Granny Wham started teaching Sunday School when she was 18 and only quit over 50 years later because a stroke left her too weak to stand long enough to deliver the weekly lesson. She started teaching Sunday School at Dials United Methodist Church down Highway 101 where she grew up, but the bulk of her teaching years were given to Beulah Baptist Church in Greenpond. By the time I was born, the Sunday School Committee honored her by naming a class after her. “The Martha Wham Bible Class” exists to this day unless it’s changed and no one told me.
Her teaching Sunday School, however, doesn’t force me to still believe the truth of Christianity even in my darkest times. Not her teaching, not the beautiful hymns she used to sing with the choir, not the way she taught me personally about what Jesus expected of me. None of that. What is burned in my mind and scribed on my heart from a childhood spent at her knee is her faith.
Granny Wham had the purest faith of any Christian — man or woman, adult or child, clergy or laity — I’ve ever known. She believed the Bible was the Word of God. It was black (and some red) words on white pages and gray didn’t enter the equation. Granny’s faith in God and His Son Jesus Christ was a rock solid, steel strong backbone for her whole life.
Granny didn’t develop her faith living some cupcake life on easy street. Of The Greatest Generation who came of age during the Great Depression, she worked in the house with her sister — my great-Aunt Mary — and in the fields with her two half-brothers, Uncle Gordon and Uncle Henry. When old enough, she worked in the sweatshop conditions of a textile mill for a time. Her childhood and youth weren’t easy, but her faith endured those hard early years.
Her faith endured watching those brothers go off to war, one to the Army and one to the shipyards. During that awful war she started exchanging letters with a nice young man from a nearby community. That nice (and handsome) young soldier eventually became Papa Wham and her faith and prayers helped bring him and all her loved ones home safely.
Her faith would not forsake her when Papa Wham came in to her hospital room late on a cold night in January 1948, gently took her by the hand and told her their precious infant child — a little girl she never got to hold — had passed away. I’ve lived to see the death of a child rip marriages to shreds and reduce the strongest faith to agnosticism, but it did not overcome Granny. She grieved, and in some very powerful ways, Aunt Judy’s death would mark Granny — and through her, all of us — for the rest of her life, but as the writer said of Job, “Through all this, [s]he never lost her integrity, nor blamed God foolishly.”
Granny’s faith endured some of worst trials through her other two children. Daddy especially was singled out for her unceasing prayers when he was sent to Vietnam for 13 months to fight. I’ve heard how drawn and pale and haggard Granny looked over those months of waiting, never knowing if the knock on the door would reveal an Army officer and a chaplain with the awful news so many mothers received in those terrible years. It wasn’t to be though, and Granny’s faith was rewarded with Daddy’s safe return.
The latter half of Granny’s life gave a multitude of trials. Mama and Daddy’s divorce was a crushing blow to Granny’s heart because is was bitter torture for her to see her family torn. Later, when my Aunt Cathy and Uncle Larry’s had to endure some growing pains in their early years, Granny prayed hard for them too. When Aunt Cathy was so very sick through two extremely difficult pregnancies, Granny stood by constantly to help and to pray. Of all Granny endured, however, one night nearly 20 years ago stands clearest testament to her trust in her Lord.
It was December 1995; Papa had passed away in July on the day after Granny suffered a stroke. For months she had battled to talk clearly and to walk unaided, but worst of all after 49 years — just 6 months shy of 50 — Granny was alone. This night, we’d eaten at Daddy and Teresa’s. I was on the couch with Budge and Granny watching The Trip to Bountiful which reminded me so much of what Granny had endured I was teary-eyed before the old hymn “Blessed Assurance” began to play.
I thought Granny might have dozed off until I heard a voice — not the strong alto that sang to me, read to me, and prayed for me all of my childhood and beyond — a thin voice, a tremulous voice, but for all that, a perfectly clear voice singing softly, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation; purchase of God. Born of His spirit; washing in His blood. This is my story; this is my song; praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story; this is my song; praising my Savior all the day long.” Laid low by a stroke, no longer independent, and bereft of the love of her life, Granny Wham still sang her praises to the One who had never forsaken her, Blessed Assurance truly was her story and her song.
Granny is gone now. I wish she’d been peacefully at the home she and Papa built together, but in her last years, she required more care than we could give her. She was never happy in the nursing home, but her love of us kept her here until she missed Papa more than she needed to stay and “look after us.” So, with Aunt Cathy gently holding her hand she slipped away to join the loves of her life — Papa Wham and Jesus Christ, and that is why she is a powerful reason I still believe.
PurchasePurchasing – Purchasing refers to a business or organization attempting for acquiring goods or services to accomplish the goals of the enterprise. →