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 It doesn’t matter that their knowledge of who’s who is decades out of date: they are still awesome.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.


Dear Myself, Teen Edition

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Dear Teen Self,

You are a great girl, an amazing creation of God, and you’re doing just fine.  However, there are a few things you should know. You would do well to listen.

Clothes.  It doesn’t really matter what brand your clothes are or whether they came from the mall or Goodwill.  When I just googled (that’s a long story, but just take my word for it that when you want to know something you “google” it) “Top Cool Clothing Brands” it sent me here.  “Guess”, the brand everybody who is anybody is currently wearing, will be #34 on the Best Clothing Brands list behind something called “Wet Seal” and “Pink+Dolphin”.  Oh, and there are 2 companies who ironically sell clothing using ads of people who don’t have nearly enough clothing on: “Abercrombie & Fitch” (#1) and “Victoria’s Secret”(#11).  Nike and Adidas, however, are still the thing.  Swatch watches are still around, but unrecognizable and boring, and Coke rugby shirts or Hypercolor shirts are only available on eBay now (another long story, but basically you can buy almost anything on eBay that ever existed, including clothes that are long recognized as overpriced or generally silly).  “Units” clothes aren’t even available on eBay, which means they are even more obsolete than fossils (which are available on eBay).  So basically, my point is to stop stressing about the clothes you don’t have the money to buy.  Nobody will remember you for that anyway.  Dress modestly, neatly, and how YOU want to dress as opposed to the latest hot thing.

Guys.  Now that is an important topic to you!  Stop stressing about whether someone special will ever love you.  Since you don’t giggle profusely, dress provocatively, or pretend to be generally stupid, the majority of guys your age aren’t mature enough to recognize your attractiveness.  Those guys, who you so badly want to like you?  Many of them will marry shallow, silly girls and end up experiencing heartbreak at their hands.  Don’t be angry at them, for they have a hard road ahead to walk. The smart guys will wait until the time is actually appropriate to get into relationships, and then they’ll marry girls a lot like you.  So, if nobody is madly in love with you when you’re 15, that’s actually a good thing.  You will find a guy who, though not at all perfect, is perfect for you. He will appreciate your smarts and your talents and even your little quirks.  You will laugh and love and live, and generally be happy.  Relax.  It will happen.

Looks.  Your body is changing, and you don’t know how you’ll end up.  You currently are a not pear-shaped, or apple-shaped, as women are usually classified; you are string-bean-shaped.  But you’ll have 5 kids and your body will change, morph, settle, and change again.  Get used to it.  Each stage as a woman is amazing.  It is a wonderful creation, your body, so be okay in it and don’t worry about what it looks like, because honey, just when you get used to it, it’ll change.

Success.  The people who do best in careers are the very ones who are not popular now.  All those things that make some teens unpopular, like maturity, patience, discipline, smarts, a love of learning, and many other not-the-prom-queen qualities, are the very things that serve you well in the adult world.  The ability to throw a football or shake a pompom?  Not so much. Your geeky friends will become physicians and teachers, professors and bank managers, engineers and physicists, nurses and composers. And you will do just fine, too .

Friends.  Pick friends who are good for you.  Choose friends who you have something in common with, who make good choices, and who think you are okay just the way you are.  Be kind to others and you’ll find that people will be kind to you.  Those that aren’t?  They just showed you that you don’t want to be around them anyway.  There are lots of awesome teens out there who are making good choices, and having fun while doing it.  Seek them out.

Fun.  Have a little.  Don’t be so stressed and self-conscious that you don’t relax. Don’t do things you’ll regret, but also make sure you don’t regret not doing things.  And those geeky kids that the cool people think are so serious and boring?  They have the most fun of all.

Bullying.  If you see someone being bullied, stick up for them.  Period.  In your adult life you will continually be trying to help people who were picked on and rejected in their teen years.  Small kindnesses are so simple to do, yet they can have a profound impact on a person’s life.

Parents.  Though they seem totally uncool, and they act oblivious to all rules of teen behavior, they are smarter than you think.  They have loved and laughed and been through every single one of the things you are now going through.  And since your parents are in the ministry, they have been exposed to more situations than you could ever even think of.  That guy you think is amazing who won’t pay you any attention?  They could help you deal with that . Trouble with a teacher? Yep.  Need help with time management ? Yep. College and career decisions? Definitely. That suicidal friend?  Yeah, they could especially help you with that one.   God has given you 2 amazing people who love you more than anyone else in the world does, and you would be doing well to use that resource.

So basically, relax.  Have fun.  Be okay with who you are, because who you are is a creation of the Almighty, and He doesn’t make trash.

Oh, and that money you have invested in your first-ever stock purchase, namely Wal-Mart?  Yeah, you really want to switch that to a company called Apple Computers.

Sincerely,

Middle-aged Self


Bible Quizzing: A Great “Thing”

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I think it’s very important for teens to have something positive they’re good at: something that is their “thing” during this phase of life where identity formation is so important.

For me this was music. I was good at academics, but music, and the friends associated with it, occupied much of my time in middle school and high school. Someday I’ll post about that, but not today.

For my husband this was Bible Quizzing. He had been picked on and bullied during elementary school, and Bible Quizzing gave him back his dignity. It was something he did well. He did it better, in fact, than all those kids who had picked on him. It became his “thing”, his way to show himself and his world that he was fine just the way God made him, thank you very much.

Our kids are also involved in Bible Quizzing, and though they don’t need it in the same way he did, it is still their “thing”.

Bible Quizzing is a ministry of the United Pentecostal Church International through which children and teens memorize a set of verses (the verses change each year) and then answer questions based on their knowledge of the material. This is an amazing program. These quizzers learn word-for-word between 180 and 530 verses a year, depending on their age (and therefore quizzing division). Many of them learn “charts” as well, picking out items, words, phrases, or ideas that occur in a few verses, and memorizing the references so they can come up with them quickly in a quiz.

The most important positive is that they are hiding the word of God in their hearts. I am not minimizing that; how could I? That’s huge!

However, there are so many other benefits as well. They are expanding their minds through memorization. They are learning logical thinking and critical thinking in interrupting and completing questions. They are learning grammar as they figure out how to interrupt a question at the proper place. They are learning public speaking skills in both answering questions and contesting. They are learning to think quickly; 30 seconds is all they’ve got!

Meanwhile, they are learning about themselves and their natural tendencies. How do they handle pressure? How comfortably do they take risks? How well do they move on from mistakes?

Another important lesson is teamwork. Especially in the Sr division, it is mathematically impossible for a single quizzer, no matter what his or her skill, with teammates who aren’t contributing to beat a well-rounded, well-functioning team. They need each other. They must forgive each others’ mistakes, shore up each others’ weak spots, and let each others’ strengths come shining through.

They spend hours, yea even days, with their teammates, other kids close to their age. They are sometimes hormonal, sometimes moody, and sometimes delightful. Forgiveness is necessary. Accepting forgiveness is also vital.

Often families are involved, so it doubles as family time. Brothers and sisters on a team also have to work together, not fuss and fight, or they won’t win.

The quiz community is an amazing thing as well. All kinds of adults, from all walks of life, put out their time and energy and money for these kids. And the kids are enough to give you hope for the world. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met have been in the quiz “family”.

Bible quizzing gives kids confidence. Every answered question, every quiz pulled back from the brink of losing, every contest granted (or even if not granted, well executed), gives a little boost to these teens who are trying to figure out who in the world they are and who they are in the world. They know they’re smart, they’re accepted, they’re okay.

And when these teens are hitting those rough spots in their teen years, Bible Quizzing has them prepared. They know the scriptures. They know themselves. They have positive friends who are quizzers. They have a network of adults whom they trust, even when their parents suddenly become dumb and uncool. Basically, they are hooked on Bible Quizzing.

Then when it’s all over and they hit “real life”, their brains are sharp, they can memorize anything, they speak with confidence, they process information quickly, they work well on teams, they have friends all over the country, and best of all, they know thousands of scriptures. What a great “thing”!