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Just dropping by ... A walk through a life

Yevet Tenney for Progressive Dairyman Published on 18 July 2017

Today, I attended the graveside services of my uncle. It was a sweet service set in the old country cemetery of Heber, Arizona. The marble and sandstone grave markers are nestled under towering pines and surrounded by limestone hills.

It is not a manicured place; the lichen grows in the letters and designs of aging stones. Little puffs of dust rise as you walk among the graves. My uncle was in his 80s, so many of his friends and peers hobbled to chairs and stiffly sat down near the front, inclining their ears to hear the ceremony. Family members greeted the newcomers with warmth and tears.

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The ecclesiastical leader welcomed the guests and paid tribute to my uncle and his family. The congregation sang “I Stand All Amazed,” and the prayer was given by a grandson. The daughter gave the eulogy, and a son gave the sermon. A grandson, wife and three sons sang “How Great Thou Art.” The son dedicated the grave, and it was over.

This man who had lived nearly 85 years was laid to rest in a homemade pine box, under a pine tree near the grave of his wife and departed son to wait for the glorious resurrection that will surely come.

I wondered if he kept a journal. I wondered how much would be remembered after the day was over. The eulogy was short and filled with emotion and love but, per his wishes, it only lasted four minutes. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know he will be more than just a few typed pages to his family.

My husband, for the last couple of weeks, has been reading his first wife’s journals. The first journal covered 16 years – and the second one is a few notebook pages covering her final days as she suffered with cancer. He took time to finish the story in a very tender way.

As I watch him read, I see the tears fill his eyes or a smile curl his lips – sometimes hear outright laughter as he shares a passage with me. I am thankful she left a treasure with her family to remember her.

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Journals truly are a treasure. My mother has written journals since 1974. Each year she filled a book up until 2011, when she got macular degeneration and could not see anymore. I have had the privilege of reading to her from those books.

Details I had forgotten flood my memory as we read, and I am able to see my mother in a brand-new light. I see her faith, her joys and her sorrows. I had forgotten about the lightning storm.

One sultry Sunday morning during the service, I heard the crash of thunder and saw the lightning through the tall church windows. Then came the thunderous roar of the hail. I thought every window in the building would shatter.

My heart pounded heavily as I drove toward home. The shredded leaves on the trees were winter branches stark against the gray sky. The red floodwater bubbled over the road, carrying the hailstones and the broken branches. As I drove into the yard, I saw two of our prize horses lying dead in the road, and another horse stood shivering beside them.

At first I thought the hail had killed them. I shuddered. Mom had warned me not to go jogging in the rain because it was dangerous. I, of course, had my own ideas – until I saw the horses.

As I walked into the yard, tears flooded down my cheeks. Mother’s yard was in shreds. The leaves of the plants were tattered, while the once-beautiful rose petals sailed like little boats down the muddy river of water and hail which made a ditch through the once green grass.

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I walked into the house. Mom was sitting there in the rocker with tears streaming down her face. I thought of the hours she had spent in that garden. Every morning she was up at five o’clock, watering, hoeing and cultivating. Now all her work was ruined.

“Maybe I took too much pride in it,” she said simply.

I shook my head “no” and held her close as we cried together.

The horses were standing in the middle of the corral when the lightning struck. The force blew all three horses over the fence, killing two and stunning the other.

As we read the account in mother’s journal, I remembered details that would have been lost to memory. I remembered the blessings of the Lord in giving us a harvest despite the tattered leaves and ruined garden. The frost held off that year until October.

In the journals, we read of the heartache of losing her father and the sweet comfort the Lord gave her in a dream that he was all right and happy where he was.

We read of Christmas parties and family gatherings. We relived funerals and weddings, triumphs and setbacks. She related miracles and answers to prayer.

She told of her love for her parents and her ancestors. She was especially close to her grandmother. When she was a child, she would follow her grandmother everywhere. At first, she would have to make wide steps to put her feet in the tracks of her grandmother, who was a tall woman.

As years went by, she began to become more and more like her grandmother. They both loved children, gardening and ranching. They were strong gentle people who loved pioneer stories. I know many things about my great-grandmother because of the stories Mom used to tell. The oral history was passed down with love, and I tell the same stories to my grandchildren. My mother has recorded many of these precious stories in her journals.

Reading Mom’s journals has given me the chance to walk through her life in a very special way. I can see how she treated her aging parents and how she dealt with being an empty nester. She told of the pain missing her children, who moved far away, and how she longed to see them.

She told of visits she made to her dear friends, taking them flowers and making them quilts. It wasn’t in a bragging way, just part of a routine day. She worked hard being a midwife to the calving heifers on the ranch and cared for them as if they were people. Her journals are footprints in my life.

It reminds me of a story Mom told years ago which I have shared often. When Mother was a child, she loved to follow her grandmother and try to put her feet right in her footprints.

One day, when she was gardening at the old ranch where she used to garden with her grandmother as a child, she was walking along in the new-plowed earth. She saw some tracks. She stopped and stared at them. Her heart began to pound. Those were Grandmother Tanner’s tracks. Grandmother Tanner had been dead for years, but those were her tracks.

Mom studied the tracks for a long time before she realized they were her own tracks. She had spent so much time walking in her grandmother’s footprints as a child that she walked just like her. I am learning to walk just like my mother, and I know by her journals we are becoming more and more alike.

We will never experience every dream we have in this life, but what we do experience needs to be recorded to bless the next generation with tracks to follow and appreciate. I wrote a poem about what we leave behind.

What we leave behind

There are songs
we will never sing.
There are paths
we will never walk down.
There are mountains
we will never climb,
and people
we will never meet.

There are clouds
that will shadow the sunshine,
and roses
that will never bloom.
There are storms
that block out the springtime
and dreams
that will never come true.

Knowing what
we must leave behind
Makes the songs
that ring in our hearts
melodies that sharpen our soul.
Knowing the paths
we cannot take
makes our journey a blessed walk.

Knowing clouds
will shadow the sunshine
Make brilliant days
a treasure.
Knowing winter
will cover the roses
Color the roses of spring
in glory without measure

The dreams
that never came true
Will be lost
in the celebration and wonder
of the things
we were able to share.  end mark

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