I had the blessing of growing up with three remarkable grandparents. But one grandparent died when I was a baby. I yearned to know her.
A Blessed Heritage
I was named after Grandpa Wallace. He was a prominent man in the community. Wherever we went, people knew him and respected him. But what mattered to a little boy was that he took me, Alan, and Beth out for “malts.” Going out for a malt with Grandpa meant a major shopping expedition. As I entered my teen years, he taught me to care for his yard. He took inordinate pride in a job well done.
Grandma Wallace was gentle and gracious. She and Grandpa would invite me for sleepovers at their house. Clean white sheets. An uncrowded house. Breakfasts to remember. It was heaven! I never heard Grandma say an unkind thing. In some ways Grandma is a real and continuing presence in my life; my dear wife, Nancy, exemplifies so many of the same qualities of gentleness, graciousness, and thoughtfulness that characterized Grandma Wallace.
Grandpa Goddard invested his life in church service; he was either a bishop or a stake president for 26 years. I was blessed to hear him recite clever poems and to go home teaching with him. I have inherited some of his books and many of his interests. People expected good things of me because I was his grandson.
But I never knew Grandma Verna Lisle Wright Goddard. She died when I was a baby, only 16 months old. As I grew up I knew her primarily by the 8” by 10” photo of her that never moved from the mantel of the family home.
Grandpa Goddard would live almost 17 years without his beloved companion. How he must have missed the woman with whom he shared his life and for whom he wrote loving verse!
I would live more than 50 years before I came to know Grandma Verna.
We all have empty places that yearn to be filled. One day when I was sorting through my dad’s papers with Mom, I asked about Grandma Goddard. “Oh! How she loved you,” Mom said—as if it were a casual observation that I should already know. I was speechless. No one had ever said anything about how Grandma Goddard felt about me. I did not know that I even showed up on the radar screen of her life. I was pleased to know that I mattered to her.
Still I hungered to have her be an active part of my life. I wanted to know my Grandma. I wanted to hear her voice and have her tousle my hair.
Treasures Disguised as Junk
I asked Aunt Ruth about Grandma. She gave me a box of Grandma’s papers. Newspaper clippings. Old photo negatives. It was, on the whole, a disorderly mess of dusty, unrelated fragments. But there was a scrapbook. The dedication penned in that scrapbook taught me much about Grandmother’s commitments and devotion:
To my children, I lovingly dedicate my book.
They make my life worth living.
They fill my cup of joy to overflowing.
They are my jewels, loaned to me by a loving Father.
For them I would be strong and brave and true.
The book was filled with pictures of her family and her testimony of the gospel. It was a treasure trove to me.
Some of life’s greatest treasures are often disguised as ordinary fragments of mortal business. The box of scraps yielded cherished love notes from Grandpa to her: “To the Dearest Wife and Mother in the world.” “To Verna, More and more I love you, Percy.” “The darlingest in the whole world—my Verna.”
In the box there were also pictures of family outings with my father as a boy. And a pile of carbon copies of letters Grandma wrote to her boys while they were away in World War II. They beckoned me to enter her world.
The letters tell of ordinary events. Church meetings. Weather. Holidays. Scrubbing coal-dust-besotted walls. And they express love, hope, and testimony. As I studied them, I felt that I was a part of their lives. I may not intrude on their doings but I may quietly be there with them. I take an easy chair in the corner of their lives and live every letter. Unlike Grandma I hated for the war to end. Sure, I would be glad for my Father and uncle to come home from the war—but I did not want the letters to end.
But the war did end. The boys came home. They married. In time I was born—a first grandson. I was hardly a year old when Grandma began her battle with cancer. I suppose that our encounter was much like that described by Elder Maxwell: “Then we brush against the veil, as goodbyes and greetings are said almost within earshot of each other.” She was leaving the world just as I arrived.
As I read of her love for her children I came to know Grandma Verna Goddard. I hear her voice speak to my soul. I hear her whisper in my ear as she snuggles me on her shoulder: “Oh, little one, I love you! May God be with you, my beloved grandson.” I will never forget that new memory.
Grandma was a counselor in the General Young Women presidency and a popular speaker. I read her notes for talks. I studied the articles she wrote. I yearned to hear her voice. So I asked if I might follow her on a speaking assignment. The Spirit whispered that I might follow—if I was very still.
So, in my mind, I followed her. I sat in the foyer outside the chapel. I heard her voice as she testified to a group of Young Women in Logan. “I know God. He is good! Love Him. Follow Him. Obey Him.” Her testimony blessed the young women in the gathering and it warmed my soul. The Young Women in the room sat enthralled. I sat in the hall and wept with joy.
I got to hear and know my Grandma Goddard.
I am thankful for a heritage that now includes lessons and love from all four grandparents. I am comforted to know that—despite passing through the veil—their ministering is not finished; rather, it has been refined. They now bless their descendants from the other side of the veil with their enlarged wisdom and greater love. It is a blessing to have them be a part of our lives. Just as Elisha opened the eyes of his panicked and youthful assistant so that he could see that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17), so a box of scraps has opened my eyes to the convoy of loved ones who guard our voyage through mortality.
I offer heartfelt thanks to my Grandparents. I love you, Grandpa Wallace, Grandma Wallace, Grandpa Goddard, and, finally, Grandma Verna Lisle Wright Goddard.