I didn’t know my grandfathers, but I certainly knew my grandmothers.
I grew up being close to them, not always geographically but always emotionally and relationally.
Today, many decades after their deaths, I still remember them vividly, mostly because of their cooking.
When I was a university student, I used to eat lunch occasionally with my Grandmother Chumbley—“Grams,” as I called her.
I’d often go by her house between my classes. We’d sit in her tiny kitchen, eat ham sandwiches on Roman Meal Bread and sip sugary iced tea. I’d tell her about what I was learning. I’d listen to her stories of growing up on a farm in Tennessee. And at the end of the meal, I’d dig into her lemon meringue pie, my favorite dessert. It was a taste of heaven, as was her company. She’d let me eat as much of the pie as I wanted, even the whole thing.
I looked forward to lunches with Grams. She loved me, as did my Grandmother Bodner, who also made delicious food, including homemade cabbage biscuits and noodles. Her Germanic background was most visible, or edible, in the kitchen and at the dinner table. At supper, she often enjoyed a small glass of beer, a taste I never acquired. (There are limits to grandparental influence.) And she told stories of trudging through the Great Depression and the 1937 Flood, which devastated parts of my hometown of Louisville, Ky.
My grandmothers made a deep, enduring impression on me. I am who I am in part because of them.
And now I am a grandfather.
My granddaughters, June and Christa, are growing up with my wife Penny and me as a big part of their lives, and we’re aware that we’re shaping them—their personalities, their values, their lives.
In some way, we’ll live on in them after these earthly bodies of ours are dust, just as Grandmothers Chumbley and Bodner live on in me and just as my grandfathers live on in me through the stories I heard about them from my grandmothers, my parents and my aunts and uncles.
What might June and Christa remember about me in 20 or 30 years?
First, what they won’t remember is Poppy, their name for me, an Episcopal priest and rector, praying prayers of thanksgiving at their births as I held them or of me baptizing them as infants.
What they might remember, instead, is that Christmas dinner when I discovered a wriggling green worm in the broccoli, dangled it above my open mouth and then, after a few seconds of suspense, dropped it in, just for the pure silliness of the act. I remember: “Poppy!” they yelled in unison.
I hope they remember our doing Taekwondo together on Saturdays; our games of tag in the park on Sunday afternoons; doing homework at the kitchen table; playing Chinese checkers; reading stories before naps and at bedtime; vacation visits to our Kentucky family; Grammy’s and my sitting in the audience at their school band and choir performances.
They’ll remember, I pray: singing in our church’s junior choir, with me, “Father Poppy,” as they sometimes call me, looking on and listening to their young voices raised in the praise of God; helping me at the altar and sometimes, long after the church had emptied of worshipers, standing there and saying (or sometimes singing) the Communion prayers from memory, just as I had said them earlier from the altar book.
As God is molding us humans more fully into his image and likeness, so Father Poppy and Grammy, an extension of God’s hands, are molding June and Christa into the image and likeness of God. With God’s help, we’re forming our girls for an earthly life of happiness, meaning and purpose and preparing them for heaven, where one day we shall be together again. Eternally.
And what fun we shall have. With or without wriggling green worms.
Rev. Kenneth L. Chumbley