As I understand it, my great-grandparents’ marriage started off with sparks. Of the good sort.
Just 17 years old, Bessie Lowe was bound and determined to marry James Smith – the young man of her dreams. It’s not clear whether Bessie’s groom-to-be was afraid to approach Bessie’s father about the marriage, but in any case, Bessie was the one who told her dad about the engagement. According to a quote in an old family photo album, Bessie’s dad told her he and her mother had seen the folly of marrying too young. She came back at him. “Well,” she said, “We would like to see the folly of it too.”
Bessie and Jimmie were married on the 4th of July, 1916, in Grants Pass, Oregon. After the ceremony they held a family picnic where everyone – and I mean everyone – played baseball. Firecracker that she was, my great-grandmother ran the bases in her wedding dress.
Times were simple and lean and about to get leaner. In 1932, Jimmie lost his job as a truck driver for a lumberyard, so he took my grandpa (and later, grandpa’s sister) to live on the family’s farm while Bessie worked as a washerwoman in a Seattle laundry. The family was separated for two years, seeing one another only on holidays. Decades later, my grandpa choked up every time he spoke of this, remembering it as a great injustice that his beloved mother should ever have had to work that hard under such awful conditions. And yet Bessie did – for the love of her family and to help provide for them. Further, she kept her chin up, never losing the laughing spirit that sparked that running of the bases on her wedding day.
I knew Bessie only when I was a young child, and what I recall best are her eyes. People tell me she had one brown and one blue, but in my mind I see the way those eyes crinkle at me in delight. She sits on a piano bench in her living room, studying me with her whole face, body, heart, and spirit. She radiates joy. She throws her head back and laughs, letting ripples of happiness shake her whole frame.
The lesson in all of this is that the same woman who told her dad of her plans to marry the man she loved, played America’s game right after saying her vows, and toiled at an awful job to care for a family she adored who – to the very last among us – remembers her as laughing, made one critical choice above all others: she consistently chose joy.
Do you choose joy every day? Do you have the kind of faith that trusts that Life is Good, and you – even you – are cared for regardless of your current situation?
I believe that my great-grandmother must have. She trusted in the Presence that pushed up the flowers in her yard year after year, and brought her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren back to her when she’d gone full seasons without seeing them.
Right to the end, hers was an all-embracing, loving, grateful smile that no one could dismiss.
On this holiday of family picnics and fireworks, may we press fully into that kind of joy.