.  She didn’t live in a big house or have much money, but ah, the example she set.  Following is a piece I wrote and read at her funeral that pretty much sums up what I remember about her and the good times we had at her house.  We didn’t have high-tech toys, but we sure did have fun!

I Remember

A Tribute to Grandma Stafford

      I remember baby quilts and big quilts, star quilts, and dutch doll quilts and tacked quilts.

      I remember embroidered pillows with squirrels and birds and deer and mushrooms.

      I remember your garden.  Every year you said, “I’m not gonna make such a big one next year”, but you always did.

      I remember playing cars in the dirt under the big elm tree at the old green house.

      I remember you were always “Aint Ollie” and Joey would say “If she ain’t Ollie, who is she?” but no one ever answered.

      I remember blackberry cobbler and peanut butter cookies.  All the little kids who ever lived around you knew about those cookies too.

      I remember that I never heard you say a bad word about anybody.

      I remember toast fixed in a black iron skillet and coffee fixed in boiling water on the stove.

      I remember how you went on national TV after the tornado having your dress on inside-out.  You said, “We just hunkered down by that old buffet.”

      I remember your “smokehouse” with potatoes on the floor and your wringer washer that you used.  The tornado took the smokehouse and washer and chickens and roof and who knows what else.  You got a new shed and it was still the smokehouse, never the shed.

      I remember hearing about the rooster chasing Wade and Roy around the house to the front porch.  They were hysterical and said, “That rooster kicked me.”

      I remember the list of your former pastors you’d talk about.  Bro. Vor Shoemake, and Bro. C.P. Kilgore and Bro. Berry and Bro. Ashcraft and Bro. King and Bro. Hutton, but you’d always end with saying, “but there’s none better than Bro. Martin.”

      I remember you loved your church and the people there.  You always went to church and never made excuses.  You  even went and helped make pizzas and peanut brittle even if your knees made you sit down to work.

      I remember Kick the Can and Hide-N-Seek and that old red wagon.  Since I was the lightest, I always got to ride.  I’d hold the tongue and use it to steer and the boys would get behind and push just as fast as they could.  I’d fall out, of course, but then get back in and go again.  They’d also pull me on the driveway and see how far over the ditch they could hang before I’d fall out.  I always did fall in that muddy ditch, and then we’d do it again.

      I remember you mowed that big lawn into your 80’s.  Not because nobody else would, but because you wanted to.

      I remember you always hummed and sang.

      I remember you always had a tan, and not from a tanning booth.  You had a green thumb that could make anything grow, and you loved being outside.

      All the pieces to your quilt are cut and pieced and stitched together and quilted now.  All my memories are only a section of your quilt.  Everyone here could tell stories if we had the time.  You’ve done beautiful work, touched many lives, and put together some great memories.

Thanks, Grandma.

Moss Grandparents

My paternal grandparents, Roy Lee Moss Sr. and Pearl Cutrell Moss (she had another first name which she hated so much that I won’t put it here), were also amazing.  They lived far away from us, in Monahans, Texas.  If you’ve never been to Monahans, you’ve missed it.

You’ve missed mesquite, the low bushy kind that doesn’t grow very high because there’s just not enough water.

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You’ve missed sledding down the sand hills at Monahans Sandhills State Park.  Did you know it takes several days to get sand out of your hair after a day of sand sledding?  Well, it does.

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You’ve missed pumpjacks popping up out of the earth like mechanical aliens that might be trying to take over the world.

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You’ve missed going out in your bare feet and stepping on “goad head” stickers.  Ouch!

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So why would anyone want to go to such a deserted (literally, desert-ed) place?  The answer for me was that there was love there, and a heaping lot of it.  Grandma loved to shop, especially for gifts to give us grandkids.  Christmas was a-ma-zing.  She always made sure that all 5 grandkids had the same number of presents.  We knew because Jessica always counted. Looking back on it, I can see that she was actually very sick.  She had horrible rheumatoid arthritis.  Her hands looked a lot like this. download (3) I can’t imagine walking any distance at all on her feet.  She had a surgery that basically fused all the joints in her feet together.  It was supposed to help her, but it sure didn’t look like it.  Instead, it made her very prone to falling. She was on blood thinners that made her bruise horribly.  My grandfather had to help her up out of any chair, and he had to be very careful about it because she would get the most horrible black and blue bruises from just a bit of pressure on her skin. She had lost an eye to a combination of glaucoma and a bad doctor, so she took her glass eye out every night and kept it in a cup by her bedside.  This was strange and wonderful and not at all gross because it was part of who Grandma was. Her pill organizer looked something like this, download (4) but hers was so full that she had several rubber bands around it to keep it from overflowing and the pills falling out. I say all this to reinforce the statement when I say that I never once heard her complain.  She would occasionally sit down on a bench when we went to the mall, but then she’d get up and keep right on going.  She died of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but nobody diagnosed it until a few days before her death, so she had quite a bad time, especially along the end. But she kept right on going. Grandma and Grandpa didn’t know many cool phrases.  Theirs included getting something out of the “boot” (we called it a trunk) of the car, and Grandpa saying “I think I’ll turn in” at bedtime.  If Grandpa had heard me use the word “gross” just a few paragraphs back, he would have reminded me that a gross is actually a number meaning 144. Grandpa was a deal-maker.  He could make money off of just about anything, but we used to tease him about how he was always “losing” money.  You see, if he bought something for $1000, tried to resell it for $2000, and ended up selling it for $1800, he said he had “lost” $200.  So to talk to him, he was going broke very rapidly. He was a man of integrity and hard work.  His skin was the color and texture of leather from working in the oilfields for years on end.  He didn’t have much use, or maybe any use at all, for someone who wouldn’t work.  No job was too menial or hard for a good man.  He was kicked out of the house, due to no fault of his own, by his moonshiner father for his 16th birthday, in Oklahoma in 1932.  That was Dust Bowl country in the middle of the Great Depression.  He washed dishes, rode bulls, and whatever else he could find to keep body and soul together and still went to sleep hungry plenty of nights.  Having been through that, he didn’t have much respect for people who wouldn’t do a job because they thought they were above it. He loved his family.  If something needed to be made, he would make it.  Evidence of his welding skills were everywhere around the house.  There was the painted red metal high chair he made when my dad was a baby.  There was the swing set in the back yard that he made.  It was very tall, or at least it seemed so at the time, giving its passengers a very nice high arc (though you didn’t dare jump off of it into the grass; remember those goat head stickers?).  There were sheds, buildings, cow pens, feeding troughs, corrugated metal roofs, and whatever else this modern day blacksmith could construct that was practical.  For he was always practical. He was an amazing nurse to my grandmother.  He tried to keep things light even through hard times.  He would joke with her and they would laugh at circumstances that weren’t really very funny.  And his grin was infectious.  He loved to tease us kids, telling us that all those Christmas presents were for him, or they were full or rocks, or whatever else he could say to get a rise out of us. Grandma liked western and country music.  She made mix tapes for me using her stereo, 8 track tapes and records.  Us grandkids would occasionally crank up the Oak Ridge Boys and sing “Elvira” (click that title if you want the full effect) at the top of our lungs.  You know, “Giddy Up-a Oom Poppa Omm Poppa Mow Mow, Giddy Up-a Oom Poppa Omm Poppa Mow Mow, Heigh-ho Silver, away”.  Any teen would have been laughed out of class had they admitted to doing this, but it was okay because it was at Grandma’s. So, by teen standards, all my grandparents were way out of date, out of touch, and totally uncool. The cars they drove were very practical and never new.  Grandma Stafford never learned to drive.  Grandpa Stafford drove a truck which would now be considered a classic, but then it was just old.  Grandpa Moss drove a truck, sometimes a welding truck, sometimes just a pee-cup truck (as he used to call it).  Grandma Moss drove a used sedan; I’m sure that Grandpa got a good deal on it. Their clothes were decent and clean but designed more for comfort than style.  Grandma Stafford went barefoot every chance she got, as evidenced by the calluses on her feet.  Her work shoes had holes cut out of them in the toe region to accommodate her gouty toes.  Grandma Moss loved her SAS granny shoes because they helped her painful feet.   I am sure I saw Grandpa wear something besides cowboy boots, but if I did, I don’t remember it.  And all that was just fine with me. So you see, my grandparents were very uncool.  But to me, they were the best.  Somehow they were held to a different standard, and that was okay with all of us.  Why?  Because there was love, and a heaping lot of it.

Story of my Life

Regina And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Wonderful Day

wall @ night

As I finished high school, I wanted to go on a 10 day Youth on Missions trip to Berlin and Budapest. The year was 1992, and the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, so this was literally a once in a lifetime experience. My parents were agreeable, so I sent in my deposit to secure my spot. I was SO excited to be going. I happened to see Oklahoma’s youth president at a church convention, and he mentioned to me that I wasn’t on the list of those going. Didn’t I want to go? I said absolutely, and my dad placed a call the next business day while I was in school. The secretary had somehow misplaced my check and the deadline had passed. Unless somebody cancelled, I wasn’t going.

Well, luckily for me, somebody cancelled, so I got a spot on the list. Bullet dodged. I received instructions that I needed to be at JFK airport 2 hours before the Czechoslovak Airlines flight was to leave for Berlin with a layover in Prague.

Also luckily for me, another young man from Oklahoma by the name of Brian Fuller was going on the same trip, so we made plans to travel together to JFK with a layover in St Louis. This was a very good thing for me, since I had taken a grand total of 2 airplane trips in my life, both of those with my parents. We were scheduled to arrive at JFK with plenty of time to change planes. We were set.

On the day of departure, we arrived at the Tulsa airport. Ready, set…wait. Our plane had mechanical problems, our flight was cancelled, and we were rescheduled on the next flight to STL. Since our new flight was an hour later, we needed a new connecting flight to New York, and we no longer had the requisite 2 hours in JFK. We now only had 1 hour in our schedule to change planes. They assured us that we would still be able to make it; we’d just have to not waste time.

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We finally got to STL, but discovered that in the process of getting a different flight from STL to JFK, Brian and I had lost our next-to-each-other seats. We were now on a 747 in totally different sections of the plane. I couldn’t even see where he was sitting, which you can understand if you’ve ever been in a 747. Okay. No problem. When we got there, whoever was off first would wait on the other, and we’d be fine.

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Well, it was raining in New York. Really, really raining in New York. This delayed our arrival as we circled for a while before we could land. Then we were informed that they didn’t have a terminal for us disembark to. They would use portable lounges to transport us from the airplane to the terminal: rooms on wheels that they packed people into and then drove us to a door that emptied into the airport. Any plans Brian and I had of reuniting upon arrival were totally obliterated.

mobile lounge

Obviously, these strange conveyances took longer than just exiting the plane would have. When I stood up to finally get my turn, I had 15 minutes to leave the plane, enter the portable lounge, travel to the terminal, exit the portable lounge, find the baggage claim, get my bag, travel across the airport to a different building, check in my luggage, pass security, check in at the new gate and board the plane for takeoff to Prague. As I finally entered the terminal, I had no clue where I was or where I was supposed to be, and I quickly breathed a prayer that went something like this: “God, I don’t know where I am, but You do, so please help me here.” It wasn’t a very deep or fancy prayer, but it was all I could do at the time. I saw a sign for baggage claim, and I figured I might as well get my bag; I would need it whatever happened. When I got to the baggage claim area I immediately saw Brian. He had already gotten his bag and found our chaperone, Rev. Darrell Johns, to whom he frantically waved across the chaotic area. Out of a whole 747 full of luggage, my bag was the first one I saw. I grabbed it, hefted it up (any 18 year old girl on a 10 day trip has a heavy bag!) and wheeled it quickly across the area and out to the taxi that Darrell Johns had flagged down for us.

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We took the taxi over to the Czechoslovak Airlines terminal, rushed inside, discovered that the plane had not left yet (it was delayed also), checked in, and found out I was on standby. The next Czechoslovak Airline flight to Prague was several days later. Not good! Not good at all! Well, someone else must have had trouble too, because I managed to get on the flight and we took off.  Here is our plane after we arrived at the Prague Airport.

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Now for the rest of the story. In 1992 there were hardly any cell phones in use.  The ones there were looked something like this:

big old phone

Our 2 chaperones, Rev. Darrell Johns and Rev. Kenny Godair had rented cell phones for the day to communicate with each other to facilitate meeting each person as they arrived at the airport for the trip. These were phones they were using just for that day and the number wasn’t permanently theirs. About the time I got out of that horrid portable lounge and prayed my simple little prayer, a lady called Darrell Johns’ cell phone and told him that Brian and I were at the TWA international baggage claim. Coming into JFK from STL, we should have been in the domestic area, but we weren’t where we were scheduled to be.

You see, God knows exactly where we are and what we need. I am very thankful that I made that flight because later that night, on that plane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, I met Steven Beardsley, the man I would marry 4 years later.

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