Granny Sykes was a hoot.
Born in 1905 in North Carolina, Effie Burt moved to Virginia as a young woman. She met and married my grandfather, David Sykes. Some years after he died, Granny Sykes moved in with our family when I was about 13 years old. My parents cared for her until she passed away at age 96 after a brief illness, the day before my 31st birthday.
Granny Sykes was strong physically and cognitively. Read her Bible daily. Made the best bread rolls in the world. Completely unafraid of snakes, yet she jumped when she saw a frog on the ground. Said with her Southern touch, “Toady frogs can jump on you. A snake cain’t do that.” She’d actually chase down snakes. Even nabbed one that ventured to our front doorstep one summer morning. She was about 80 years old at the time. And the snake was longer than our garden hoe.
Granny and I grew close over the years. In my teens, we shared a special ritual. A few days before Christmas, she’d call me into her bedroom and point to all the gifts I’d spend the next few hours wrapping for her. Typical teenage angst would surface, but I’d trudge forward. As I dutifully started wrapping, she’d boast, “You sure can wrap a present!” And all of my angst melted away, reminded that this was our time to share giggles and secrets. I relished her stories about growing up in a log cabin, playing with a big brother who chased her with frogs. And, through her stories, I came to appreciate the resilience of her spirit, her love of family, and even the quirks that made her Granny Sykes.
We all have our funny idiosyncrasies. One of hers was offering chocolates after she’d, um, “inspected” them. She loved Whitman’s Samplers – you know, that yellow box with the faux cross-stitch lettering that has rows and rows of various chocolate candies inside? They’re especially popular as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day gifts, and Granny usually received at least one. Each box includes a card that details which candy varieties are on which rows. Kind of like a treasure map for chocolate treats inside each box.
I don’t know if Granny Sykes didn’t trust the little map-card in the box, but this was her custom every time she received Whitman’s chocolates:
Retreat to the bedroom. Shut the door. Open the box. Then pick up each chocolate candy and punch the bottom to see its contents. Upon inspection, return each piece to its location. Every. Single. Piece.
THEN offer to share the box of chocolates with everyone else.
“Want one?” she’d ask sweetly. And, quite often – especially if someone was clueless about her inspections –, the unsuspecting person would smile and exclaim, “Sure! Yes, THANK YOU. I LOVE Whitman’s chocolates!”
After studying the map-card (“Oh, this one sounds yummy!” or “I love the caramel ones!”), said person would reach into the box, carefully pick up the selected treat … and feel its contents coming out of the bottom, sticking to his fingers, prompting him to take a closer look.
There, plain as day, would be Granny’s thumbprint.
And smiling oh-so-innocently, her face gave absolutely nothing away. She was, in fact, completely serious about her generosity in those moments.
To the person holding one of Granny’s chocolates, the moment was a little bittersweet: Thanking her for the candy before realizing it had been inspected. That the treat wasn’t exactly fresh anymore. That someone else had already touched it. Really touched it.
The chocolates were still delectable, of course. It was just that their presentation was a bit marred with the caramel, creamy nougat or other filling oozing out. When chocolate melts on our fingers while nibbling it, no problem. Feeling its contents on contact? Not a good look.
It’s so easy to be thankful for the good times, the easy moments, the cheery parts of life. It’s another thing entirely to be thankful for the not-so-good moments, the hard ones, especially the ones that make us fume, disappointed, or cry when no one’s around. Moments we excitedly think may be one way, but actually turn out to be something else – something we didn’t anticipate, hard to manage, or difficult to accept.
A new job that offers a higher salary, but requires longer hours away from family. A phone call from your best friend, but with news of a serious medical diagnosis. A box of scrumptious chocolates, yet each one has someone else’s thumbprint on the bottom.
But Granny Sykes often reminded me, “Just keep on living, baby.” And, boy, was she right.
The gift of time keeps teaching me so much. It can ease the sting and pain of tough moments if we let it do so. Time also shows us that tough moments can enrich our lives in ways we often cannot see at first.
I thought about this when a cherished friend died suddenly. Friends reunited at the funeral, traveling from near and far to celebrate her life’s journey and all she meant to us. Her childhood years. High school. College. Her professional life. Her deeply spiritual walk as a Christian woman. We represented different facets of our friend’s life, but our grief was the same: Losing her was a complete shock, and our pain was raw and deep. We expected that gathering to honor her would be hard, and it was. We sensed that seeing the hurt in the eyes of her family and closest friends would be rough, and it was. None of that was a surprise.
But, we didn’t expect to also feel renewed, encouraged, and even grateful. Broken relationships were repaired. Old friendships became valued with new resolve. And gratitude bloomed for our friend’s life and for the gift of our own lives.
Tough moments often stretch and grow us in profound ways. But it also seems that our willingness to ultimately embrace those moments with gratitude – even if the gratitude arrives years later – can truly stretch and grow us beyond measure, too. Expand our relationships with others. Draw us closer to the Creator. Build a healthy sense of who we are and can be.
And give us cherished memories of a special grandmother who shared her chocolate treats.
Even with her thumbprint on the bottom of each one.
Are you grateful for a tough life moment? If so, share your comments below.