It’s been two weeks, and I still have so many memories of her that come floating up, unbidden.
She arrived when I was in the third grade. What I knew of her then was that she could do anything: paint, sew, tell funny stories, and bake amazing cookies. Also, she came from a place that I’d only ever seen on maps: Alabama. Her love shone around like sunshine, warm and meant for everyone. Our boarding school family embraced her as one of our own very quickly, and when we asked her what she wanted us kids to call her, she drawled, “Grandma Charlotte.” Her real magic lay in the ability to hug me as though I really was her grandchild.
Grandma Charlotte was afforded every honor by the kids at our missionary boarding school. Very few adults were specifically invited to our forts, but Grandma Charlotte had an open invitation to all of them. She used to play Mafia with us, too, even though she sometimes got confused, leading to a lot of giggling.
I remember something from all her trips. She cut my hair when I was eleven. She made me a green page costume with tights and pointy shoes when I was 9. She taught me sign language in high school, and I can still picture those graceful hands signing “popcorn” during a quiz. I always had trouble sleeping as a child, but Grandma Charlotte could give me an arm and hand massage that sent me straight to sleep. She brought down some black licorice from the States one time, and let me eat a bunch of it because I was the only one who liked it. In high school, as I tried on a dress she’d helped with, she took a step back and said, “You look beautiful.”
She left pieces of her beauty on each visit. There are layers and layers of paint on the back of our cafeteria wall all laid down by her brushes for our annual Spring Banquets. She and I stayed up late working on my own Banquet wall (Merry Olde England) and, in grandmotherly fashion, she kept checking to make sure I’d eaten something. If a costume needed to be made, she made it. If someone’s kid needed to be looked after, she looked after them. If something crazy needed to be figured out, she’d do it. Whenever we’d ascend the attic stairs to bring down drama or camping equipment, we’d stop for a moment to stare at the huge, life-sized cloth cow stored beneath the rafters. “Yeah, Grandma Charlotte made that.”
Our base had Brasilians and Americans, which led to most church services being bilingual. A staff member would always volunteer to translate for any visiting Americans who shared their testimony. One night, Grandma Charlotte was asked to share, and Mr. Emsheimer translated. For those of us who grew up with him, Mr. Emsheimer has a fantastic sense of humor, but he can come off as more reserved. Grandma Charlotte told us several jokes, with plenty of chuckles from the audience. Then, she told us about how she’d been diagnosed with some old age problems that would require medication. “The doctor told me I’d have to take medication to treat the problem, and then more medication for the side effects, and more medication for those side effects, and I just took his face in my hands”, here she actually took Mr. Emsheimer’s face in her hands, “and I told him ‘That’s all right, sweetheart. I don’t need those meds.'” I had never seen Mr. Emsheimer turn that red. The entire audience laughed more at that one little action than any other joke.
She was a woman who lost a lot in life, but she never stopped giving. She had every right to be bitter about her losses, and yet I never heard her complain. She would just keep telling us, “God is good,” even after she lost her husband, her son, and her grandson.
There was God, and there was Grandma Charlotte. In my child’s mind, the two were a pair, always out on adventures together. She told the best stories about everywhere she’d been: Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe. I can still see her standing in her kitchen telling me about how she’d messed up a tea gathering in China. “We were supposed to serve only green tea. How was I supposed to know that?” One of her favorite stories was about how one African lady grabbed her hand during Sunday services and made her dance in the aisles. Grandma Charlotte always looked so happy when she told that one.
I was supposed to see her in two weeks. Honestly, I’d imagined spotting her in the airport and running over for one of those amazing hugs. I’d envisioned dancing with her and my family at my sister’s wedding. She was always so spry. Six months ago, she was in Africa, still serving and helping like she always has. But COVID-19 took her. It’s hard to imagine a life that bright leaving us, but she has. I’m sure God couldn’t help smiling when she stood before the throne “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Thank you for everything, Grandma Charlotte.