Today we celebrated the life and faith of my grandma, the beautiful Hazel May Barker Walker. She passed into glory on the same day she entered the world, May 21st. She lived 96 blessed years, and is now in the presence of her Savior. I spoke at her funeral today, and someone at the service asked me to post what I said. So, here it is…
Grandma did not come to our family in the usual way. My grandparents were both widowed in their 50’s, and Grandma married Grandpa in the summer of 1975. I was 18 months old. She brought children and grandchildren of her own, and our family and our hearts grew.
Grandma was not a grandma in the traditional sense; she much preferred store-bought to homemade. Many people remember the inspiring sayings on their grandmother’s kitchen walls. Well, the one I remember from my grandma’s kitchen is, “I made my favorite thing for dinner: reservations.” Despite this lack of interest in domesticity, Grandma’s kitchen was always welcoming and well-stocked with plenty of store-bought treats to fill our bellies and our hearts. However, no family party was complete without Grandma’s jello, and occasionally she would get inspired to make her layered raisin cookies, which were delicious.
Whenever we stopped by, which she much preferred to pre-planned get-togethers, we were always warmly greeted at the door with an enthusiastic squeal, followed by, “Look who it is Father (that’s what she called Grandpa). It’s Anne and the kids.” Then we would all file in one by one and receive a kiss on the forehead, which over time became a kiss on the cheek, until eventually we had all surpassed her short stature and were kissing her on the head. With each visit she would size us up, stand us back to back with her, and declare that before any of us knew it we’d be “eating beans off her head.”
Before any of us knew it, we were stopping by with our own kids, who received the same warm greetings, the same kisses and back-to-back measurements, and the same bean-eating declarations.
Visiting at Grandma and Grandpa’s meant cramming around the tiny kitchen table, and fighting, or rather “discussing,” who got to sit on the two stools that she kept for extra seating. I remember many times sharing a kitchen chair with Grandma, because she always insisted there was “plenty of room” on her seat for two.
She had a way of conversing that made me feel like she was really listening. She also had some signature expressions, like “ee-wow-ee-wow,” “isn’t that darlin’,” and various one-line quotes and sayings. For example, when I started driving, Grandma gave me some basic advice that she repeated to me several times over those early driving years, “Green means go, red means stop, and yellow means go like ——.” I can’t finish the last line, because we’re in church. She also had a way of making seemingly insightful statements that didn’t actually make any sense. Uncle Wayne would say, “That’s a Hazel.”
Grandma loved to shop, for others, as much, if not more, than herself. One year, she gave Amy and me quilts for Christmas, and I remember someone asking if Grandma had made them. “Oh no,” I said, “my grandma doesn’t make quilts, she buys them at Sterns.” Even so, we slept soundly under those quilts for many years, and I still use mine on picnics with my family. That quilt is filled with plenty of Grandma-love, even if she didn’t stitch it by hand.
Grandma loved going places, and I think she kept Grandpa young for many years. They were very involved in our growing up: coming over for dinner, attending school concerts and graduations, and taking us to the the duck pond, the zoo, NYC with Kimmie and Paul, and once on a surprise trip to the circus. We spent the car ride there trying to guess where we were going, and they had fun keeping us guessing. They took us out to eat at Friendly’s and Steaks-n-Stuff, where we learned, “If you want good food you have to wait for it.” Waiting is hard when you’re little and you’re hungry. When the great-grandchildren arrived, Grandma and Grandpa carried on the traditions of family gatherings and school programs. Our kids were always thrilled to have them.
Grandma was generous, kind, fun-loving, and energetic. She filled an empty space in our family, and gave us someone to call “Grandma.” She was a blessing, a gift from the Lord for which I am forever grateful. For at least a decade, she has been saying, “We’re all living too long,” which is something her sister Evelyn used to say. She wasn’t bitter or angry about it, just growing world-weary as her body began to fail her. She was ready to die, because she knew where she was going. She sometimes wondered out loud why the Lord didn’t take her. We would tell her that her work wasn’t done, to which she always responded, “Well I wish the Lord would get busy telling me what I’m supposed to do, because I would do it in a heartbeat.”
Well Grandma, your work is done now. You have finished well. I know the Lord was happy to welcome you into His presence on your 96th birthday, with Grandpa, and Ernie, and all those who went before you that shared your faith. We will miss you Grandma. Until we meet again.