Sunday, May 14th, is Mother’s Day. Millions of moms and grandmas will receive nice cards filled with lovely sentiments. My roles as mom, mother-in-law and grandma are some of my favorites. I cherish each card I receive.
In today’s post, I want to honor the memory of one of my grandmothers, whose influence remains more than 50 years after her death. I wrote this article several years ago. Since then, my aunt has died, and today, my mom remains the only living member of her biological family.
These words about my maternal grandmother serve as a reminder that each day of our lives contributes to our legacy.
Grandma Emma’s Lovely Legacy
Harlem, a dusty little town in north central Montana, borders the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. According to my mom and aunt, it hasn’t changed much since the 30’s and 40’s when they called Harlem their hometown.
Recently, the three of us drove into town, traveling slowly down Main Street. “There’s the Grand Theater. My goodness, it was right there when we were kids,” Mom exclaimed.
The tired marquee looked anything but grand.
A few doors down stood a storefront church, its name painted boldly on the window facing Main Street. I slowed to a near stop. Each of us absorbed the significance of this little house of worship. To me it represented much more than a small-town church. It stood as a testament to my grandmother, a humble woman who dared dream significant dreams.
I don’t remember much about Grandma Emma who died when I was five years old, but I vividly remember her funeral. Uncle Pat lifted me up to say a final good bye as we passed her casket. I remember the little, wrinkled brown lady, weeping as she gently kissed the still form. Even today, I recall the palpable grief of my mother and aunts, all five grieving women garbed in black.
I’m a grandmother now and ponder the legacy I will pass on. It is those thoughts that kindled a desire to learn more about my maternal grandmother.
Emma was the oldest of eight children born to Norwegian immigrant parents. Marriage in her late 20’s was more for convenience than love. Life with Grandpa, who couldn’t find a way to reconcile his abusive, orphaned past, was difficult. Six babies arrived during the hard days prior to and during the Great Depression. My mom, who was youngest, and her sister are the only family members remaining.
Grandma rarely ventured far from her simple home. Yet, she was renowned as a woman with open hands and generous heart, helping neighbors whose plights seemed more difficult than hers. The elderly Native American woman who kissed the lifeless body at Grandma’s funeral was one of those neighbors.
Emma accepted Christ as her Savior as a young girl following her Lutheran confirmation. Her loveless marriage drove her deeper into the arms of the lover of her soul. In despairing adult moments, she begged God to fill empty places in her heart with more of Jesus. She found strength and courage while reading her Norwegian Bible by day. Reassuring nighttime dreams comforted and sustained hope.
Grandma was primed for greater spiritual significance when a daughter brought home a muddy paper found lying in the gutter. Emma read enthusiastically the newsletter reporting miracles such as she had read about in the book of Acts. She subscribed to the publication, and spiritual hunger gnawed deeper in the days to come as she read accounts of the miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
About that same time, an entrepreneurial idea ignited. Grandma established a home laundry business. Her practical idea expanded into a spiritual vision. Emma told the Lord if He gave her energy and sent customers, she would purchase a building to serve as a church such as she had been reading about. She also promised the Lord she would never over-charge a customer and that every customer would hear about Jesus.
Grandma was true to her word. Every customer got a good bargain and each heard about Jesus by word of mouth, a gospel tract or both. The laundry flourished. She hired several employees to assist with mounds of washing and ironing. Before long Grandma purchased a building that was moved onto the family property.
Grandpa, not a believer until his waning years, built an altar, pulpit and several benches. A piano was moved in. Then Grandma and her daughters started praying. Soon other women joined. God was faithful and met the sincere, seeking women in spiritually sustaining ways.
The storefront church we passed on Main Street is the offspring of Grandma Emma’s dream.
My trip to Montana was an opportunity to listen once again to my mother’s and aunt’s reminiscence of early faith encounters—faith that has been tried, tested, proven authentic and passed on to subsequent generations
We drove through the small town, headed to a pretty little country cemetery. Rain drizzled as we strolled under umbrellas through rows of graves, aware each held its own special story.
At Grandma’s grave, we lingered once again. Three women treasured thoughts of one remarkable woman whose simple, sincere life created an amazing impact.
I knelt and laid long-stemmed red roses on the rose-colored granite headstone, alongside Emma’s name.
“Thank you, Grandma.” I spoke the words softly.
Lord, please make my legacy as meaningful and lasting as hers.
Blessings on the legacies our lives are leaving…