Friday, August 29, 2008

Holding Hands

When I was 12, my family moved from Anacortes, Washington to Caldwell, Idaho. My great-grandpa Plueard had recently passed away and my grandma had purchased his homeplace in Caldwell. Grandma and Grandpa Hardenbrook were living there, atop this little hillock in sight of Squaw Butte and Bogus Basin.

My dad is their second-oldest of five children. I am a parent now, and appreciate the value of living close to family. At the time, I was only 12, and more caught up in my own dramas to wonder or care why we were moving to potato-land just as I was starting seventh grade. In fact, I was so caught up in myself that, on a trip downtown with my grandma, I was horrified and mortified that she reached out to take my hand while we crossed the street. I don't remember if I pulled away physically or just mentally. I hoped beyond all hope that none of my friends saw her treat me like such a child. I am sure that Grandma felt my embarrassment.

My parents eventually moved right next to Grandma and Grandpa, and while we were building the house, I got the privilege of living in my grandparents' basement for one summer. At 15 (I think I turned 16 that summer), it was my first taste of independence - I had my own bathroom and I could stay up as late as I wanted and no one bothered me. I was too old to need to hold hands while crossing the street - in fact, they let me borrow their car a few times. I spent a lot of time up at the dining room table, on the couch, and out with the chickens talking with Grandma and Grandpa and learning what a life of boldness would mean for me. That summer, what I had learned from my parents about marriage, adventure and faith was reinforced in conversations with my grandparents. I also was convinced that I was loved, prayed for, and believed in.

In her many years of marriage to my grandpa, Grandma had never lost her boldness, her independence, her sharp wit, or her opinions. She had experienced loneliness and single-parenthood while Grandpa served in Korea, then journeyed with him to many ministry opportunities across the Pacific Northwest and in Canada. Together they reared 5 children around a dinner table where each person was expected to back up their statements and be willing to fight for them. I realized that Grandma was one of the strongest, toughest ladies I would ever meet, and that I wanted to be just like her someday.

Since that time, my grandparents have celebrated their 16 grandchildren and traveled many miles across the US and Canada to participate in graduations, weddings and hold new great-grandchildren. They have also cried with us and prayed for us through our despair, our divorces, and our disappointments. But they never told us they were disappointed in us.

I think my grandpa has retired 3 or 4 times now. He keeps finding his way back to ministry - he considers retirement a "release to service." Grandma has worked in market research for A.C. Nielsen for about 15 or 20 years now, and just celebrated her 80th birthday. This spring, Grandma and Grandpa traveled out to Virginia to see my parents and my family. They didn't care that they were in their eighties ... when the flight arrived after midnight, they rented a car and drove 2 hours down to the house. In the morning, they were ready to go again, driving into DC to see the World War II Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. At the Korean War Memorial, holding my children's hands, I asked Grandma about her experiences in the early 1950s while Grandpa was at war. The next day, Grandpa drove again - to Monticello and back. The day after that, he drove 5 hours down the Parkway to Roanoke to see our house, then drove all the way back up to Edinburg. I kept shaking my head, hoping I will be so adventurous in 45 years.

Almost two weeks ago, Grandma was admitted to the hospital and received a diagnosis of cancer. She and Grandpa promptly quit their jobs and Grandpa said he was going to learn how to do laundry and take care of Grandma. Grandma's family is all across the US and Canada. We don't live next door anymore. We have learned to live lives of boldness and adventure, and that has taken us far away from her and Grandpa.

Over Labor Day in 2006, all 5 of their children gathered for Grandpa's 80th birthday. Most of the grandchildren were able to attend, and we celebrated our family, our common faith, our togetherness and our interdependence. I held Grandma's hand in a prayer circle. It was soft but strong.

I wish I could be next to her right now in the hospital and hold her hand one more time and tell her how much she means to me. We are planning a trip out west for Thanksgiving, and I intend to hold that great woman's hand as much as I possibly can - while I can.

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