The Story About Grandma Great

A million words couldn’t do justice the legacy of Wilma Player.

That I’m using the term legacy is bittersweet. It’s a reminder that my Great Grandmother really has passed – that all I have left are memories and birthday cards. But that her life qualifies as a legacy – and Oh, does it qualify! – reassures me that memories are enough. She built her legacy early, often, with more love than one ­­­­knows what to do with, and with more songs and piano tunes than you could imagine. I know her story because I have family too versed and too smart not to share the lessons of my Great Grandmother.

Ask my mom of her memories and she’ll open up like a book. Ask my Grandfather, and he’ll give you ‘The Odyssey.’

But honestly, today, their stories hold no personal significance. They only serve to reinforce what I have been blessed enough to experience myself; they remain secondary to my own stories with Grandma Great, as we like to call her. That there is something for my mom’s memories to reinforce again reveals Grandma’s remarkable character and the significance she still holds in each family member’s lives, even after her loss.

Grandma Great was special, and that all of her 66 children, grand children and great-grandchildren get to say they knew her is a testament to her and Grandpa Player, their love for each other, and their love for each one of us. That one of her great-great grandchildren gets to say that she knew him . . . well, that’s just pretty cool. Congrats Edward Charles for being the only one in the family to get to say you felt the embrace of your great-great grandmother. Lucille Wilma, you didn’t meet her, but you’re the only one who bears her name. None of us are that fortunate.

My memory only goes back far enough to remember four times ever visiting my Great Grandmother, though pictures in my baby book tell me there were more. Most reminders I have left are the birthday cards I received, written in a cursive too practiced to decipher completely, yet too elegant not to simply sit and look at. Even when I cared more about the five-dollar bill than the words that sandwiched it, I would sit and just stare at her handwriting. It was beautiful. There once was a time when every parcel of space available on each card was filled by Grandma’s handwriting . . .plus both sides of the three inserted pages. And if you received a card with less than five Bible verses, plus Grandma’s expounding thoughts, or without the Biblical significance of your age or the date of your birthday, well then, you clearly did not have Wilma J. Player as your grandmother. But as her health declined, the cards slowly reduced to just her signature. Even these cards were special. They were reminders that my 102 year old great grandmother still thought of me.

But 19 birthday cards is all I get. Number 20 will feel a little empty.

So will Texas each time we visit.

No more conversations interrupted by spontaneous prayer or song. No more laughs after being mistaken for someone else by 102-year-old eyes. No more of that warm feeling when seeing a 102-year-old face light up after realizing who you actually are. No more playing the piano for 102-year-old ears. No more being told that your piano playing was “absolutely wonderful,” (when it clearly wasn’t) by a 102-year-old voice. No more watching a 102-year-old body sit in absolute stillness and peace as we 60+ family members sing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.”

My Great Grandmother has passed and what I have left are the memories, the cards, and the metallic cross she let me pick out from her dresser when I was 13.

But Christmas is tomorrow. I’m not supposed to be sad at this time of year.

How am I supposed to reconcile the two – great loss and a day supposed to be filled with joy? It’s not easy, nor a simple endeavor of thought. To focus on one seems sacrilege to the other, and I cannot ignore both, because both are relevant to the heart.

So, really, what now?

Consider the first Christmas, I guess. Consider Jesus.

Born outdoors and laid in a box that stored food for animals, Jesus was homeless at birth. His shepherd visitors were some of the most distrusted of Jewish society and the king of Israel wanted to kill him as an infant. He was born to live two years as an outsider child in Egypt. He was born to be homeless during his ministry years. Born to chill with the prostitutes, diseased, tax collectors, revolutionaries, and beggars. Born to be disregarded. Born to be a no-body. Born to die.

It makes sense to be sad on Christmas, because it truly celebrates what most today would consider a moment of loss. A moment without extended family flying in from out of town, void of cool toys, and away from the comfort of one’s own bed. And the child we celebrate tomorrow received gifts that probably were meant to foreshadow his death.

Christmas is not about a story of warm and cozy comfort. Christmas celebrates the birth and life of a homeless man.

Yet, despite being about the Child born to nothing and the Man who had nothing, tomorrow is still about the Servant who gave everything. For those who believe Jesus really did give everything, we realize therein lies the holiday’s true significance.

It was in his displays of ultimate humility that Jesus the Nazarene brought the Kingdom of Heaven. A life of less was the only way to usher in the Kingdom of more.

And Grandma Great knew this. She knew how to live because she lived with a Kingdom focus. She knew how to love because she devoted her life to loving like Jesus. That’s what established her legacy. As my mom says, Grandma Great lived with a tenacious defense of the gospel. Her life was about serving Christ and serving others.

And she loved even when her great grandson rocked the filthiest mustache you ever did see.

Although – if she had a tin of homemade fudge with her, you’d be lucky to get her to share more than a piece with you.

But she loved. Oh how she loved.

The true Christmas story requires sorrow. No. The true Gospel story requires sorrow. But it’s a sorrow that gives way to real hope.

And just like everything else she ever did, her death and the sorrow that has followed is only another instance of Grandma Great pointing toward Jesus.

That’s her legacy. That’s what is left with the memories and cards. Reminders of Jesus.


Today, perhaps tomorrow, and any time you may happen to consider my Grandma Great, may the legacy she left provide as much hope for you as it does for me. And may we learn to live and love like Grandma Player. Because when we do, I’m certain we’re one step closer to living and loving like Jesus Christ.


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