Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tribute: A Truly Great Grandma—Betty Jo Gifford

Over the past weekend, Jamie’s grandmother, Betty Jo Gifford, passed away. She was truly a wonderful example of how to love one’s family and find the greatest enjoyment in some of the most simple things in life. 
If you knew the full story you would
understand how beautiful this picture is!

There are so many wonderful things that Grandma Betty brought to all those who interacted with her. Betty was married to “Curly,” Jamie’s grandpa until he passed away a few years ago. They had moved to Rockport several decades ago. Aunt Barbara had lived with them their entire life and became one of the most talented and loving helpers for Jamie’s grandma and grandpa. When you meet Barb, you immediately sense her love and friendliness to all strangers. 

Jamie’s grandma was a woman full of love for her family. There are so many fond memories that Jamie and her family had shared about their trips to Rockport growing up. Grandma Betty was so vibrant and filled with a positive attitude that she turned every rainy day into shining opportunity for enjoyment. 

There are many little songs that Jamie had learned as a child from her grandma that she sang with each of our boys as they were little babies and toddlers. When we would go visit, Grandma Betty had tears in her eyes as she got to sing those same songs with each of the boys. 

One of her favorite things to do was to have us gather around in the living room as she would tell stories that would go on for hours. Anytime we visited, we planned on sitting in her little living room for hours upon hours as she told us stories of things from the past as well as recent.

Now, if you know me, you know one of my very favorite things is anything around a body of water. I grew up going to the lake and was mesmerized by the ocean the first time I saw it. The ocean is probably my favorite place to be. So, when I first started going with Jamie down to see her grandma I was so excited because she lives literally a couple of blocks off the bay in Rockport. She had a huge, beautiful, lush yard decorated with beautiful landscaping and flowers. The smell and breeze of the ocean swept softly through the air anytime you were standing in her yard. 
Here's Grandma Betty with Jack before she passed. 

So here we were a couple of blocks off of the ocean, but somehow we would spend four…five…six hours a day inside her tiny gingerbread house listening to story after story. She loved telling stories of when Jamie, Greg, and Deidre were all small and the things they had done. Sometimes as we were leaving after being there for a few days, I had this gnawing feeling in my stomach as we drove north looking at the ocean over my right shoulder on the way out of town—“we didn’t spend as much time in the ocean as I wanted!” But I was quickly reminded of the quality time spent in that small little living room listening to family stories. And Jamie usually had a huge smile on her face after catching up with her grandma over those few days. Before the boys were born, we used to go down there two or three times a year. And after the boys were born, it became one of their favorite places to visit. In the last couple of years, with all of the transitions and unforeseen things that popped up, we hadn’t been able to visit as much, but the memories formed and the love expressed will last a lifetime! 

Grandma Betty was a small-town celebrity who was well known for her fishing ability and the shell shop she had in her home. 

There is a fishing pier that stretches over two miles as you enter the north end of Rockport. It is not only a place of beautiful views looking out into Copano and Aransas Bay, but it is some of the best fishing along the entire southern gulf coast. Grandma Betty spent over forty years pulling her little red wagon (it weighed over 70 lbs with her fishing tackle) out to a certain “secret spot” on that pier where she landed some of the largest fish of anyone in the area. She had been featured in the local paper several times for the size of the fish she caught. After several large catches and more and more people recognizing her as a staple on the pier, that local newspaper ran a special story on her fishing expertise. She knew exactly what bait worked in every season and with the different tidal systems. 

After our wedding, Jamie and I went to Rockport and stayed on the ocean that entire week for our honeymoon. Grandma Betty took us fishing and I was bound and determined to “beat her” my first time fishing with her. It didn’t happen. She caught more and bigger fish than Jamie and I put together. She even had the gall to laugh at me when I tried to apply bass fishing ideas to her local pier fishing expertise. We went fishing several times with her in the coming years. I think she liked watching a 220-pound ex-football player struggling to pull her 70+ pound fishing wagon over a mile out onto that pier. She would just laugh seeing me sweating and heaving her “little wagon.” 

Grandma Betty was also a livewire! She loved it when I called her “wild woman,” an endearing term I use for lots of women. I don’t mean it to imply that they are really wild or anything of the sort. But on one of my first trips down there, Betty told us she had a huge surprise to show us, but was a little weary because she was afraid we might thing bad of her. We had no idea what this surprise was. As we arrived, she immediately had us sit in the living room, and began to tell us how much she had grieved over the loss of Greg (Jamie’s brother who had been killed at 16 by a drunk driver). She was telling us of her love and hurt for the loss of Greg. And then she moves over toward me, as I’m seated in a corner chair, and tells us that she understands if we think less of her for what she’s about to show us…and then as she’s standing in front of me with me looking over her shoulder at Jamie’s face, who has no idea what’s going on either, and then she pulls down her top a little…to reveal a tattoo simply saying “Gregory” right above her heart. 
Whewwwww! It got very intense those last few seconds and we had no idea what she was doing. She was actually afraid that we were somehow against tattoos as some people are. She was so relieved when I pulled my sleeve up to reveal my tattoo of my family name that I got on Father’s Day as a tribute to my dad years before. She was elated and in tears again! 

Grandma Betty also had a shell shop in her small little house. Betty and Barb had this beautiful little shell shop where they sold handcrafted items. Tourists as well as locals found their way back to her little cottage to find gifts, Christmas ornaments and trees, as well as jewelry that Betty and Barb handcrafted from shells she had collected. In the early years, she used to go along the beaches in Rockport collecting sea shells. In the later years, she was able to buy shells from a local place that collected and sold them. She had many couples who made her little shop an immediate stop as they traveled through or visited Rockport for the winter season. Many people from the northeast parts of the U.S., whom she called, “winter Texans,” came to Rockport to live for the bitter winter months. These people loved Betty and Barb and their beautiful shell shop. They were always greeted with smiles, warmth, and great stories. 

This may be where Jamie gets some of her “creative” desires! Betty would have loved Pinterest! Barb is very creative as well with great abilities in music, piano, and her artwork. 

Another favorite of Betty and Barb’s every time we visited was to gather around the keyboard as Barb would play some old hymns and we would all sing together as a family. It was really special the last couple of times down there because our boys all got to sing with us these songs that meant so much to Betty and Barb, as well as them getting to hear Barb’s ability on the keyboard. Sometimes, we would sing the same two or three songs, over and over. Two of their favorites were “Do Lord,” and “I Saw The Light.” 

One of the most valuable and lasting things we can do is to leave a legacy of faith and love in our families. As stated many times in many different leadership and spiritual resources, when a person gets to their deathbed and they have to look back on their life—will there be regrets as to how we lived and what we lived for? 

Some people live for money or the possessions of this world. 

No one on their deathbed ever thinks, “If only I had spent more time working more hours…” or “If only I had acquired more possessions…” 

At that point, sometimes regrettably too late for many, many people, they realize that time with family and the ones they love should have been the most important thing they lived for. 

Betty lived and loved the way a mother and grandmother does in leaving a loving legacy for all their offspring. What a beautiful thing to see how love is more powerful than anything we could earn or possess!

We love Grandma Betty and will miss her as long as we're here on earth. Hopefully, Lord willing, we can become parents and grandparents who love our children and grandchildren with the true love of Christ--pointing them to the love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy found in Jesus Christ. 

Sankie P. Lynch

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