Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Grand Old Lady of the Church

Wenonah Muriel Barnes
August 6, 1917 – September 22, 2008

Grandma Barnes came into my life in 1987. I had arrived at Scarborough Gospel Temple and began serving as the Youth Pastor – 21 years ago.

I was much younger then – still able to keep up to the Youth of the Church. Grandma Barnes and Grandpa Barnes were much younger then too. She was 80 and he was a bit older.

There seemed to be a perpetual smile on her face and always had a willingness to greet you. She was a continual encouragement to everyone.

Early yesterday morning Great Grandma Barnes slipped away from us and into the presence of God. Her Harold was waiting for her. It was time. She was 101 years old and one month.

Flash Back One…
Grandma Barnes came into my life when her Grandson Bill started dating my daughter Anda. That was about 19 years ago – I have hard time remembering now – it seems that I have known both her Grandson Bill and Grandma Barnes forever. Bill would become my son-in-law. Then Grandma Barnes and I began sharing the eventually four wonderful Grandkids – for her it was her great grandkids.

Flash Back Two…
Her Harold was a joker. He would shock you by telling you that he was a “White N----r”! Yes it was the “N” Word designating a Black person in a negative way. He had been born in South Africa and was proud of his roots – but being born in Africa should make you black – he was white… well you get the idea I am sure.

One day at their house on Bobmar, Grandma Barnes was standing on the front step calling for Grandpa Barnes. As we drove into the driveway we caught the scene playing out in front of us. She was standing on the front step calling his name loudly, “Harold! Harold!” He was standing at the end of the driveway, around the corner of the house from her, grinning. We could see him, she couldn’t. The louder she called the more he grinned. When he saw our car pull into the driveway he motioned us to be quiet, don’t tell her where I am… by putting his fore finger to his lips and indicating “Shhhhhh…!”

Flash Back Three…
Grandma Barnes was then about 98 or 99 years old. She was attending a Funding Raising event for her church, Scarboro Gospel Temple. She was sitting near the entrance which allowed her access to see everyone coming through the door. Many of us had come back to support our church. For Grandma Barnes it was not so much to support the church as it was to see all her old friends from the church. However with most of her friends from the church having already passed away, she was looking for her younger friends – who came to hug her and give her their greetings.

As she sat there greeting people, extending her hand each time, it was as if she was the Queen holding Court – greeting her subjects as they came through the door. I waited with others to pass through the greeting area.

She saw my wife and me and grinned from ear to ear. We were beckoned closer. My wife shook her hand and then it was my turn. I looked at her pretending a shock and said with as much surprise that I could, “Don’t tell me you are still alive! I don’t believe it!”

People around us looked at me as if I was nuts. But their reaction was not the same as Grandma Barnes’. She was very quick. She said loudly, “Yes I am! And I am more alive than you are!”

Flash Back Four…
I think it was either Grandson Jonathan or Grandson Thomas that gave Great Grandma Barnes her other nickname… “Big Barnes”. The boys are full of life. When all four were over to her house they provided a form of entertainment for her that far surpassed the Gaither Videos or the Wheel of Fortune (or whatever her favorites were on TV).

Our daughter Anda would often stop to see how Great Grandma was doing. Or at other times be there for family events.

Great Grandma wanted to play with the boys. She would reach out with her cane when they ran by and would try to catch them. They would run and laugh as Great Grandma did her stuff. One time one of the boys decided he had enough, I think it was Thomas. He snuck up on her with a knitted quilt that had been lying on the couch beside her. He then threw the quilt over her head and ran away. His reasoning was easy to understand… “If she can’t see me – she can’t catch me!” Everyone laughed, even Great Grandma.

Another time when the one grandson was running by her chair she managed to reach out and grab his shirt. He was not going to be stopped and pulled even harder…like any great football player would trying to break the tackle. He continued and she hung on. The next thing that happened was he was free and she and her lazy boy chair were lying on their sides. Great Grandma was spilled unceremoniously out of the floor in front of laughing Great Grandsons.

Flash Back Five…
“Precious Promises” were one of her favorites. You may remember them – in a small box were rows of small card with scripture verse and thoughts printed on both sides. It was used as a small reminder that God was faithful.

Now consider this scene. When we sat to eat together, everyone pulled in close to the table. The Great Grandsons were hungry, mischievous, giggling, poking and whatever young boys do. After we ate, Great Grandma Barnes would insist on having each one of us pull a small card from her Precious Promise box – then read it. Keeping young kids at the table was not always possible.

This was her very old tradition of Family Devotion. Everyone should participate.

This family devotion had kept her through all these years. When her son-in-law Bill was killed in the airplane accident, her pregnant daughter Lois came to live them. When young Billy arrived he grew up knowing the Precious Promises at each meal. He was hungry, mischievous, giggling, poking and whatever his young boys do now. But he sat and listened… probably driven crazy by “Big Barnes” – like his sons were.

Whatever family crisis, family joy or family anything happened – there were Precious Promises that kept them all these years.

Today Great Grandma Barnes no longer struggles with memory issues or with the discomfort that she had these last months. I see her, in my mind, skipping and leaping with her Harold. Now she is living the Precious Promises that have kept her for over 101 years.

On Saturday afternoon, we are gathering to say our good byes to a Grand Old Lady of the Church. I have no doubt that the stories told will deeply move us all – as we describe “Barnesy”, Great Grandma, Grandma and Mom.

And Grandma Barnes… I agree with you when you said… “Yes I am! And I am more alive than you are!”

~ Murray Lincoln ~

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