Turning the Hearts of the Children to their Mothers, Part I
Many of us are familiar with the passage found in the last book of the Old Testament, declaring that in the last days Elijah would come to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, ‘lest the earth be smitten with a curse.’
In my last few days (and weeks, and months, and years), my heart has turned to my mothers, as well as to my mother lines. There are a few reasons for this.
One is that my mother is home. (And I care a lot about home.) This is true even when I live on the literal other side of the world from her, which I sometimes do. Or when I live a state or so over, which I do right now. She is a good home. A kind home. A believing home. A funny home. A passionate home. A hardworking home. A wins-awards-at-her-job home. She also looks like me. Or more accurately, I look like her. I have my dad’s nose and curly hair, but I still look like her. I alone of all of my sisters have my mother’s blue eyes. There are other shared features and other shared temperaments. Too many to mention. In important ways, I am my mother’s daughter.
Then there is her mother, who begat my mother, Claudia, who begat me. I recently had the opportunity to live in her California home with her for six months. I took care of her after her stroke, and she took care of me after my heartbreak. We prayed together and ate together. She would offer me processed cookies, and I would make her guacamole with the avocados, lemons, and tomatoes growing in her backyard. I listened as she told me her stories, over and over and over, until they became my stories. One day I noticed that she had mine and my mother’s eyes. In important ways, I am my grandmother’s granddaughter.
Her name is Zena, and when my siblings and I were younger, we referred to her as Zena: Warrior Grandma. She has always been short, and her osteoporosis has made her even shorter, to the point that her 5’1″ frame has shrunk to 4’11″, but she has also always been feisty. Probably even when she was in her mother’s womb. Definitely even now, when she is 93 years old.
What has she done that is so feisty? She bucked many (false) traditions of her time. Rather than waiting for a husband (or even getting married young), she took matters into her own hand. When she was in her late 20′s she traveled alone by train from California to Texas, which alone could be viewed as risky. Once she boarded, she approached the conductor and handed him a $5 bill (which should be adjusted for inflation), and asked him to seat her next to the most handsome man on the train. The conductor accepted the tip, and sat her beside my grandpa, who was home on break from the second World War.
They began writing one another almost immediately. Still, he was not the only one she was writing. Oh, no. There were about five others. She wanted to keep her options open. My grandpa wrote his mother that he had met the girl he was going to marry, apparently so convincingly, that when she met the intended woman, she congratulated her. My grandma taken aback cried out, “That’s news to me!”
Still later they did get engaged, and then married while my grandpa was home on another break from the war. There were rations at that time on sugar, butter, and other items, so my grandma’s sister borrowed rations from friends to make her a small wedding cake.
My grandma also became a professional woman in the 50′s, when my mother cannot remember any of her friends’ moms working. Perhaps even more surprisingly, my grandma did not do any of the household cooking. My grandpa cooked for the US Navy, and he cooked (very well) for his own family.
There is one more thing that must be mentioned: my grandmother brought her family into the gospel. Her brother-in-law was LDS, and so she had had occasion to visit LDS meetings when she was a tad bit younger. Later when she was living on the opposite side of the city from her sister, brother-in-law, and LDS chapel, the Elders knocked on her door. She let them in because of the fond feelings she had for her in-law.
Many of the things they taught resonated with her, particularly baptism for the dead, and the mercy and fairness that allowed those who did not have the opportunity to receive the ordinance during their life to remain eligible for exaltation. Her father, who had passed away when she was nine during the great depression, and others close to her fit into that not-baptized-before-they-died situation.
For this and other reasons, she desired to be baptized. My grandpa told her stubbornly that if she joined the Mormon church, he was going to join the Catholic church. Even more stubbornly, she was baptized anyway. When he saw that she was serious, he began to meet with the sister missionaries. Later he too was baptized. Later still, their family was sealed together. This was meaningful to me when I was on my own mission. As I taught people, I thought of my grandpa, who was taught by women like me.
I owe a lot to my feisty, Warrior Grandma, pioneer.
And then there is my paternal grandmother, who I call my granny. My heart has always been turned to her. Maybe because I grew up in the state where she raised her family, that she lived and loved in. She was just a beautiful forest away, and for two years of my growing up experience, she was just a very short drive away, making those years two of my favorites.
I admire so many things about this granny, and so many things about her husband, who was possibly my favorite human being. They met when they were both at school in Idaho. He saw her play tennis one day, and was drawn to her long legs. Unlike my maternal grandma, Granny Hunt has always been tall. At her prime she stood 6’0.”
And maybe because it was the era, this grandpa also announced that he would marry the woman he barely knew. And, again maybe because it was the era, he did, a few walks home from “Mutual dances” with her hands in his pocket later. My life is all the better for it.
This granny is feisty in different ways. She believed in herself firmly, and knew that she could do great things, and varied things. Because of this belief, she accomplished a great deal. She finished college after she had her own children, to become an elementary school teacher. One of my favorite stories was learning that when her students finished reading a book, she would let them stand on top of their desk, and scream, “I finished Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!” (or whatever it was).
During the summers she and my grandpa took their four kids to a lake in Idaho called Redfish, where they were the summer forest rangers. They were in charge of everything: registering campers, cleanup, chopping down firewood (which in those days was given to each camper), etc., etc. There she learned how to water ski on one ski, and did it as well, or better than the men.
She also made, wore, and sold crazy jewelry and other crafts out of whatever she had on hand, including empty soda cans. One of the campers was so impressed that he put her homemade fare in a fine art show in Canada.
Other talents include singing, writing (including an amazing song about a little kangaroo), water painting and other painting. When home computers became more popular, she became adept at painting in simple programs, and was never too old to learn a new trick. She also played Fantasy Basketball with my dad, uncles, and male cousins for years and years. She would keep multiple tv’s going in her house at any given time to keep track of all of her players, and often won.
My heart turned even more to her last August, when I was getting married. I had difficulty finding a dress in stores that I liked and was not way over my price limit. After another discouraging day trying on dresses, my oldest sister called me, and said, “Why don’t you just wear granny’s dress?” Unbeknownst to me, she had it. Very generously to me, she gave it up.
It was perfect, and felt like such a miracle. Seeing my granny, Billie, while wearing her wedding dress was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Her eyes lit up my smile, and her smile too. As we stood there grinning, I learned that she made it herself, making something that was already special even more so.
That wedding day is the last day I saw my granny alive. She died almost exactly five months later. One week after I returned from that many months of living abroad.
I was scared to go to her house. I was scared to feel the emptiness that I knew must be there. And so I surpassed it, by going straight to the mortuary with my mother and aunts to dress my granny for her burial. It is not something that I would have ever expected that I would want to do, but it felt right somehow, to be able to do that small, yet holy thing. I remain grateful that I am my granny’s granddaughter, and that her heart is part of my heart.
As I reflect on my own mother lines, I understand the complexity and power of turning our hearts to our mothers. We remember them, and in a way, we remember ourselves also. The memory is assuredly more complete for having the woman whose wombs we come from embedded in our heart-turnings, and journals, and blogs, as the many “begetting” scriptures would be less boring and more true if they included the women who were the actual begetters.
Imagine reading: Abraham and Sarah begat Isaac. Isaac and Rebecca begat Jacob. Jacob and Rachel begat Joseph, and so on down the line. Not only is this rendering more accurate, it is a more powerful witness that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is also the God of Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel, which witness we all may need on occasion.
What are your mother lines? Who are the women with the stories that make your hearts turn? How have you felt them turn their hearts to you? What difference might it make to you if women were more included in scriptural or spiritual accounts?
*Part II of “Turning the Hearts of the Children to their Mothers” will be my reflections on Claudia Bushman’s edited volume, Mormon Sisters. Part III will be on the great need for our Mother in Heaven.