My Grammy – Helen Omega Bennett White – born October 17, 1912 in Booneville, Arkansas – was an extraordinary woman.
She was beautiful.
She was a pretty horrible cook. She made a few things really, really well, though. Her Sunday pot roast was legendary.
She was funny.
She was sort of a granola girl ahead of her time. She LOVED the health food store!
She was intelligent.
She had the greenest thumb you ever did see – she could get just about anything to grow – and did!
She believed in women’s rights.
She was very well known for being out in the garden with her butt up in the air – horrible body mechanics, but that’s what she did!
She loved literature.
She especially loved children’s literature. She would go to the library – well past 90 years of age – and check out a huge bag full of children’s books and go home and gleefully devour each and every one.
She was an amazing artist. She loved to paint especially. I have a framed watercolor she did of a rose in my dining room – it’s lovely!
And she loved God with her whole heart.
She was passionate about God’s Word. She read her Bible EVERY SINGLE DAY. She simply did not EVER miss.
She listened to J. Vernon McGee on the radio (and volunteered in his ministry’s offices when she still lived in California) pretty much from day one. Man, she knew her Bible!
And she was very into politics. You did NOT want to get involved in a debate with her on anything of a political nature – she’d totally whoop your butt!
She was a little bit of a wild woman, too! When she was just a girl her Dad ordered the first car – I believe in their county – and when it arrived it was in a big crate – in pieces, with literature on how to put it all together.
My great-grandfather – as you can see here – where he’s holding my Grammy when she was a baby:
…was a one-armed man! He lost his right arm in a cotton gin when he was 11 years old.
He didn’t let that stop him from doing much of anything, though.
He put that car together and taught himself how to drive. And then he taught Grammy how to drive.
She was a young teen – and thrilled!
Ever heard the saying, “Couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn!”?
Yeah, well, she could.
You know – her driving skills never much improved. Yet she was the first to propose a road trip. Or offer to run to the store. Or pick someone up from school. She and my Mom would take driving tours of the United States – like month-long driving tours – and they’d split the driving. How they made it back alive, I just don’t know.
[Here she is at age 93 – Christmas Eve 2005.]
Less than a month after this picture above was taken, Grammy drove for the last time. Lord, it was nearly the last time for more than one person!
Some time in about 1999 Grammy’s doctors told her she shouldn’t drive any longer. She had an eye condition that made it unwise. She had an arrhythmia. She’d had some mini-strokes. She consistently had stroke-level hypertension – and didn’t believe in taking her medication.
All good reasons that she shouldn’t drive.
The fact that she could barely see over the steering wheel probably ought to be thrown in there.
And the fact that she was truly a HORRIBLE driver – oh, the tales we could all tell you. The house she lived in Southern California for fifty years had a long, long driveway. With a cinderblock wall on the driver’s side as you drove in. I have instant flashbacks to that screeching sound as she backed down that driveway. Shudder.
There was a point in time when her driving children, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren would quickly pop up and say, “Oh you need to go where? Let me take you! I wanted to spend a little time with you anyway!” And she’d protest, saying no one needed to bother about her – she could do it herself. And we’d always counter, “Of course you can, but when else are we going to have a chance to spend some time together?!”
The fact that she didn’t have more accidents, and nearly no traffic tickets – is a testament to the tough stuff that guardian angels are made of!
So… January 2006 rolled around, and it was a ton of change going on in all of our lives. It’s too long a story to go into, but suffice it to say we were all moving – all of us – after decades and decades. And Grammy, for several weeks had been casually hinting that maybe the best course of action for her driving future was to donate her car to a ministry that she believed much in. We – OF COURSE – cheered that thought, but she seemed never nearer to actually following through with that plan.
One day – when John and I were at the house we had all moved out of, with Grammy in tow – and said car parked in front – she looked up and said, “Well, I think I’ll just drive on over to Byron’s house and leave the car there. Maybe he can give me a ride home. If he’s not there, then I’ll just go ahead and drive back.”
John and I instantly got the deer in the headlight look, and I scrambled… “Um… Hey… I should call him and see what he’s up to!” I smiled, and fumbled for my cell phone. I quickly dialed my Uncle Butch (aka Byron). “Hey Butchey Wootchie! How ya doing?” I used to call him Butchey Wootchie when I was a toddler and he lived with my Mom and Dad.
“Good!” He countered. “What’s up?”
“Well, I said,” Grammy looking on as I spoke, “Grammy was just thinking maybe she should drive her car out there to you. You going to be there?”
“She’s WHAT?!” He sputtered on the other end. Then recovering… “She’s standing right there?”
“Yep!” I answered.
“Why don’t you ask her if one of you guys could drive her there instead?” He offered.
“Hey Grammy. Butch is going to be there. But he was thinking that maybe John or I should go ahead and drive you over.” I smiled.
“NO!” She said VERY adamantly. “I will be driving the car over. You can tell him that.” She said in the stern Mom voice. Even at 4’10 and 95 pounds – she could be scary!
“I heard.” He said. “Maybe one of you could follow her?” He asked.
Amazingly enough, she looked kind of puzzled, looked to John and said; “Maybe you should follow me, though. I’m not sure I can find the way. It’s been a while since I’ve driven out there.”
“LORD HAVE MERCY!” Butch said into the phone. “She has no business driving!”
John quickly answered to cover up Butch’s enthusiastic response, “Sure, Helen, I’d be happy to do that. Do you want to follow me, though?”
“Well, maybe that is a good idea.” She conceded.
6.5 miles of mostly straight shot. Okay – maybe she could do it.
So – moments later, John and Grammy loaded up in their respective cars, and John led the way.
I worked on cleaning up the house, prayed, worked on cleaning up the house, prayed, and prayed some more. This was back in the day before anyone else in the family had a cell phone. So I had to wait – not knowing!
A couple hours later John and Grammy came through the front door. I quickly went to them. “How’d it go?” I asked Grammy.
“Terrible!” She spat and stormed past me.
I looked up at John – who was working really hard to keep from laughing. He motioned me out front. I quickly followed.
“What happened?!” I asked.
“We were driving down Murray. She was going about 10 miles an hour under the speed limit like she normally does, and I was going slow to keep us together. It wasn’t too long before I realized she was really weaving in the lane. REALLY weaving.”
My eyes got wide.
“Well, we get down to the part of Murray where there’s no divider – you know, the bend past the fire station – before you get on the bridge. She starts drifting from her lane – into the oncoming path of a SEMI TRUCK!” His blood pressure was rising just recounting it!
“OH MY WORD!”
“Oh – it gets better!” He assured. “Just as before impact is unavoidable she swerves back toward her own lane – RUNNING OVER ONE OF THE SAPLINGS IN THE MEDIAN! – and going on her merry way – just as if nothing had happened!”
“NO!” I gasped.
“Oh – wait. It still gets better.” He promised. “Just as she gets righted in her lane she looks up and I can see from the look on her face that she doesn’t really recognize where she is – or the fact that I’m in the car in front of her. I see her get in the right lane at TV Hwy – past the point where I can get there safely – and she takes a right!”
“So I quickly swing around the little traffic median there and make a right anyway. I’m following her – and I can see that she’s not sure where she is still. As we go down TV Hwy a little while, she puts on her left signal and turns left onto 170th. I thought, ‘phew – okay – at least she’s on a side street!'” He shook his head. “But then the cop pulled in behind her and put his lights and siren on. I thought she was going to stroke out behind the wheel!”
“Oh my goodness!”
“Yeah – well, it took her quite a while to realize that there was a cop behind her trying to get her to pull over. I figure the truck driver must have called and reported her.” He shook his head. “The officer approaches her window; she rolls it down – good thing she went to such great lengths to find her driver’s license before we left!”
It’s true – she’d torn through a bunch of stuff trying to find it. Good thing, huh?!
“So I approached the officer as he got out of his car and introduced himself, explaining that I was her grandson-in-law, and that we were in the process of taking her car to her son’s home – and that this would be her last drive. He nodded knowingly, and we both went to the car.”
“He did the normal ask for the driver’s license and registration thing. She produced them.”
“Mrs. White,” the officer began. “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
She was very flustered, and said, “No officer, I have no idea why you pulled me over!” She really didn’t.
“Mrs. White, do you know that you ran over a tree back there a ways?”
“No! I did no such thing!” She insisted.
He reached over and pulled a limb of said tree from the undercarriage of her car and displayed it for her. It was sizeable.
“I did?!” She asked, in dismay.”
“Yes, Mrs. White, you did. Not only that, you nearly hit an oncoming vehicle.”
“Oh my!” She was truly perplexed – she had no memory of any of that.
“Mrs. White, I’m going to have to suspend your license. I could write you a ticket and charge you a fine, but I’m not going to do that. And I’d like your grandson-in-law here to drive the rest of the way to your son’s home. And Mrs. White – I’d like this to be the last time you drive. Do you understand that?”
“Yes, alright officer. Thank you.” She said dejectedly. She got out of the car, went around to the passenger side, got in, buckled, and that was that.
But honestly – she should have given up driving – oh, about the day after she started learning how!
We all breathed a collective sigh of relief that day.
We also prayed many prayers of blessing on the head of that wonderful Washington County Sheriff.