Monday, November 18, 2019

In the loving hospitality of my grandmother

From Monroe, IA
Dorothy Mullins
Just over a week ago, I lost my maternal grandmother, Dorothy Mullins. She had just celebrated her 94th birthday back in October, but had been slowly declining in health in recent weeks and months. As I did a number of years ago for my paternal grandfather, I was privileged to give a eulogy at her funeral this past weekend, which I'll share here...


In 1925, my grandmother was born Dorothea Lucille Gezel, to a tenant-farmer family near Pella, Iowa. Her Dutch immigrant grandparents lived nearby when she was little, so she grew up speaking Dutch and learned English when she started school. After finishing school she took care of her family and then moved to nearby Monroe for a job in her early 20s, cleaning house for a local family. She then met my grandpa, Dale Mullins, at a diner on the square in Monroe and through mutual friends they started dating.

After Grandma & Grandpa married in 1948, she moved onto the Mullins/Sheeler farm where my grandpa was born, which has been in our family since 1904. The 80-acre farm sits on a west & north-facing hillside that slopes down to Buck Creek on the backside of the farm, which then passes through a few neighboring farms before joining the Skunk River downstream from Reasnor. Grandma spent 61 years on that farm, until 2009. I was born in 1979, so for 30 of her 61 years on the farm, that’s where I came to know and love Grandma Dorothy. In my life, her person is inseparable from her place there. And her memory will dwell in that place for years to come, through us who still care for it.

Two things struck me about Grandma Dorothy as I began this eulogy:

  • On the one hand, she was not a sentimental person - She was not one for hugs & kisses or saying "I love you," and she didn't say "goodbye" on the telephone - (This stands in stark contrast to the Gumm side of my family, which is touchy-feely as all get-out)
  • But on the other hand, she was a deeply caring and conscientious person in countless other ways 

Grandma didn't seem to make hardly any distinctions in her relationships across lines of family, friends, and neighbors. For instance, she loved having parties at the farm. Like “Woodcutting”: What started as a simple gathering of family and a few friends to make firewood to stock up Grandpa & Grandma for the winter - it would inevitably turn into a neighborhood party. Grandma would get on the old rotary telephone and start inviting whoever she could think of to come out and enjoy the festivities. Even on normal weekends at the farm when it was just the 4 of us Gumm’s there, at least one other person would usually pull in to visit.

Grandma was a also great cook. Her fried chicken was a staple of our weekend meals with them at the farm as I was growing up.

(A table we inherited from the farm now sits in our kitchen in Toledo. The only time Grandma got to come see us in Tama-Toledo, she sat at that table, grinning as she ran her hand across the surface, and recalled out loud that she and the ladies used to butcher chickens on it.)

Grandma still kept chickens when I was very young, so I recall that the birds wandering around the yard one day could be on the dinner table the next. In my mind, I can still hear her sharp, loud cry across the yard and carrying all the way down to the creek bottom, calling us in for dinner.

Her connections to the land, the farm, the dinner table, and her wide social circle - those threads all weave together to form a tapestry that pictures for us the kind of person that Grandma Dorothy was: Hospitable, resourceful, neighborly.

She was also a woman of faith, making her both my grandmother and a sister in Christ. While she wasn't the type to talk openly about her religious beliefs (at least not around me), she stands as perhaps one of my most powerful role models when it comes to living out one of the two most basic and important commandments that Jesus gave to those who would follow him: Love your neighbour as yourself. Grandma did this so well. She showed love, care, and hospitality for all kinds of people. All of us gathered here today and many more not here today - We were all included in her circle.

In closing, I thank God for the life and witness of my Grandma Dorothy, and for her having taken Jesus at his word and loving people in normal, everyday ways, for the 94 years that she walked with us. May she rest in peace after so many years in pain. The Christian hope is that through faith we will one day celebrate with her in the Resurrection - when we have completed our walks through this passing life and are welcomed into the new life everlasting.

Dorothy Lucille Mullins was a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, an aunt, a grandmother, a neighbor, a house cleaner, a painter, a mushroom hunter, a farmer, and a friend to many. Thanks be to God for her life and the gifts she so freely and joyfully shared with others.

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