Virginia Hughes marvels at a grandmother who dared to say yes.
Grandma Kitty was never a young bride, but she sure was a brave one when she married late in life at 83 years of age. Kitty’s bravery in marriage started even earlier at age 45 when she married her first groom, my grandfather, a traveling evangelist and general superintendent of a fundamental church denomination. Grandpa was a charming and engaging gentleman, but he was also preoccupied, and mostly absent from the home front. He lived out of suitcases covered with stickers from his worldwide travels. He was rarely home for long. When he was home, he left early in the morning for meetings at the church headquarters. In the evenings, he retired to his home library after dinner to write sermons and church history books. My father, as a young boy, pointed at his father and asked, “Mommy, who is that man?” My father did eventually figure out the disappearing man was his own father whom he grew to admire and dearly love. My grandfather was easy to love if you could ever find him or catch his attention.
Kitty was a California girl named Kathryn, who nearly everyone called Kitty. She answered an ad, “Help Wanted: office worker in Indianapolis Church Headquarters.” Having rented a room in a house with other single ladies, Kitty keenly missed her family, the San Louis Obispo coast, the moderate weather, fresh seafood, and ripe, succulent fruits and vegetables so readily available in California. But the church office kept her busy enough and her industrious work ethic was unmatched. After a few years she moved into the position of head secretary, assisting both Grandpa, and Armor, a church executive, and good friend of Grandpa’s. Kitty was anxious to please and efficiently completed each task she was given. She was teased by the other secretaries for her bustling manner around the office. Kitty, added a brisk walk to her lunch break to burn off her kinetic energy. She could have led a Zumba or CrossFit class all day long if that sort of thing was done by a lady back in the nineteen forties.
Grandma Alice, my red haired grandmother, and Grandpa’s first wife, sadly weakened and died from cancer and Grandpa was in mourning. After mourning, he eventually proposed marriage to Kitty. It was 1945, and Kitty had recently turned 45. Grandpa always called her Kathryn. “Kathryn, will you pray about the possibility of becoming my wife in the near future?” Kitty, resigned by now to being single, exclaimed in surprise, “My word!” and“My lands!” before saying “Why yes, I guess I will. I WILL pray about it and I WILL also marry you, yes!”
After being married for a short while, Grandpa began packing his suitcase for several weeks of travel, and Grandma Kitty who had typed the travel itinerary, spoke up, “I am your wife, I am 45 years old, and I have already been alone all these years. I did not marry you to be left alone while you travel all over the world.” So she packed her own suitcase and joined his ministry, traveling alongside Grandpa for twenty five years. She played the piano mightily in the church services, conferences and camp meetings where he preached. She had studied piano performance in college, yet had never before enjoyed such an inspirational opportunity to share her musical gifts.
When Dad brought us to visit Grandpa and Kitty in their home, she called us little darlings and showed us the special drawer in the dining buffet cabinet with games, Tiddlywinks, Pick Up Sticks, a box of new crayons, and fresh coloring books. For one who never had children, she was always thinking of us in the best possible ways. She would sit us beside her at the piano and pound out hymns and we would sing with great gusto. She gave my father a set of classical record albums so us eight children would have some culture in our rustic missionary station overseas. We could listen to all the composers, Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, with our favorite being Grieg’s, “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” which ran our imaginations wild as we crept around to the music. Grandma Kitty hoped aloud that between the classical music, God’s mercy, and our patient mother, we’d not turn into a tribe of hooligans out there in what she called “the missionary woods.” This was all exclaimed in great fun with her laugh trilling like piano keys up and down the scales while we all joined in the laughter.
Kitty was suddenly single again at 70 when Grandpa died. She moved back to California to spend her remaining years in the moderate climate of her beloved San Louis Obispo. For twelve years she poured over the old photos, and curios she and Grandpa had collected together from decades of trips. She drove up the winding road toward the bluffs, reveling in the scented breeze wafting through the eucalyptus grove. Walking along the bluffs in Morro Bay, playful otters ate oysters and frolicked in the waves. She talked to the Cal Poly students gathering research at the Peregrine Falcon Watch on Morro Rock. Kitty wrote letters to us: I watched the most glorious sunset at Pismo Beach last night.
And I wish you could see how magnificent the great blue herons look nesting in the rookery this year. God’s marvelous blessings are evident all around. I have felt the greatest peace that passes all understanding this very week. Grace upon grace upon grace.
Kitty was an exclaimer of how marvelous something was; how glorious. How heaven sent.
She was a woman who loved God and his creation in the superlative. Her words to describe his majesty around her were the language of worship, found in Scripture and hymns, “How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be.” She marveled at all God’s wondrous creation. To be with her was to be following her joyful exclamations toward the outdoors to gaze up at clouds, check what the trees are doing, and just look at the birds on the wing. “Marvelous grace of our loving Lord.” Was a hymn she played, along with, “ Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace.”
Kitty had strong connections back in the Midwest and jumped when an opportunity came to visit friends and family here. By doing so, she unwittingly opened the marriage portal once again. She bumped into Armor, Grandpa’s buddy, at a gathering of old friends who had worked together at the church headquarters in the old days. Armor asked her to dinner. Before the first course, wasting absolutely no time, Armor asked if Kitty would consider marrying him? Kitty came back to my parents’ home giggling; aflutter, blushing about the idea of marriage now. And did you ever; what on earth? “My lands!”
Armor had been a friend of the family for decades. My parents were thrilled. They worried about Kitty living so far away in California. My parents knew she was struggling financially and with loneliness too. If she married Armor, she would be cared for nearby, and not be alone. Kitty said, “I really like this new idea, except for one thing. “I’ll have to move back here to the freezing, cold Midwest. My lands! I don't know if I can bear it!” Also, who gets married at my age?” Kitty enjoyed that Armor at 85, was a few years older than herself. “If Armor can get married at 85, maybe I can at 83,” She laughed and went home to California to think about her future. Armor followed her to California to woo her on her home turf. He wisely reminded Kitty that California was a mere plane ticket away. He would most certainly buy her all the plane tickets she needed to return for visits.
True love was in the couples’ eyes as they giggled a little during the sweet marriage ceremony in late summer in front of family and a few friends. Kitty said, “Our most marvelous Lord has been so gracious to me!” And the two held hands and got married.