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SAM'S VARIETY STORE


When the holidays start to ease their way into my mind, the memories kick in & my emotions follow suit. I get very nostalgic! For me, that’s the months of November & December and part of January…the time frame that you take the memories out &, later, put them all away. I like to take the holidays in order, not focusing on one before it’s due time. Anything that brings back moments with people who I hold near & dear in my life gets an annual emotional “review.” It just naturally happens.

Sam’s Variety Store was my friend growing up. It was located on the Northeast corner of the only intersection on Main Street, in the small Iowa farming community of 2000, that I grew up in. Sam’s was my childhood version of Walmart. It pretty much had everything a body needed. Plus, it had Sam. He was awesome! A kind, people-loving man who spoke to, & smiled at, everyone who walked through the doors. Besides having school supplies, household items, toiletries, & clothes, it also had a lot of appealing confections behind the counter. Sam was also smart. He knew it was too hard on kids to have the sugar readily available. You had to ask. But Sam’s Variety had a couple other things that drew me in.

On the weekends, there was a popcorn machine AND a snow cone machine set up on the sidewalk. It was indeed a treat to buy either! Although a nickel & a dime went much further in those days, we didn’t always stop. First things came first…food & other needs. A second picture in my mind’s eye is Sam’s two, large, glass display windows on either side of the entrance door. One was scattered with a sampling of items, available for purchase, in the store. The other window showcased my very own, endearing, Grandma Grace.

Grandma Grace became a widow when I was 7 years old. She had cared for my Grandpa for two years as he lay fighting cancer, on a hospital bed, in their enclosed front porch. I think they chose that location because there were windows on three sides. It was the most pleasant view & it was easy access for visitors. Grandma was a “homespun” woman. There wasn’t much she couldn’t grow, sew, can or craft. Growing up, she kept my sister & I outfitted in flannel pajamas, slippers, Sunday dresses, & school clothes. Her old Singer machine rarely sat idle. One of my favorite, & last, things she made for me was a jumper repurposed from an old, but classy, coat. My friends would “oo-o & ah-h” and loved the stories behind my clothes. 😊 To this day, we make Grandma Grace mashed potatoes. They were as legendary as her cinnamon rolls with us kids.

When Grandpa went Home to Jesus, Grandma supplemented her income by filling Sam’s display window with knitted & crocheted handmade items. Pretty handkerchiefs, baby booties, caps, sweaters, & blankets were never out of reach. Her handiwork was beautiful! Folks could make requests if they wanted a specific color, pattern or design. She was so accustomed to having knitting needles, or crochet hooks, in her hands that they became a favorite tickling tool for us. From her profits, Grandma also gave the four grandchildren 3 presents, each, at Christmas time. Some were homemade & some were purchased. I’ll never forget the time she gave me a (still available) weaving loom. She had taught me simple knitting but here was another opportunity for me to create! I knew these gifts represented a sacrifice of time & money. Because of the relationship my parents maintained with all 4 of my grandparents, we naturally held them in high esteem too. Gifts from them were a “big deal.” Although likely considered small by today’s standards, the love invested in the making & thoughtfulness toward each child, made them irreplaceable in personal value. Sadly enough, in our high-tech, commercialized world, the value of interaction between grandparents & grandchildren is being overtaken by busyness, competition, & comparison. And our culture is worse for the lack.

Grandma was a strong woman. I don’t recall her complaining or feeling depressed. And if she did, she didn’t let those feelings be known to me. She knew her neighbors & they watched out for each other. I, too, knew most of them. Since she only lived a block from school, we popped in for visits. And my Dad could fix most anything she needed repaired. When I was too young to recall clearly, Grandma had battled breast cancer & other female health issues. The summer I turned 14, she was fighting lymphoma cancer. Her leg was completely swollen, top to bottom. She wasn’t allowed to be up…at all. So, throughout June, July, & August, I took care of her in her home. It’s one of those things I look back on with no regrets. Other family had to work so my Mom continued caring for our family, while stepping in to help me when needed. As the starting of school approached, Grandma worsened significantly until she had to be hospitalized. On September 14, 1968, Grandma joined Grandpa in heaven. My last visual memory is peeking into her hospital room & hearing her cry out to Jesus as she raised her hands toward heaven. The cancer had metastasized throughout her body, to her brain, & she was in a great deal of pain. She died later that evening.

Having had cancer myself, my memories are even more endearing this holiday season. Although bittersweet because I miss the people, I am thankful for the blessings. I have a deeper appreciation for time & talents invested in giving. I have experienced the deep bonds of love, companionship, & loyalty with older generations. These values can’t be purchased. They are a forever kind of bonding in that they are woven into the fabric of my very being. On November 14, I received the news that my sister in Christ, Colleen, passed away around 10am. She fought stage 4 pancreatic cancer for 4 months. We never met personally, but we developed a heart-connect, nevertheless, when I was asked to send her my anchor jewelry. In her last text to me, she told me she was praying for my sister-in-law, Karen. In that moment, the totality of the past 7 months flashed through my mind & overwhelmed my emotions. And I cried. The 3 of us (Colleen, Karen, & me) were all caught off guard by our diagnosis. I was struck by what a difference a day can make. Or an hour. Or the minute you’re in. As much as I love my family, Jesus Christ is my only guarantee.

Without Jesus, life offers nothing of transforming, permanent, eternal value. Without Him as the glue, relationships don’t stand firm through time-tested trials. Without Him, no tradition has any soul-nourishing effect. Because outside of Him, there is no HOPE, & there is no PEACE. Today, I’m thankful for the truth that courses through my soul, when I remember the selfless choices exemplified by my parents & grandparents. They became spiritual steppingstones, designed by the Lord, to lead me to Jesus Christ, the ultimate sacrifice & the ONE TRUE GIFT. <3


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