Martha Lee, Carol, faith

During the last nine months, my mother-in-law, Martha Lee, has been a bright light. At 96, she’s stuck in the house but has done what she does best – reach out to others. She sends letters and cards to her large circle of friends and family.

My own kids have been the recipients of some Grandma artwork.

“Don’t tell them,” she said this week. “I’m making them Valentines with my crayons.”

She sent me a cookie recipe and traced her cookie cutters in case I didn’t have any and wanted to get some ideas.

If you know her, she also has a dash of sass, which is fantastic and funny. The last time this life-long Catholic attended my church with me, she threatened to genuflect. I told her no one would care.

And they wouldn’t. I attend Clifton United Methodist for the community, singing and message of hope, acceptance and social activism.

grandma and kids
Martha Lee, Calvin and Max on her 95th birthday. I wish I had a photo of her with Carol.

Two years ago, I read about an Interfaith Thanksgiving service at Hebrew Union College. The Pittsburgh Synagogue shootings had just occurred. Like me, Martha Lee was disturbed by the political climate and heartbroken by the hate. I figured she would enjoy the Interfaith Thanksgiving service, a gathering of Jews, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Muslims, and Presbyterians from the area. She wanted to go and I asked my friend Carol as well.

Carol has ties to Hebrew Union College and her beloved mother Eleanor had passed away two years prior to this. I hoped the service and time with Martha Lee would be comforting. 

Martha Lee sent me tracings of her 50-year-old cookie cutters. We used the recipe she sent.

It was a small gathering but beautiful. Hebrew Union College is the largest Jewish seminary in North America and people of all faiths attend classes at its Cincinnati campus. 

Martha Lee made loud comments during the service, making me giggle. When the Rabbi told a story about World War II, she said, “I remember that!” And you know, she does, so I think she has the right to say it. 

The different faiths were woven into the service and I soaked it in when a group sang “Give Thanks to a Grateful Heart,” a regular song at my church. 

At the end, the Rabbi asked if anyone wanted to share a story of gratitude and Martha Lee stood up quickly, a force. She said that every day she is thankful for her grandson Calvin who had a brain tumor. And I find it pretty great that a woman who has lost her husband, siblings, three children and two grandchildren, still finds light and peace.

She told the story in her interpretation of events – not mine – but it was sweet and made Carol and I cry. 

“One day,” she said. “My grandson Calvin kept falling down and then he stopped walking. I said to my son, Eddie, you should take him to the doctor. Well, he did the next day and he had an 11-hour operation. Well, I prayed and prayed and today he is 9-years-old and just fine. And Julia, right here, is his mother.”

She looked at the group triumphantly. 

“Well, who wants to follow that?” asked the Rabbi. 

We attended a reception afterwards and Martha Lee was a hit, talking to people of all faiths, including an Imam and his wife, a physician, who in their late 70s took a shine to her. 

Martha Lee and Carol bonded and are now fast friends. They exchange cards and will visit again when it’s safe to do so. 

When I think of this story, it’s a balm for hard times and hope for brighter days ahead.