Richard Exley Ministries

Braided Rag Rugs, Coal Oil Stoves, and Friends from the
Posted on April 19, 2007

A key figure in my young world was Grandma Miller. Her entire life was lived on the ragged edge of poverty, but she was rich in spirit.

The longer I live, the more I realize just how fortunate I have been.  In addition to a very positive relationship with both my parents, and my brothers and sister, I was blessed with an extended family of loving grandparents, aunts and uncles.  Although I was never given any reason to think myself better than anyone else, I never doubted my worth as a person either.  Within the extended family circle I knew I had a place.  I was loved. I was somebody.

A key figure in my young world was Grandma Miller.  She stood 4'11" with tightly-curled red hair. As a child I never realized she colored it, but she must have, because it remained the same tint until the day she died.  Her entire life was lived on the ragged edge of poverty, but she was rich in spirit.

As I think about her now, she seems like something out of Reader's Digest's unforgettable characters.  She was born in 1887 in a small village in Iowa, to a poor but hard-working family.  Her parents had little use for what they called "book learin'." As a consequence, she never learned to read or write, and could barely scribble her own name. As a child I remember watching her struggle to sign her old-age pension check with an indelible pencil.

At the age of 13, still just a wisp of a girl, not quite five feet tall, she married James Lewis Miller. Thirteen years her senior, he was a big, strapping man, standing three inches over six feet and weighing nearly 260 pounds, with hands the size of hams. They spent the early years of their life together following the railroad across Kansas before finally settling in Greely, Colorado.  In about 1910 they homesteaded in the sand hills, near Merino, in the northeastern part of the state.

Grandpa died when I was ten years old and I began spending four or five nights a week with Grandma.  She never really trusted electricity so we seldom used it. After dark we lit the kerosene lamps and talked for hours. I can't remember much of what we talked about, no special words of wisdom, but I do remember feeling loved. Grandma made me feel like...well like I could do anything. As I recall those memories now, I realize that Grandma accepted me as her peer while allowing me to be a child when I needed to.  Because of her, I had the best of both worlds -- adult company and acceptance, plus the freedom of childhood.

There were those who considered her a bit eccentric in her later years.  In truth, she was just a throwback to an earlier age.  One time I asked her why she carried a loaded pistol in her purse. Without batting an eye she said, "Because if I ever get mad enough to kill someone, I don't want to change my mind while I hunt around for something to do it with!"

Looking back now, these many years later, I think her bark was worse than her bite.  I mean, I never knew her to harm anyone, and she was generous to a fault.  Still, she did carry that pistol in her purse.

I was always welcome in her world -- a world of braided rag rugs, coal oil stoves, and friends from "the old country." Grandma was Dutch, but she lived in a neighborhood of Russian immigrants; consequently, I was exposed to a culture different from my own and to people who spoke with a strange accent (that is, when they didn't lapse into their mother tongue). Grandma loved those old people and so did I. I could sit by her side for most of an afternoon listening as they talked of people and places of which I knew absolutely nothing.

I gave up many childhood activities with my friends in order to be with her, and looking back, I can say without a doubt that it was worth it. Only Grandma knows what personal interests and projects she let go unpursued so she could give me her undivided time and attention. She guided me, she modeled her values for me, but she never tried to change me. In her presence I was never afraid of being judged or rejected. Her unconditional love gave me the security to be my real self.

Grandma Miller has been dead for more than forty years now, but she lives on in my memory, and her influence shapes me still. She taught me the value of relationships. Under her gentle guidance I learned to experience my deepest feelings and to share them with those I love. She was tenacious, and from her example I learned to "hang tough" and finish what I started. She believed in me and taught me to believe in myself. I am who I am today, at least in part, because of the investment she made in me.

I wish there were some way to pay her back for all the love she poured into me. As a boy I simply accepted it, never realizing how rare and wonderful it really was, never thinking to give her thanks. Now it's too late. The best I can do is to try to live in a way that honors her memory. And I can pass her love on. I can do my best to be the same kind of special friend to my grandchildren that she was to me. It's the best I can do. I hope it's enough. Knowing her, I'll bet it's exactly what she had in mind.


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Category: Life