Celebrating a colorful life

My extended family celebrated my maternal grandmother’s 100th birthday with her in March. Her children, grandchildren, great-children and even great-great-grandbabies gathered from around the country to visit her and catch up with one another. We shared memories and introduced her to new members of the family, and we were thankful to have the opportunity to tell her in person that we loved her.

Many of us returned to northwest Kansas only a few weeks later to honor her century-long life, as last month she concluded her time on this earth and was laid to rest next to Granddad at the little town of Norcatur, where they met and married.

In this season when we set aside time to honor mothers, I’ve been reflecting on the legacy my mother’s mother left behind and all the lessons she taught me.

I was blessed to grow up close to both sets of grandparents, and I have many happy memories of visiting Grandma Brunk’s house, eating her homemade chicken and noodles over mashed potatoes, roller skating at the fairgrounds while she and Granddad square-danced, and opening presents by their fireplace on Christmas morning.

My friends loved Grandma too and shared my fondness for her chocolate waffle cookies. These sweet treats were a welcome reminder of home when I received them in care packages while attending Kansas State University and Western Sydney University in Australia. She showed me how to make noodles and cookies, but I have never been able to make them taste quite the same. My daughter earned a blue ribbon on her 4-H cookies at the Kansas State Fair with Grandma’s recipe several years ago.

Grandma taught me important lessons about living out your faith. Like many in rural America, Grandma demonstrated her love and her faith with actions, not just words. She volunteered for church events, drove neighbors to appointments, and helped wherever she could to make her community a better place. She continued her daily devotions and Bible study even as it became more difficult to see and write.

She had a blessed life but still knew struggles and tragedy. Her father met his untimely death several months before she was born. She experienced the Dust Bowl and the Depression, a world war, and the death of her oldest child when he was in high school. Yet she remained faithful through all these challenges and persevered. Grandma demonstrated how to make do with what you have been given and to extend grace to others.

She taught me that you’re never too old to learn something new. She took up painting in retirement and never stopped expressing her creativity. Coloring books eventually took the place of blank canvasses, and her room at the nursing home was filled with containers of colored pencils and pens of every shade.

As I plant container gardens with my own daughter, I recall the chats I had with Grandma on her back deck as she tended to her colorful blooms, often while wearing equally colorful clothing.

When I look at the paintings I have inherited—from kangaroos hopping into the sunset to the bucolic scene featuring an old red barn beside my desk—I am reminded of her rich, colorful life and the dedication she put into every stroke of paint. The great-grandchild who once received a lesson in using watercolor pencils from Grandma at the kitchen table is now a talented artist studying graphic design at university. I’m thankful that my children knew their great-grandmother and—like my mother and me—inherited her creative vision of the world and appreciation for art.

“May You Always,” a song popularized by the McGuire Sisters in the 1950s, is a song my mom and aunts performed as a quartet for Grandma and Granddad at their 40th anniversary celebration and at other times over the years. May this verse be a comfort to you if you are also remembering a mother or grandmother this week who is no longer with us but lives on in your heart.

May your heartaches be forgotten

May no tears be spilled

May old acquaintance be remembered

And your cup of kindness filled

Shauna Rumbaugh can be reached at 620-227-1805 or [email protected].