My mom, Lorena Grosenbach, had hope that’s contagious.
When I picture her, she’s wearing a shirt waist – the white one with red flowers – and playing peek-a-boo with a grand baby. Or, she’s writing a letter at the dining room table, playing the organ, sitting in her recliner reading, standing in the kitchen counter rolling out pie dough, or setting out a buffet for a houseful of friends and family. “The more, the merrier,” she’d say. After Dad led us in singing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” Mom would invite folks to the food, saying, “First you start with a paper plate.”
She loved to sing. While we lived on Guam in the early 1950s, she and three sailors from the Christian Servicemen’s Center formed a quartet, the Gospel Aires. They practiced in our Quonset hut around the upright piano, and Dad captured the music on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Mom’s clear soprano sailed to the high notes. Her singing was contagious. She and Dad sang duets in the car, taking turns on the melody, and all five of us kids learned how to harmonize. At least when singing.
Each time that my Dad, who was in the Navy, got orders to a new place, we packed up and moved. While we were living in Long Beach, California, and he was on a ship at sea, Marla was born premature and had to stay in the hospital until she weighed at least five pounds. A neighbor watched Doug and Blake and me, while Mom drove the thirty miles to the hospital and back to see baby Marla every day. Finally, after a month, Mom was thrilled to bring her home and introduce us to our little sister.
Within the same year, Doug, who was two years old, came down with a high fever and stopped walking. The doctor said physical therapy would help. I remember Mom laying Doug on his back on a blanket on the kitchen table and counting as she exercised his legs every morning and evening, until they grew strong enough to walk again. Her determination was contagious.
Mom did a lot of nursing long before she became an LPN. While we were living in Hayward, California, our little brother Danny, who was about three years old, tripped and fell on a heating grate in the hallway and burnt his stomach. Mom applied baking-soda poultices to his abdomen to ease his pain. I remember her singing as she rocked him to sleep.
When I was in high school, we used to go to the Caldwell swimming pool and dive for pennies. Sure enough, I got a pounding earache. Mom swabbed my ear with alcohol, gave me a pain reliever, and when I still couldn’t sleep, took me to Dr. Price, who prescribed an antibiotic.
We were living at 344 North Butrick in Waukegan, Illinois, when our brother Blake, in his early teens, tried to free the lawnmower that was caught on something and hurt himself. Mom knew just what to do. She helped him to the bathtub, removed his shoe, discovered his toes were sliced, and began to wash them. At that point, I left the room. He did fine.
Mom held her first Good News Club in our neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri. On a photo she wrote, “We had 28 kids the first day!” Her most fervent prayers were that everyone she knew, starting with her own kids, would hear about Jesus and put their trust in Him. It was also in St. Louis that Mom and Dad connected with the Navigators, who taught them to memorize scripture. I can see Mom sitting a cup of coffee, reviewing her verses. When people asked her what it was like to move all over the country, she’d quote Philippians 4:11, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”
Lee and I were living in Oakland, California, when I went into labor with our second baby. Lee called my mom, who said she’d hop on the next bus from Caldwell. Meanwhile, he took our daughter Laurie to a neighbor; then he worked for two days and two nights non-stop. On the third night, he slept. Mom arrived at our house at night by taxi and knocked on the door, but couldn’t rouse him. When she told the taxi driver she’d be fine, he refused to leave because the Hell’s Angels – a motorcycle gang – lived across the street. Mom went around the house pounding on windows until a light finally came on and Lee let her in, and the event became one of her classic anecdotes.
Not only did Mom take care of Laurie, but she also helped with baby Matthew. Mom would bring him to me all fresh and clean, and after I fed him, she’d whisk him away for a bath or something while I rested or read to Laurie. Mom knew just what I needed.
She loved to do things with her grandchildren, and her enthusiasm was contagious. Early one summer morning, she took seven-year-old Laurie fishing. Two hours later, she and Laurie cleaned the trout and fried them for breakfast, sizzling hot.
My folks’ voyage together had its share of rough waters. When my brother Blake died in a plane crash, I was living in the Philippines, expecting a baby, and couldn’t come to his funeral. Rebekah was born three weeks later. Mom and Dad flew to the Philippines to rejoice with us – I remember Mom holding Rebekah every time she could. They also mourned with us. In her luggage Mom brought condolence cards they’d received and wanted to share with me. At times like this, Mom loved to sing a song that John W. Peterson wrote in 1952.
No one understands like Jesus;
He’s a Friend beyond compare.
Meet Him at the throne of mercy;
He is waiting for you there.
No one understands like Jesus
When the days are dark and grim.
No one is so near, so dear as Jesus;
Cast your every care on Him.”
Mom found joy in her family and friends, but most of all in the Lord, who promised the gift of eternal life in heaven. She looked forward to the grand union with loved ones who preceded her. Free at last!
Do you know people whose hope is contagious?
Written for my mom’s memorial service, held on July 9, 2016. Posted here on July 19, 2016.