“No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.” L. Frank Baum, The Lost Princess of Oz
I had the privilege of knowing both my grandmothers and one of my great-grandmothers. Amos carries the middle name of my Great-Grandma Phillips.
Stella Blanche Wilmoth Phillips was raised in a back woods holler in the fairly new state of West Virginia. Of course there wasn’t anything new about the people there. They were poor Anglican and German descendants eking out a living from the rocky, mountain soil. Coal miners, farmers, and factory workers labored together to create a home that true mountaineers consider “Almost Heaven.”
Grandma Phillips carried furniture on her back to place in her new home when she married. She lived with her in-laws and abode by their rules, meaning she was not free to choose the church she wanted to attend, but worshiped with her husband’s family instead. She was a thin woman with very dark eyes and a beauty mark on her cheek. I remember her best rocking in her chair watching Hee Haw and spitting her snuff in a can at her feet. She would motion me over when the other adults weren’t watching to tell me to go in her room and get some pink peppermint candy off the mantle. You know, the Pepto-Bismal type candies. I would sneak in her room, gather a few pieces from on top the mantle, and then sit under her sewing machine pushing the wrought iron foot pedal that made the wheels turn.
By the time I arrived in the world, life for Great-Grandma had changed. In my time, Great-Grandma Phillips lived with her daughter, my Grandma Fitzwater. When Great-Papaw Phillips passed away, Grandma brought her mother out of the holler and down the run to live with her and Papaw. The Fitzwater house had coal stoves for heat, a wringer washer for the laundry, and moles in the ground. The water was sulfurous.
But it also had Grandma’s homemade chocolate cake. There is none other like it.
While Grandma Phillips had wished to choose her own church, Grandma Fitzwater wished to finish school. When she was young, a girl didn’t “need” to go past eighth grade, and so she was made to stay home working on the farm, learning skills she would need to take care of her own home one day. When Great-Grandma joined the Fitzwater house, she also returned to the church that she had wanted to attend for many, many years. Her wish came true.
However, Grandma never finished high school. Her desire was forever a pipe dream.
She read all of the time. She studied Scripture with a passion. She watched her daughters complete high school, trade schools, colleges, and universities. She lived her dream through them.
If Grandma were alive today, I would tell her that I love her. I love her for working hard, for her generosity that paid for many of my trips home to visit, for her strong faith that she passed on to daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren, and that now is being passed to great-grandchildren.
I remember one day in Kindergarten, Grandma picked me up after school. As we walked to the car parked on the curb, I looked all around for Papaw. He was nowhere to be seen. “Grandma, how will we get home?” I asked.
“I’ll drive us there,” she answered in surprise.
“But you’re a grandma,” I explained. “You can’t drive.” My other grandmother didn’t drive, and so, I assumed, no grandmas drove.
She chuckled, opened the door, and slid next to me on the bench seat. She didn’t need a diploma to prove to me she was a capable, intelligent, wonderful person. She was my grandma, and I loved her.
“Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Proverbs 1:7 NLT