Simplicity and Loving It

December 14, 2009
Grandmothers are a pure and special kind of people. The stereotype portrays them as old-fashioned, well-meaning (but behind with the times), and wise strongholds who spout parables of what it was like “back in the day.” While this does describe Vera Johnson, it doesn’t quite dig deep enough to unearth what these characteristics really mean and what value they have on society. Grandma Vera’s smiling eyes and ninety-year-old frame hide a quiet strength, and her simplicity and old-fashioned ways are exactly what teach us what is truly important. In an age of fast-paced get-it-now attitude, the grandmotherly worldview is precisely the reminder we need to bring us back to reality.

Vera has faced many problems in her lifespan—the world has changed a lot since 1919. She comments that even though she never had a lot of money in her life and her mother died when she was young, her childhood was “comfortable.” The Great Depression was nearly a non-event for her, in fact—as she says, her parents probably felt it, but she always had enough to eat, and “in those days, we didn’t have to have everything like people do now. As long as you have enough to eat and a respectable place to live, you’re well off.” The war was frightening, and politics weren’t such a problem until she got older. Later, she gave birth to fourteen children—a pair of twins, a baby girl with Down Syndrome (now into her sixties) included—and supported them all with the help of her husband. “I never thought about it being a hardship,” she says. “We were a farming family, with a big garden, and always had food and meat from the cows, pigs, and chickens.” They did their own butchering and the kids took care of various chores to keep up the farm. So while she didn’t slay any monsters or travel farther than Colorado, she still had to deal with the issues of the times and her large family, all with little money.

One thing Grandma Vera does have in common with Odysseus is her faith. Many times in The Odyssey, Odysseus had to give the situation over to Athena or Hermes to help him through it. In her own life, Vera trusted many matters to God, and attributes any success she has had to Him. As she says, it “did me an awful lot of good. Without my faith in God, life would have been a lot harder. The Good Lord certainly provides for me and my family, and still does. I think that was a very, very important part of my life, from childhood on. I prayed pretty hard when I got married, that it would work out right. It was a hard road, and I’m sure that I got tired, and grumpy, but I don’t remember that.” Laughing, she adds, “Mostly, anyway.” One instance that tested her faith was her husband’s mental deterioration in the last few years of his life, just a few years ago. He had a disease not quite specified, but it was similar to Alzheimer’s, and she was terrified that he would be placed in a nursing home. While spending time at the hospital, the waiting was tense; however, they eventually decided to put him in hospice care back in their house. She is now satisfied with how it all worked out, and how comfortable the last part of his life was, and again, attributes it to God.

Vera has seen her fair share of the world, living to see shifting political climates, the Great Depression, and war. She started working at age twelve in 1931, and hasn’t lived anywhere else in her entire ninety years. She had family struggles while getting married, lost her mother at a young age, and raised fourteen children in a small ranch house with only five real bedrooms. While some today would consider this a difficult, poor lifestyle, she looks back with nothing but smiles and contentment. This is what makes her both a role model and a symbol of irony in this era—she has had a genuinely successful life completely void of money, fame, or power. As she says she would tell the world if given the chance, “Believe in God and keep your faith, and do what’s right. I don’t know if everybody knows what’s right—everybody seems to think that what they want to do is right.” And, as with most grandmotherly advice, it’s given with a smile and quiet simplicity.

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