Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Strawberries in June

I had the perfect great grandmother.  She was kind, gentle, attentive, and understanding with a sweet serenity about her.  In some ways Grandma Florence is a difficult person to describe.  Some might think kind and gentle might describe a weak person…but there was nothing weak about my great grandmother.  I used to say that she had an iron fist in a silken glove.

Florence Christine Shawver was born 14 Jun 1897 in Decatur, NE to George Christian Shawver and Rebecca Jane “Frankie” Pitsenbarger.   Grandma Florence got her teaching license when she was 17 and taught school for three years when she married Ora Silas Gage in 1917.  She continued teaching one more year until her oldest son was born.  Grandma Florence and Granddad Gage had 10 children from 1918 to 1939 including 4 daughters and 6 sons.  Grandma lost her youngest son in a drowning accident when he was eight and her youngest daughter to cancer when she was 55.  She withstood the loss of a grandson and great grandson and the loss of her husband of 73 ½ years just a few short months before her own death.  Through it all she maintained her faith in God and in her family as well.  I was visiting her that last June before she died the next year.  I’ll never forget the experience of that intimate birthday celebration.

My brother and his wife brought their 18 month old daughter down to meet her great great grandparents.  I saw my Great Grandparents through the eyes of an adult taking a great amount of joy interacting with this young child.  Granddad held her in his lap and tickled and teased her and Grandma listened to her intently as she tried to tell her something showing the patience and gentleness of a lifetime of enjoying her grandchildren.  I joined my brother and his family at the coast for a few days and came back to spend that last birthday with my great grandmother.  I remember sitting in the living room the night before as five of her children joined my great grandparents as they watched their favorite program on TV…Jeopardy.  A free for all ensued with everyone shouting out the answers.  I decided to join in and my great grandmother turned to me at the commercial - smiled at me and informed me that I was good at this.  The next day we gathered for a simple meal celebrating my great grandmother’s 93rd birthday.

Grandma Florence's last birthday - June 14, 1990
Grandma Florence hadn’t been feeling that well…she had had a bruised rib and was having problem breathing because of the pain.  Granddad Gage was undergoing at home dialysis since his kidneys were no longer functioning well.  However, none of that mattered to either one of them if they had their family there…they were happy.  As we ate the meal that had been prepared by my grandmother and her sister, I noticed that Granddad Gage wasn’t eating all that much.  However, when it was time for dessert, Granddad wanted the biggest helping.  It was a dessert that we had often in my family – angel food cake with strawberries and whipped cream.    At that last birthday it was explained to me that for every year that they had been married – Granddad Gage had always found strawberries for Grandma’s birthday.  For their entire married life – through the 10 children, hard times, and little money – they had always had strawberries for Grandma’s birthday.  This simple dessert of strawberries and cake had a special meaning that I had never known about.    As we finished our meals, I remember taking a picture of my great grandparents that will always stay in my memory.  They sat side by side both smiling with my grandfather’s arm around her shoulders.  It was the last time I saw them together before my great grandfather died the next December.  Yet I think that it will always be the way I remember them best – together, smiling and enjoying their family.