My Grandma Valentine was sunshine. Even before she accepted Christ as her personal Lord and Savior, God made my grandma an amazing woman. Looking back on her life, anyone can see that she had the special ability to love others with her whole heart and serve with great joy. Her smile could light up the room, and in her 98 years of life, she touched the hearts of everyone around her. Her life of love and service can’t be contained within a single document, but I’d like to share a part of her sunshine with you today.
If you were headed to Grandma Valentine’s house, you’d better be hungry! Grandma’s house was always a warm and inviting place. When she and my grandpa lived at the base of Mt. Princeton in Buena Vista, my family visited often. Grandma always had a delicious home-cooked meal ready as soon as we walked in the door. Sometimes it would be her comforting hamburger beef vegetable soup with cornbread; other times we were welcomed by the smell of cooking Swiss steak with mashed potatoes and green beans. As tiny children, my siblings and I would sit on the counter watching her as she cooked, and sneaking tastes of each dish. Our favorite was helping her roll out the dough for her homemade noodles and then cutting it into bite-sized pieces to add to the soup. Many of my grandma’s delicious recipes are still continuing on today since she shared them with me when I moved out on my own and learned to cook. They are some of my favorites!
When my grandparents moved to an apartment ten minutes from our house, we visited even more frequently. But no matter what time of day it was, the rule was the same: always show up to Grandma’s house hungry! She always had some new recipe she was trying that we had to test out – a sweet pineapple upsidedown cake or her new discovery that she could cook bacon in the microwave (she always seemed amazed that she could prepare things so quickly in a microwave). If she didn’t have something cooking or baking, she’d offer us a Little Debbie cupcake or some candy or chocolate from her abundant stash. And she always kept red hot candies stocked in a special mug on her counter. We grandkids and our best friends spent a lot of time at Grandma’s pool in the summertime, which worked up enormous appetites. But Grandma was always ready with hot dogs or grilled cheese or fish sticks. And you couldn’t forget to wash it all down with a glass of ice cold chocolate milk or Grandma’s homemade sweet tea!
Grandma Valentine was also very generous with her belongings, her time, and her space. Since she was a retired beautician, she was our very own personal hairdresser. She always made time to cut each of our hair, and Becca and I kept her up to speed with all the latest hair styles from side bangs to face framing layers. Grandma loved turtles – the chocolate covered peanut clusters. But whenever she got a new box for Christmas or her birthday, she couldn’t keep them to herself, so the box would get passed around until everyone had had enough. At nearly every holiday she was slaving away in the kitchen helping my mom prepare the meals. Even when she was frail and using a walker, she could be seen after a meal attempting to carry some dirty dishes from the table to the kitchen sink. ;)
Grandma’s door was always open to the four of us grandkids. When they lived in the mountains, we would sometimes spend an entire week of our summer hanging out at Grandma and Grandpa’s. We’d go to town to feed the ducks on the pond and get delicious ice cream from Kay’s Dairy Delight. And then we’d visit the little town library and load ourselves up with books. Becca and I could spend hours sitting on the patio or inside the cozy house reading our books, and Grandma waited on us hand and foot to make sure our pizza goldfish and chocolate milk didn’t run out! John preferred to be working on his own “Colorado Trail” that wound its way around their house. After dinner we’d all gather at the table again to play a game of cards. And each time we stayed, it was an extra special treat for us kids to get our turn to sleep in Grandma and Grandpa’s bed – right smack dab in the middle of them both!
We spent many nights in the guest room at their apartment as well. Grandma spent countless hours taking little Stephen out on walks as he checked to make sure there wasn’t a single sprinkler in the complex left sticking up. She always had a meal ready for John if he happened to pop in for a visit in between his mission trips to Africa. She taught Becca and me to stitch a patchwork quilt by hand and showed us romantic letters Grandpa had written to her while he was away at war. And she always had creative ways to solve our sibling problems – like when she stuck Grandpa’s giant stuffed fish between us sisters in bed to keep us from bugging each other overnight. ;)
My Grandma Valentine was also the most faithful and devoted wife. She served my grandpa with love and joy until the day he died. She kept the house tidy and served him every meal just the way he liked it. She made sure he was eating healthy, layering his broccoli and cauliflower with melted cheese to get him to eat his veggies and serving him his afternoon snack of “pudding” (which was actually yogurt!). When we went to the pool, she had a plate of food prepared specially for my grandpa so that he could eat his lunch even if we weren’t done swimming yet. And when he was unable to chew hard food, she would test every piece of chocolate in the box to make sure he could enjoy only the soft filled ones. Since my grandpa loved to read, she visited the library frequently to make sure he always had a stack of books handy, and she covered him with his warm lap blanket if he got cold. She loved and served her husband with a devotion I hope to emulate in my own marriage.
Grandma Valentine never used the Internet or much technology, but she was the most diligent communicator. When I went off to my freshman year of college, Grandma wrote to me faithfully. She didn’t want me to be lonely, so she mailed me a card every single week. I did my best to write back, sending her pictures and telling her all about college and how I was doing, but even if I hadn’t sent her a letter, she got updates from the rest of my family and her letters never faltered. She would also tell me how things were going on her end – which butterflies or birds had visited their patio, what kind of flowers she had blooming, and updates about my grandpa. She didn’t send mail as often after my first year away, but the letters kept coming on a regular basis for at least 7 years as I finished college and got my first jobs teaching middle school and then 5th grade.
Grandma Valentine deeply valued every member of our family and loved to celebrate our joy. She was interested in anything and everything we were doing. After she was unable to write, she loved to look at pictures on my computer or my phone. When I went for a visit, she would sit patiently as I showed her all the pictures I’d taken since the last time I’d seen her. She always gave us her full attention, giggling and squealing at the funny ones, asking me questions and sharing comments, and smiling brightly as we went through picture after picture of my life. Even though she wasn’t there for every event, it was as if she had been. When she found out that my brother John would be getting married in France this summer, she asked my dad if we were going. And when she found out that we would all be there, her face lit up. Because even though she knew she couldn’t go, she was so glad that the rest of us would be there for John on his special day.
But Grandma Valentine’s sunshine spread far beyond her biological family. She made friends wherever she went! Even though their houses were spread out, she knew all the neighbors around them in Buena Vista. And when my grandparents moved closer to us, she still kept that small town feel. She was practically best friends with the office ladies at their apartment complex. Every day when she walked to check her mail, she’d visit with whomever was on staff that day. When we came over to swim, she’d get in conversations with them again, and I remember hearing their voices and laughter as we played in the pool. She knew the latest scoop at the apartment complex. She always requested the same dental hygienist and I’m sure had friends at the grocery store, the library, and the doctor’s office, too! When she moved to Arvada Estates, she would eat her meals with her little group of friends and greeted them when they passed each other in the hallway. The workers and hospice nurses that cared for her loved her to pieces and adopted her as if she were their family. When she found out that one of the workers had lost her own grandma, my Grandma Valentine offered that she could be her grandma.
On the evening of May 24, the night that she died, I remember looking out the window to see the most breath-taking sunset. At first I had the urge to run and get my camera, but I knew that this kind of beauty can’t be captured in a picture – just like the graceful sunshine of my Grandma’s life. So instead, I sat there in silence admiring the vibrant colors until they faded to darkness. And then I received the news that my grandma had just passed away. My Grandma Valentine, who spread sunshine everywhere for 98 years, had been welcomed to her heavenly home. And she leaves behind her the beauty of a sunset that can only be touched through memories.