If you’ve read Modern Cast Iron, you may remember the stories of Robby’s grandmother, Grandma King. She’s the one who worked with her husband, Pa King, on a small farm and made cane syrup in a big kettle. In fact, she was my inspiration for the book.
Grandma King turned 99 years old last April. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, she spent her birthday alone at the nursing facility, just like she spent every day that year. This was a hard time for she and the family, as you can imagine (and as you may have experienced yourself).
For an entire year, we prayed that we would get to see Grandma King again. When we finally visited with her through her window, we were glad to see her but were more frustrated than ever. We wanted to hug her and kiss her and assure her that she wasn’t abandoned, that none of us had forgotten about her.
This April, Grandma King turned 100 years old. As if that miracle wasn’t big enough, God gave us another one: Grandma King was allowed to come home and visit with us. For one glorious day, her mind was clear, her body was able, her spirits were high, and we were all together. We hugged and kissed and took plenty of photos (even though she usually hates having her picture taken). When it was time for lunch, she ate very well and even requested onions and mustard to go along with her fried fish and veggies. (I figured she was craving more flavors after eating nursing home food for so long.) On top of all that, my two-year-old son, Gordon, was a complete angel. He was gentle and quiet and shared all of his trucks and dinosaurs with Grandma King, and in return she played peek-a-boo with him.
Our family get-together wasn’t the only birthday celebration Grandma King had, though. The nursing home held quite a party for her (complete with an Elvis impersonator who happened to live in the same home). Only residents and a couple family members were allowed to attend, but the nursing home employees did their best to honor Grandma King’s big milestone and reassure her that others still cared about her.
To that end, the nursing home solicited birthday cards from the community. Grandma King’s entire church got involved (which is not surprising since they all love her to pieces). A couple employees at the nursing home knew local grade school teachers, and they had all their students participate. The goal was 1000 cards, and they nearly reached it with 946! I was so touched as I read through some of the kids’ cards, each with its own sweet message. Although these kids had no idea what it was like to grow up a century ago or to live to 100, they knew that everyone wants to enjoy their birthday, to have fun, and to have a good year. These were the sentiments they shared along with drawings of flowers, hearts, and crosses.
The local hospice also got involved by donating 100 daisies—I’ve never seen such a big bouquet! Even the florist participated by giving Grandma King a care bag with socks and a small Bible. The card read:
“Flowers to warm your heart
Socks to warm your feet
A Bible to warm your soul.
It brings tears to my eyes to think of all these people—adults and kids alike—who took the time and effort to write a card, to buy some flowers and a cake, and to decorate a room. I’ve seen how hard it is to get old, to lose those you love, and end up alone. But the truth is that we’re not really alone at all. We have God, we have family, we have friends, and sometimes, we even strangers who care about us. This was a message Grandma King desperately needed to hear after a year of COVID isolation—and it’s a message we all need to hear, as well.
If you’re feeling alone today, please know that there are still people out there who care about you—me included. Please consider this post my personal message to you today.
Whatever is going on in your life right now, I encourage you to give of your time and energy this week. Write a card. Send flowers. Make a call. Let someone else know that they’re cared for—and by making that connection, you’ll feel cared for, as well. Funny how that works.
My husband’s family knew how precious it was for those kids to write cards to Grandma King. They also heard that the kids wanted to know more about this woman who had lived through the past 100 years. So the family wrote the following response to be shared with the kids. Since it’s such a sweet description of Grandma King—complete with the wisdom of a centenarian—I thought I’d share it here with you.
We thank you so much for the wonderful art work you made to help celebrate our Mother’s 100th birthday. She was thrilled that you took the time to do that for her. She has always loved children.
When she was in elementary school, it was a small one-room school house where one teacher taught all the different grades. She was a very small child, but she walked through thick woods for two miles all by herself to get to school. At recess, they had to make up their own means of entertainment. Often they would swing out on the heavy vines growing in the nearby trees—kind of like the way Tarzan used to do. Mama said one day it came her turn (finally), and when she swung out over the deep ravine she looked down and, I bet you guessed it, she let go! Thankfully, she wasn’t hurt badly, but she never forgot about it. She always wondered why she let go. She was often fun loving and a bit mischievous. She was also a person of faith and in times of uncertainty she would often say, ‘as long as there is breath, there is hope.’
She also believed in eating healthy and getting lots of exercise. To this day, as she is able, she rolls her wheelchair up and down the halls first thing every morning to get her exercise. I know she would like you to eat healthy and get exercise too so maybe YOU will see that big ‘100th birthday’!”
I hope this story has encouraged and inspired you as it did me.