Lessons from my Grandmother’s Sampler
As a young girl I often admired this sampler that hung in my Grandmother Florence’s bedroom. I didn’t know anything about it, only that I loved the intricate, colorful flowers against the black background. When she passed away my mother brought it home and hung it in her bedroom. It became a fixture, but every so often I’d read it and think of Grandma’s patience in working the needle and embroidery floss. The sampler came to rest in my home three years ago when my mother downsized. I hung it next to my computer desk, above a colorful fan chart displaying generations of my ancestors. Now I can read the words of the sampler often and ponder on the lives of my mother and grandmothers who embodied its principles.
I shall pass through this world but once. Any good that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again.
I never knew my Grandma Ettie Belle who died much too young, at the age of forty-seven. I feel that loss whenever I look at her photos or read stories that we’ve collected about her. Thankfully, as a teenager Nicole gathered stories from Ettie’s children while they were still living and wrote her history. Ettie’s daughter, Helen, wrote:
She believed there was some good in everyone & wanted to help others to feel good about themselves. . . . Everyone loved being around her. She laughed a lot, helped others. I got a letter from a young girl that she bought glasses for (I didn’t know this) and helped this girl in other ways that helped her to be a happy person.
I wish I knew more of the story, but knowing just that much made me realize that she didn’t waste opportunities to do good.
Grandma Florence lived eight miles away from my childhood home and my family spent every Sunday afternoon at her place. She joined us for holidays and spent the last few weeks of her life in our home. I knew her as well as a child can know an elderly grandparent, but the more I learn about her life the more I admire her. In 1918 she left her comfortable home in Spanish Fork, Utah and set out for the adventure of a lifetime: to marry my grandfather and homestead with him in Idaho. I can only imagine her dismay when she saw the one room building that she would make her home for the next few years.
Despite the hardships, she managed to not only make a home, but to make it beautiful. She filled it with good books, art, music, and love. I imagine her looking at her sampler and taking each opportunity to show kindness and do good that came her way.
I was the recipient of much service. Grandma Florence started my library of classics, sewed me a new flannel nightgown each Christmas, and made a baby quilt for me because she knew she wouldn’t live to see my babies.
I treasure each reminder that I have of her love, but maybe none so much as her sampler. Because it gives me a window into her soul.
Growing up, I went with my mother to visit the widows in our area. She gave them what they desperately needed, a reminder that they weren’t forgotten. She taught me by example the importance of “showing up” for the important events and the not so important events. The words of the sampler had seeped into her life also. She didn’t procrastinate, but acted upon her good intentions. Now as a widow herself, she continues to visit others in need and “show up,” even when it is difficult.
As family historians, we realize that the names on our pedigree charts and family group sheets are more than names. Of all of the grandmothers on my fan chart, I only personally knew one, Grandma Florence. Yes, just one. But I feel close to my Grandma Ettie because of the memories of those who knew her and as I research their lives, I begin to know my other grandmothers as well. Each one of them passed through this world, doing good, in the way that mothers do. Showing kindness in the small details of life. Doing it now.
Happy Mother’s Day to my mother, my grandmothers, and the hundreds of “greats” who made me what I am today.