Grandma and Pa Bill - 6/28/1980
I am grateful to God that the two people who gave me life, my mother and father, are both alive and well, and are a part of my life. However—as I think most of you know—I never lived with my biological parents, who both were teenagers at the time of my birth. In fact, I did not meet my father until 7 years ago. As God in His sovereign will would have it, I ended up being raised by my maternal great-grandparents (specifically, my maternal grandfather’s mother and step-father), William and Minnie Duncan Gray—“Pa Bill” and “Grandma,” with whom I lived until their deaths in 1989 and 1986.
On this Mother’s Day, I specifically want to pay tribute to Grandma. For all intents and purposes, she was my mother. Granted, Grandma did not give birth to me, but she did raise me and care for me—all the way into adulthood. Like a mother, she made sure I was fed each day. When I was sick, it was Grandma who nursed me back to health. Whether I suffered skinned knees or hurt feelings, it was Grandma who soothed the pain. In many ways, Grandma was the ideal mother.
There are many stories that come to mind, many examples of how she nurtured me. If I were to take the time to write them out in full, I probably could come up with enough print to fill a book of several chapters. Just thinking about some examples of her tenderness brings tears to my eyes some 40-plus years after the fact. Remembering laughs we shared decades ago still make me smile today. I don’t exaggerate when I say that I don’t know of anyone who seemed to be such a perfect balance of love, tenderness, calmness and self-discipline.
To this day, I remain amazed at Grandma’s personal discipline. The amount of housework she could accomplish in a day, while also maintaining her business schedule as a hairdresser until she was 80 (she maintained a beauty shop in the basement of our home), was simply amazing. Never rushed, never stressed-out, yet always on time, always finishing what she set out to accomplish.
And Grandma was blessed with wisdom. In all honesty, I believe Grandma may have been one of the wisest persons I’ve ever known. She seemed to always be able to correctly assess people and situations, always know the right thing to do or say. She wasn’t a gossip. She wasn’t a flatterer. She wasn’t proud—didn’t think more highly of herself than others. She wasn’t domineering; neither was she a push-over. Grandma was humble, down-to-earth, plain-speaking, and wise. Now, as I near the end of my fifth decade of life, I know that part of her wisdom came from just living. You see, Grandma was almost 67 when I came to live with her and Pa Bill. That means I was the blessed recipient of the wisdom of her senior years. But, another source of Grandma’s wisdom was the Bible.
You see, Grandma was a real Christian. By that I mean she had been born again, having professed personal faith in Christ as a teenager, in 1913 (September 19, 1913, on the “mourner’s bench” at Oak Grove A.M.E. Church in Florence, Alabama, to be exact). Whether it happened then or later, it was evident to me that somewhere along the road of life she had come to personally know the Lord. She was not perfect, but she lived a consistent Christian life. She wasn’t highly-educated (only completed 8th grade), but she was biblically literate, reading a portion of her Bible every day (Scofield Reference Bible, King James Version, of course).
A fond memory is that of seeing Grandma sitting in her bedroom (the simple wooden chair in which she sat sits beside my desk right now as I type), or in the living room of our house, reading God’s word. Her example would put most of us church folks to shame because, without benefit of a reading plan or accountability partner, Grandma would read through the entire Bible, from Genesis through Revelation. She didn’t feel the need to read the Bible in a year—she was in no hurry—she would just start at Genesis and read a portion each day until she finished Revelation. Then, she would go back to Genesis and start all over. By that method, I believe she managed to read through the entire Bible several times.
I believe that it was, ultimately, because of her faith in Christ that Grandma was the wonderful mother that she was. By her words and example, she kept before me the reality of God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son. In fact, she was my first Bible teacher, as she would explain to me the truths of God’s word as I sat at her knee. I believe that I am a Christian today at least partly because of the spiritual seeds she planted in my life.
Grandma also demonstrated what a wife’s godly submission to her husband should look like. I don’t remember ever hearing Grandma discuss the subject of submission, but I watch how she and Pa Bill interacted. In many ways, he was dependent upon her. She was smarter than he was (he only completed the 6th grade), could read much better than he could, but she never embarrassed him or talked down to him or made him feel inferior. In fact, there were several small ways she never called attention to (but that I observed) in which she used her abilities to help Pa Bill take the lead in the family. She was not a “doormat” by any means, but she wasn’t a feminist, either. She was a strong woman who didn’t feel the need to dominate a man in order to prove her worth as a woman. I watched that. I learned from that. And when, much later, I learned what the Bible had to say about the husband and wife’s roles in the family, I realized that Pa Bill and Grandma had been living that out in front of me all along. Grandma showed me what to look for in a wife.
It is amazing how, in hindsight, we can sometimes clearly see the providential hand of God in our lives. Looking back, I see that God so arranged that I be raised and nurtured by Grandma and Pa Bill so that I could be saved, because He wanted me as His own.
So, on this Mother’s Day, I want to pay tribute to the one who was mother to me. “Happy Mother’s Day,” Grandma. I miss you, but look forward to seeing you again, one day, in the presence of our Lord and Savior.