So faith, hope, love remain


Ocie, Mother’s Day 2010

Being a part of a loving family is a special thing. Being welcomed, truly welcomed into a family that isn’t yours is an even greater blessing.

This is a story about a woman, this woman, and a man who had a son. Their son married a widow. He walked into a family that had two grown, married kids and one grandchild. That man’s parents took them all in for their own.

I was that grandchild (they’d ultimately have three more grandchildren the old-fashioned way). My grandmother married into this family.

That beautiful lady above was my great-grandmother, Ocie. (I remember her mother, clearly, too. She’d split a piece of Wrigley’s with me each time I saw her. To this day I can’t smell spearmint without thinking of my great-great-grandmother.)

They were good country people, soft-spoken and hard working. They probably gave more of themselves to others than they could have ever asked of anyone. And that’s how they treated us, taking in a full family as their own. More Christmas presents to buy. More chaos at Easter. More food on the table. More loud toys on the front porch. More everything. They did it with grace and dignity and a simple charm. My mother said she had a conversation once with my great-grandfather about it, but I suspect that even that was probably a little too much for him. It just was. You just were. And that was enough.

That and the hugs. She gave the best hugs.

My great-grandmother made the world’s greatest tea cakes in the world. There’s no discussion here. She’s the only person you would have ever met with a wait-list for a casual dessert she made for kids in her community. There are lots of ideas about what made her cookies better than anyone else’s. Some have suggested it is the old Pepsi can she used to cut the cookies. So important was this can that once when it was thrown away by accident several people dove in to search for the thing.


The famous Pepsi can, with the old pull top and ancient logo.

I think it was her soft hands, or the water from her well.

The grandkids would always fight over the water. They had this dipping cup hanging by the kitchen window. It was always a neat treat for us, just because it was different, I guess. But also there was a great solemn moment to the ceremony. Someone had to turn on the water and reach for the dented old cup. When we were really little someone had to hold us up over the counter. Who got to go first was, of course, a big deal.


The famous dipper. At the time we thought it was the unique (to us) cup-with-handle that made the event. Later we decided it was the dents. We’ve learned it was our grandparents who made it special.

We’ve discussed it, the grandchildren as adults, the communal nature of this dipping cup. We’ve decided that no germs were ever spread because she was too efficient and clean and just plain ol’ full of love to ever let any germs get in her kitchen.

As I’ve mentioned here before, her husband, Tonice, died in 2001. He had a particularly slow and painful cancer that took years to beat him down. Even toward the end he was visiting other people in the hospital, because his was a life of service. They were married almost 62 years when he died and Ocie has missed him every day since.

She’d lived in her home for all of those years, until late last year, when she fell. Getting better, she thought, would just be too tough. She could have done it, she said, if Tonice were still here. And this was the first time I’d ever seen her not be strong and sure of herself. (Well into her 80s, the night before an open-heart chest surgery, she told me she was more worried about keeping the grass cut. This is a strong lady.) But despite last autumn’s brief lapse of confidence her hip mended and she was walking by Christmas.

But, at 91, her body had finally given out. She died peacefully on Friday. The sadness of losing one who chose you willingly, whom you’ve loved your entire life, is replaced by the image of her re-joining her beloved husband.


Tonice, Ocie and their son Clem, my step-grandfather, circa 1942.

We buried him in a small cemetery not far from his church and home. He was the type who came home to his farm from the war in Europe and never talked about his experiences. No one, not even his own children, knew of his many medals and honors until the gray, muddy day we buried him. We did that ourselves, keeping with the old traditions. He was eligible for a military funeral with full honors, but he only wanted a member of the VFW to present a flag to his wife. Afterward his family and church brethren turned the earth.

And that’s what we did today for Ocie. We sang through three hymns and then one man said “I’ve never read these verses in a funeral before, but I think they fit Ms. Ocie.” And he recited 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13. And, wouldn’t you know it, but they describe her perfectly.

Her preacher stood up and pointed out again that Tonice and Ocie were charter members of their church, which was organized in 1939. (Think of it: the end of the Depression, World War II, the peace, Korea, Vietnam, hippies, rock ‘n’ roll, decades of farming, an entire world growing up around them and they’d watched it all from there.) The preacher recalled her strength and her quiet faith and how the two of them together had made such a wonderful team. He talked about how there was always room for one more at her table, and there was always hospitality found in her gentle way. And, wouldn’t you know it, he described her perfectly too.


“She’s my baby,” he said, as I snapped this picture in August of 2001. We buried him with it that year. We included a copy of this photo with her, too. Now they each hold one another forever.

We placed her next to her husband. It was a mild day, the ground was again muddy. We took turns returning the lumpy clay into the ground. Her flowers were stacked as tall as their gravestone. The sun was refracting through the cloudy afternoon in such a way that everything in the sky looked white.

Heaven is an even better place for her having arrived; we’re a bit lacking without her here.