The season of Christmas is one of the best times of the year to reminisce and review the wonder and magic of time spent with family and friends. There are so many friends God has brought across my path that have added moments of great joy and assurance that I really never walk alone in my life’s journey. One such friend was Valeda, whom I met when I moved to Anderson 3 years ago and had the privilege of spending time together, on what would be her last Christmas eve – she was 98 years old. I was so inspired by her life’s story that night that I wrote these words to remember her life.
I think I can hear the blades of her sleigh cutting through crusty, hard, cold snow, clinging to the silence in the moonlight. The cold is pressing in, fighting it’s way past her muffler, wool scarf, boots and blanket she had wrapped up in that beautiful night. The bright gleam of moonlight was blazing a trail past the woods and up the glen. Oh how she adored those sleigh rides.
“Nothing compares to that experience,” she mused. I could see her breath hanging in the crisp, cold air as they sped along listening to the clip-clop of horse’s hooves.
“Could you hear that sound on the snow?” I asked Valeda.
“Oh yes!” she said, as she looked beyond me to the scene in her mind hanging on the walls of her memory like pictures framed in the early years of her childhood.
“I slept on a hay mattress, and you wouldn’t think it so, but it was warm, or at least that’s how I remember it,” she said.
I think I could almost feel her hay mattress, the smell of straw filling my mind with her summers on the farm, pulling weeds, or picking turnips, parsnips and potatoes. Their meals consisted of all they harvested from their garden and some of this produce was traded with their neighbors who had cows, goats and sheep for milk and meat. I tried to remember that blend of herbs she was so fond of cooking… what was it? A blend of dandelion leaves, burdock and something else? I can’t remember, but she did. I think she tasted the blend of those wilted leaves in bacon grease; the thought of smelling that aroma brought her back into the kitchen where her mother hung clothes to dry by the heat of the fire.
Valeda turned her head to catch the birds chirping in her memories, acknowledging she hears their singing with raised eyebrows and a wide contagious smile. She loved to hear birds singing their melodies and opened her windows in the summer to feel warm breezes against her face. It brought comfort to her just like the strands of memories that weaved a colorful and vivid tapestry of her life. Most anything could stir up a memory, sometimes as far back as a small child, remembering a Christmas when she was 3 years old, sitting on her mother’s lap while she read, The Little Red Hen.
Her life was an inspiration to me. She loved all of us who had the privilege of spending time with her in her home and we loved her as she shared her thoughts and feelings, composing every emotion of the day. They were significant and detailed musings about her life growing up on a farm, her perspective on all kinds of issues at home and abroad, and the intense love and adoration she had for her family. I loved her stubbornness because it proved to be an incredible asset for her as she talked herself out of being discouraged while she was bed-ridden those last few months of her life. Her faith was remarkably strong and I was privileged to call her friend.