Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…


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My American Lives

I know that two posts in a row about death, is a bit morbid, but this is my blog, my life, and my grief, so deal with it.

Having lost two grandparents and my last great-grandparent this year, I have been doing a lot of thinking about death and grief. One of the surprising things I have discovered is that in grief there are certainly tears, but there are also a lot of laughs. Usually these come with remembering a funny story, or a particular quirk. The tears and the laughs so intermingled that they could be the same thing.

Today I saw a post by This American Life which featured a series of obituaries which only they could do. They focused on one story in the person’s life told either themselves, or by someone who was close to them. As with TAL, it is a celebration of the everyday person and the beauty we often overlook in our own lives. (My favorites are this, this, and this. Oh and for the math nerds, this.)

As I read each story, my mind went to the stories of my grandparents, and so I thought I would memorialize them here in a similar fashion. Having already told my favorite stories about Granny, I want to highlight the other two here.

Luella (Lala) Killinger (Aug 31, 1912-May 4, 2011) was born in the farmlands of Iowa and moved to Gainesville with my grandfather. She worked at the Police station as the Chief’s secretary for many years, where according to one of  the officers “she ran the office.” She was an avid fan or bridge, BINGO, and of course the Gators.

Stewart (Stute) Munson (July 26, 1929-July 9, 2011) was raised in Titusville, and worked for IBM fixing typriters. He and my grandmother got married (both for the second time) at parents’ house, catching them both completely by surprise! He enjoyed playing around in the kitchen, sometimes with success.

The Story

When I was in Middle School, my family was trying to decide where to take Stute for his birthday. After a few boring suggestions, we decided on every man, and Middle Schooler’s dream location–Hooters. We decided to keep it a surprise (a risky idea for a man who had already had one heart attack). We get him into the car and drive up to the restaurant, and the minute he sees where we are his eyes got as big as…saucers…and his face turns bright red. As much as he protested we draged him through the doors and over to our table. The entire night he was the center of attention. Young attractive servers sat on his lap to take his order, sang happy birthday, and tried to get him to dance on the table. Through the whole ordeal, his face remained the same color and he hardly said a word. It was hilarious.  However, the funnier person was Lala. Having told her in advance where we were going she spent the whole week telling everyone  at her independent living facility who would listen where we are going. To say that she was excited would be an understatement. As we were picking her up, she walked down the halls wearing it as a badge of honor, stopping to remind her friends where we were going. Sitting in the restaurant opposite Stute’s frowns, she was all smiles, looking around, taking it all in, and ready to report her adventure to her dinner buddies the next day. I think they both had a night which will soon be relatively famous.

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The Best of It

On December 9, my Grandmother died. When I was born, I was so fortunate to have 11 Grandparents and Great-Grandparents, and before this year I had seven remaining. After I had written my remarks I was reminded that the pain I feel at her loss, is worth the 24 years I was able to have with her. In this season of Christmas, when so many of us miss our loved ones, I wanted to share these words which iI shared at her service.

 

It seems strange standing here behind this podium without Granny’s wheelchair there in the front row. Every time I would preach, she would make Papa get her ready and bring her down. Being a seminary student means that you need need to have a scripture verse for everything, and the one which came to mind is the phrase-“You are the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13). Now I could tell you that is because Granny was a simple girl from Tennessee who loved her family, both real and porcelain family, but I would be lying. I think of salt of the earth because granny loved salt. I loved to eat over at their house when granny would fix green beans where it was almost a one to one salt:water ratio. Her Chex mix a favorite because it was drenched in love, and Worcheshire sauce and almost every kind of salt imaginable. I remember Papa getting onto her for putting salt on her food before she had even tasted it. It is a silly memory, but I think in a way it indicates the kind of person she was. Someone who lived life in abundance and saturated the people around her with salty love. I remember how every evening we would be sitting down for dinner, no matter what time, and the phone would ring. It was her. She didn’t have an agenda, or really any reason. She just wanted to hear her daughter’s voice on the phone, get caught up on the day. I remember the first time I got one of those random calls in undergrad. I was feeling homesick and her call just made everything feel normal. I was in my new home, and she was there with me as best she could.

On the archway leading outside one of the doors at the Divinity school is my favorite quote from John Wesley, “The best of it is, God is with us.” Every time I leave, I look at that quote, and since I have been home and we have all been reminiscing on Granny’s life, it has been stuck in my mind. The best of it is, God is with us. God was with Granny when she was born in Edgemore, TN, God was with her when the Government moved her family to Knoxville where she would meet a dapper young country boy named John. God had to have been with her raising all four of her kids (how else would she have survived?). In Utah as Papa drove those switchbacks as she held her broken neck in place, God was with her. As she kept beating me in our weekly games of Checkers, God had to be with her. In her last moments, surrounded by pictures of everyone she loved, as she was lifted up in prayer, God was with her. And so now as we gather here today, remembering the 80 years God was with her, we celebrate that today, Granny is with God.