Our loved ones live on. When we love people, their voice echoes in our memory; their fingerprints linger on our door frames.
When Vivian Rose Lyon arrived in this world, the Wright Brothers were building bicycles. Orphaned at fifteen, my grandmother hurried off to Normal School and blossomed into a Montana wildflower—teaching prairie children of every age.
Years later, Grandma tucked her radio under my arm as I scurried off to catch the yellow school bus. “Your class needs to hear John Glenn go into space today,” she smiled. For this vintage teacher, every day was a good day—if we learned something.
Vivian’s life had not been easy. Every ounce of wisdom was hard won.
As the soldiers came back from France, the barrel-chested cavalry lieutenant signed on as the farrier at the Catlin Ranch. Soon Harry and Vivian were in love, living in a log house, with a cascade of four children.
Quick to gather around a piano to sing, my western grandparents were known for their music, laughter, and rugged individualism. In a surprising turn of events, Vivian lost Harry and the wind went out of her sails.
“Nervous breakdown,” the country doctor called it. “They sent her away,” the kids said. The four of them scattered into different homes.
What do we do when we come to the end of our rope? Most of us try to tie a knot and hold on.
Vivian was placed with a kind family who nursed her back; she held onto them. Somehow she also learned to hold onto God.
When Vivian was strong enough to reclaim her children, she moved into town and took a part-time job. The little church loved this needy family like they were stray puppies; the congregation became their extended family.
I don’t think my grandmother ever forgot the dark times. When FDR hired rock pickers to clear fields and build a dam, she took them in. When families wanted their children to attend the only high school, Vivian gave the students room and board during the week. When the homeless hopped off the train and walked into town under the railroad bridge, they would spot a diagram on the underside; previous hobos had marked out her street and house, indicating that Mrs. McGee would provide a meal for work. In her compassionate little home, she cooked, earned a few dollars, and constantly rotated the kids out of their own beds.
I grew up with “the boardinghouse reach” and a kind heart toward strangers. In the way Vivian rebounded from her setbacks, she showed me that our greatest enemy is not disease; it’s despair. By the way she lived, Grandma proved how important it is to have hope in God, to grow through suffering, and to love and be loved.
When I awoke on my 11th birthday, I discovered that we had lost her during the night. Now looking back, I realize that we never really lost her. Our loved ones live on.
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