Welcome to Rosie’s Kitchen
No one knew it, but it would be my grandmother’s last trip to the beach. Her heart wasn’t in the best health, but my witty Granny Rosie was otherwise healthy for an 88 year old. Her body might have been soon ready to give up, but her joyful, laughter-filled spirit was as strong as ever. Maybe it was the daily breakfast of a toasted Lender’s bagel with honey nut cream cheese, orange juice, and black coffee that kept her going. Or maybe it was the Chacos sandals she’d been wearing since her 81st birthday that kept her young. Maybe it was the occasional slip-up of calling any of us a moron, or telling us she was going to “jerk a knot in your hootenanny” and “life’s too short to argue” when we were acting a fool. Whatever it was that kept her so sassy, no one but my dad really knew how sick she felt on that beach trip.
Her physical heart was failing her, but her servant’s heart was nowhere close to failing. Her selfless, constant, joyful service to her family has played a great part in shaping who I am as a mother today. There are so many ways a grandmother shows joy-filled service to her family, but my most vivid memories are of Granny Rosie in her kitchen.
My family had a long-standing tradition of burgers on Saturday night at my grandparents’ house. I’ve heard that my great-grandmother started this tradition before I was born. The patties weren’t just any patties. You never had to eat a frozen or pre-made patty at her house. Handmade patties formed, pressed, and grilled by Granny Rosie was the only way– unless you preferred your burger fried in her cast-iron skillet, she’d do that too. Burgers on a Saturday night were a given every weekend. It’s just what we did (and still do, though not as consistently now that my grandmother is gone). Even through middle and high school when most teens want nothing more than to not be with their family, I wanted nothing more than to be at my grandparents’ house for burgers.
Once I went away to college I loved to bring my roommate home on the weekends just so she could experience my family’s burger tradition. It wasn’t unusual to have extra people invited over for burgers. Granny Rosie always welcomed more people and always had enough food. I’ve said many times that if you ever sat at Granny Rosie’s table, you instantly became family. All were welcome and all felt like they belonged. She was the epitome of warm hospitality, genuinely delighted to see and know anyone who came to her table.
Choose the Chicken
Just three weeks prior to Granny Rosie’s death in 2016, the whole family was on a beach vacation — her last of 30-something years of family tradition. Granny Rosie had two requirements for any beach house she rented: she must be able to sit on the porch and see an unobstructed view of the water, and there must be a boardwalk out to the beach so she could easily walk to and from the water. The rest of the family never minded her luxurious requirements!
One night we planned to grill chicken and veggies for dinner. My husband and mom were outside with the kids so I offered to start prepping dinner. Granny Rosie walked into the kitchen as I was pulling everything out of the fridge and asked, “Is there anything I can do to help you, darlin’?” I told her the plans for dinner but didn’t delegate anything to her. I didn’t want her to feel she had to help me, but I quickly realized she didn’t feel like she had to. She simply wanted to.
We stood in front of the chicken and veggies on the counter and I remember thinking to myself, I hope she chooses the chicken. I don’t want to touch that mess. I watched as she immediately went for the chicken. Even though she was feeling sick and weak, she was delighted to pick up several pounds of chicken thighs and breasts to begin cleaning each piece.
I felt a bit of relief and started chopping the veggies, but as I looked at her frail hands struggling to hold the slippery pieces of chicken, I suddenly felt selfish. She should have been swinging on the porch, reading a good book, or watching her great-grandkids play in the sand. She should not have been standing on her feet making a mess with chicken skin and juices. No one asked her to help. No one delegated a job to her. She wanted to serve. She could have easily chosen the easier, cleaner task of chopping veggies. Instead, Granny Rosie chose the chicken.
This moment in the kitchen with Granny Rosie is my last memory with her. It comes to mind often when I feel spent and unable to give anything else to my family. Her act of relentless service is as an encouragement to me (and sometimes a necessary kick in the tail) to keep giving and serving when I think I deserve to stop. What a gift to have my last moments alone with her in the kitchen where she was doing what she did best — showing how to give and give and give with an overflowing heart of service.
A Lifetime of Service
I’m reminded of a quote from The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. In the book, Corrie’s Tante Bep had just passed away and Corrie’s mom and Tante Anna were inspired to start using their God-given gifts like they were running out of time, “as though realizing how brief was anyone’s lifetime of service.”
Granny Rosie must have recognized how brief her lifetime of service was. She didn’t see serving others as another thing that had to be done. She valued the sacred opportunities she was given to serve others with love and joy.
Cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, errands, bills, messes, yard work, and all the boring things in between were done with joy. I never once heard her grumble about another opportunity to serve someone. Her needs, her wants, her feelings, and her thoughts always took a back seat to taking care of the needs of others. And in between all the things, she never declined an opportunity to rock, read, play, or sing to her grandkids and great-grandkids. She lived for the joy of others, and in doing so found utmost joy for herself.
A New Perspective
I want to have the same joy in serving my family, but I usually find the opposite is true when I hear “Mommy” on repeat and have to give the same directions over and over again and my kids still don’t do what I’ve asked. Grumbles and sighs well up in my selfish heart, and if I’m not careful, I can erupt over something as silly as toothpaste on the counter.
My lifetime of service is fleeting. I need to let that sink in.
I’m not guaranteed another tomorrow to fix a cup of water past bedtime for a child I’ve already tucked in.
I’m not guaranteed another tomorrow to wipe down the splattered toothpaste spit all over the bathroom mirror.
I’m not guaranteed another tomorrow to be late because my independent toddler wants to attempt to buckle herself into the car seat.
I’m not guaranteed another tomorrow to help siblings work through an argument.
I’m not guaranteed another tomorrow to fix a cup of milk at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday and watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
It’s so easy for me to grumble and complain about doing the same mundane tasks over and over again, but when I shift my focus from “I have to do this again” to “I get to serve my loved ones again,” it gives me the heart-change I need to do mundane things with gladness.
What type of service do I want to model for my children? The type that selfishly hopes someone else chooses the messy chicken? Or the type that joyfully chooses the chicken even though circumstances say I should be excused?
May I see my service as a gift to my loved ones, not a chore; a gift that I can freely and joyfully give to them. May my service not be wasted in sighs and complaints, but be done with diligence to show honor to those I serve.
May I be the one to choose the chicken.
After all, I had an outstanding example in my grandmother.