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Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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51

Tuesday 4th October 2011

Gladys

Aunt Gladys seemed more ready for Heaven than anyone I ever knew, but even when her body begged to go, she demanded more time on Earth. She told us that she was determined to outlive her four siblings. She saw herself as a sort of caretaker, I guess.

So, she would will that heart of hers to keep on beating.

It perplexed me, as if Aunt Gladys could simply untie her apron, curl up on her bed and slip out of her skin whenever she pleased.

I’ve never been the style of believer who had a good sense of what was coming in the next few years, let alone the next few minutes. And I’ve never been one to think we could tell God what to do in these matters.

But Aunt Gladys had a different way of seeing. As a child, I thought it seemed a sort of simple prophecy. I wondered if maybe she’d found that gift tucked in her tattered Bible, which she read straight from Genesis to Revelation once every year.

Like her Scripture reading, her whole life had a rhythmic certainty to it. She rationed her bread and knew precisely how many loaves she ate each year. On our birthdays, she penned us long letters that we could barely decipher. (She wrote in small print, to save paper.) 

I can’t remember for sure anymore — maybe it’s legend — but I do recall stories about her instructing people to use only one or two squares of toilet paper as a way to conserve.   
 
She knew poverty and pain. During the Great Depression, her sister, Lois, died from pneumonia on the way to the Ringgold County Hospital. So Aunt Gladys stepped in, marrying her sister’s husband, and helping raise the three young children.
 
She wore all those hard years on her frame, it seemed. With each passing year, her back hunched deeper. I thought it looked like God folded her in half. 

There was nothing fancy about her. Her socks sagged in ripples around her ankles. She wore simple, threadbare house-dresses. She gave us coloring books or socks for Christmas.

Yet, more than anything else, I remember her smile. I remember how the corners of her mouth pushed her eyes into a tight squint. I wondered how she could see with eyes pinched shut like that.
 
I always wondered how she could see.

And then, the Dukes brothers began to die. Merle. Then Vincent. And in November 1989, her brother Paul — my grandfather — died of a heart attack at the Ringgold County Hospital.
 
I remember watching Aunt Gladys — last Dukes standing — bent over her brother’s casket a few days later. They say she lost the will to live here after 85 trips around the sun.
 
Thirty days later, with a county hospital blanket drawn around her, Aunt Gladys’ heart stopped beating.
 

***

Now, it’s your turn to share about a person from your childhood.
 
I have the privilege of hosting a group-writing project for The High Calling here at Getting Down With Jesus. And you, my friends, are invited to participate. Here’s how:
 
1 — Identify an important family member or “character” from your childhood. Think about the details that made them who they are/were — their personality traits, quirks, appearance, habits. Consider how they influenced your life in some way — for better or worse.
 
2 — Write a short “portrait” of that person on your blog using rich description and story. A good length is 300-500 words. 
 
3 — Return here — any time before Friday, October 14 — and link your story in the space below so we can find you. Be sure to link back to this specific post from your blog.

4 — On October 19, I will feature some of your posts here. And  my editor (Ann Kroeker) and I may also feature some of your stories over at The High Calling

Image by Bethan Phillips. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

 

  • Stayed up way too late to do this, but here it is. I might even try again. No promises, however. And I didn’t go spiritual with this one, either. It’s always interesting where these things go…

    http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com/2011/10/aunt-eileen.html

    • Diana! You are FAST. I can’t wait to read it.

      And these don’t have to be spiritual. (Which just now reminds me of David Dark’s comment that there are no secular molecules in the universe anyway.) 🙂

      Diana — For some reason the linky wasn’t operating when you came by. Can you put it up on the linky?

    • I linked up – but a weird thing happened. When I began the link, you already had three contributions. When I ended it, I was only the second one. ??

      LOVE your Aunt Gladys, love your writing here, BTW. Too groggy last night to be polite, I guess.

      And I loved that quote from David.

      • You linked up just right, Diana. Things are looking good on this end. 🙂

  • Oh, Jennifer! This tugged at my heart and made me sad and made me smile. Such rich detail in this. She married her BIL to help care for his children? Did that make her some kind of kinsman-redeemer? I want to see like she saw.

    • I had so many stories I wanted to share. Yes, she married her brother-in-law …

      She was also educated. She graduated from Iowa Teacher’s College and came back home to teach in a country school. She was my Dad’s schoolteacher at Jefferson No. 9 during his elementary years. She walked two miles to school, and had the wood-burning stove lit by the time that children arrived.

      • I would have liked to have known her. I just read this again and am taken by phrases like “God folded her in half,” socks sagged in ripples (contrasted with what I envision were crinkles at her eye corners) and how the Depression shaped her. You have such a gift of seeing. You are a gift.

        • I’d really like to find an old photo to post of Gladys. Then again, maybe it’s better to let the reader play with the image in his/her own mind? What do you think?

          • I’d love to see a photo. And if I decide on a character, it’d be fun to post a picture. But there’s something to be said about forming our own images. I think I’d rather be carried there by your words. 🙂

  • I love how you express yourself, Jennifer. It makes me feel like I know you well and can call you “Jen”.

    • You can definitely call me Jen, my friend. 🙂

  • Oh, you stir up memories that kinda hurt. I miss Mr. and Mrs. Franklin so much—now. Back then, I never expressed any kind of love for them.
    Anyway, link coming soon.

    • I’m eager to read your story, Monica.

      ***

      A side note:
      I was really surprised by what I could remember when I told this story. I honestly haven’t thought about Gladys very often during these last years. But when I started jotting notes, I was amazed at the memories that were still stored up in that ol’ noggin.

      Monica – I hope that the process of rediscovery, while hard, might also be in some way helpful.

      • Hey, you’re right! It was helpful!
        Maybe I should write more. 🙂

  • “It perplexed me, as if Aunt Gladys could simply untie her apron, curl up on her bed and slip out of her skin whenever she pleased.”

    Oh, I just loved that.

  • I’ve been trying but just cannot get the story to work under 540 words. Can I still come out and play?

    • No problem, Carolyn! We aren’t strict rule-makers or rule-keepers here. You take all the space you need to tell your story.

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  • Jennifer,

    This piece is so filled with honor and love for your aunt. Thank you.

    I see her. In fact I think I can feel her.

    • And speaking of the “rules,” is it permissible to rededicate something I posted last month to this purpose–the group writing project?

      • Yes, Sheila … That is fine. We look forward to your story!

    • Thank you, Sheila. She was a remarkable woman.

      My sister wrote me this today:

      “I remember vividly sitting next to Gladys at Grandpa’s service. She said, “God can take me home now. My work on earth is done.”

      • Wow. To have such a clear sense of purpose. It brings me tears and gives me goose bumps.

  • Beautiful Post, Jennifer! My aunt who grew up during the depression is very self-disciplined like your Aunt Gladys. I find myself wishing I were like that, had that strength that is in self-discipline. I have said forever that I want to grow old showing my children how to love The Father – Your aunt, it makes me think about what He saw in her heart, the true love and desire to take care of her siblings – and how he must have smiled with crinkles around His eyes to give her her heart’s desire!

    • I’m so glad you’re taking part in this writing project, and I’m eager to hop over and read your post. Your heart radiates that Jesus-love, my friend. I’ve seen it for — what? — three years now? I can’t believe we’ve “known” each other that long. But your dedication to glorifying the Father and pointing to Him is so evident in your writing. You are leaving that legacy.

  • Beautiful….thank you for sharing your aunt’s heart with us. This makes me miss my grandfather so much….working on a word portrait of him to share. <3

  • Love the post Jennifer, and thanks for the invitation to take part in the writing project.

  • I’m thankful for the opportunity to meander down memory lane to recall the influence and impact of a dear, godly woman who welcomed a shy, farm girl to her class in the city at a new church our family was visiting. She’ll never be forgotten by me and her prayers probably helped get me through adolescence and beyond. Cherishing a loved lady.

  • Ok, I’m doing this…but I must think on it a bit.

    • Yay! So glad you are participating, Amy.

  • Okay. Got it done. Wanted to wait for Daddy to get home from out of town to see if I captured Granny correctly. I was surprised by how much I don’t remember about her. Didn’t put this in the essay, but Daddy (and us by extension) was considered the black sheep of his family because he did NOT drink and smoke. So we didn’t spend too much time with that clan.

  • Bob Gorinski

    “Rippled threadbare socks…folded in half.” I often think about frailty and how gravity wears us down and out. Love your word picture Jennifer.

  • Pam

    Will you accept my linking to two of my stories? I’m debating between two that I wrote on my blog recently about people I consider “God’s living letters” in my life: one is about my grandmother, another about a teacher…

    • Sure, Pam! Can you link them back here, as part of the High Calling writing project community? If so, that would be great. I look forward to reading your posts, Pam. 🙂

      • Pam

        Well… I thought you had a linky button here but I’m not seeing one. I’m not sure how to link it myself without that (I’ve been linking to a few blogs lately, but just clicking on a button there to do it…). Sorry, I’m new at this. But to see my posts, go to http://wordglow.wordpress.com, choose “living letters” in the category section. The posts I wanted to link here are “Fridays with Geometry and a little A A Milne” and “The Little Girl From the ‘Old Country’.” Thanks!

  • I read this last week and have been thinking about who I want to write about. I’ve written several about folks who have been important to me and I may be pull out a favorite and re-work it to link here. These are my favorite kinds of stories to read and write–you’re definitely speaking my love language here. I love stories of those faithful saints who stood on the promises.

  • Thanks for directing me to this post, Jennifer. There’s so much to be said for sheer bull-headed will, and I love what Aunt Gladys teaches of that…almost as much as I love her baggy socks. 🙂

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  • I have read this two or three times now, and written my own piece, and it just has really made me realize how if we don’t remember these people in our pasts, maybe no one will. If I don’t share my Uncle Carl with you, the world, and most importantly, my kids, then he may be forgotten. And he was too remarkable to allow that. I’m feeling inspired now to dig deeper, talk to relatives who remember more, write the story down before I am the oldest remaining generation and many who have gone before are forgotten. Thank you for the gift of inspiration.

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  • Thanks for this writing prompt, Jennifer. It was such fun to remember my grandma. Hard, too, to write about her in such a short space! You can only paint a small corner of a life in so few words. Trying to decide which aspects of her character to focus on, how to draw them, and how to keep them tied together was challenging, in the best sense. Thanks so much for hosting this project.

  • This was such a great exercise for me, Jennifer, to think and write about somebody from my childhood. I chose a preacher that I still see from time to time.

    I loved hearing about Aunt Gladys. What a strong woman with a strong will!

    My dad was determined to outlive my mom so he could take care of her; she had Alzheimer’s. But lung cancer took him first in February 2010, despite his best intentions. Somehow, as God would have it, my mom died just 7 months later.

    As much as I hated losing them both in the same year, I was glad they weren’t apart for very long.

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  • Fantastic Idea! This is actually a very defining ingredient in my overall blogging strategy.

    Here’s one of my favorite memories about my Grandfather. He has been quite an influence on my life; http://jeffreyjeffords.com/2011/03/bottle-caps/

  • This is a rich, arresting portrait of an amazing woman. Thank you for sharing and inspiring. 🙂

  • The depth of character of these women always touches my heart. How little it matters that the outward appearance ages when the heart remains so youthful and strong.

  • Jennifer, I couldn’t see a Linky when I tried to link up. Here’s my story, about one of my writing heroes (my late maternal grandmother):

    http://denadyer.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/10/i-miss-her-every-day.html

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  • I realize I’m late, but just wanted to share. Here’s my tribute to my grandfather:

    http://gracenotesbysarah.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/grandpa-roemer/

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@BethMooreLPM In the body of Christ, you are totally the funny bone. Thanks for making us laugh with your stories, Beth.