Monday, August 26, 2013

Pay It Forward

Every time the violets bloom, I think of Grandma.
Lela and Shelby Neelly
Grandma Neelly had several African violets. A pink one sat in her kitchen window, and that's where my plant is, too. More were perched on top of an old radio in the dining room. 
However, these violets aren't from my Grandma's house. They were from a plant gifted to me in May 2007 by Arnita Schultz, a Trousdale farm wife.

In 2007, the 90-year-old Trousdale United Methodist Church was destroyed by a tornado. It was part of the same line of storms that demolished Greensburg and then tracked toward the northeast in a path of destruction that ultimately affected five different counties in Kansas.

Trousdale is in Edwards County, the county just to the west of Stafford County.  On a Sunday shortly after the tornado, Trousdale UMC church members gathered at the home of Ron & Arnita Schultz for worship. As a neighborly gesture from the Stafford UMC to our brothers and sisters in Trousdale, Randy & I took brunch to share at the Schultzes.

We were there to bring the gift of friendship. But I was the one who left with it.

As we gathered the coffee cake pans, covered the meat and cheese tray and put the lid back on the fruit bowl, Arnita asked if I'd like to take an African violet home with me. I am sure I told her that I didn't inherit a green thumb from either of my grandmothers. But that didn't deter Arnita. She had a whole table full of African violets.

They are part of her family history, too. The starts from her own collection belonged to her father, Alvin Otte. I recently asked her about them. She explains:
My Dad is the one who started these violets but, of course, Grandma (Zilpha Essmiller Otte) had them before him. When I was in middle school, Grandma was dying of cancer. As the oldest grandchild, I was selected to stay with Grandma while Grandpa was working on the farm. She taught me to be a nurse, as she was bedfast most of the time. AND she had a whole room of violets, too. I had to care for those and thought if I EVER saw another violet it would be one too many! 

Dad became interested after his retirement--at one time he had more than 600 along the walls in their basement. Before he died, he wanted me to take them. I still wasn't interested, but now I feel badly I didn't start my ONE table before he died. 
I was not the first nor will I be the last to receive an African violet from Arnita's collection. She says she's given away "dozens and dozens." Last year, she took 10 plants to their church bazaar and all were claimed by the end of the event. 
The last several years I've taken them to the Edwards County Fair. I just put them on the tables with a note to 'take and enjoy.' It's fun to watch who comes and takes. I'm always surprised at the young girls who carry them around.
The Trousdale parishioners built a new church, blooming where destruction had taken part of their history. Death takes away a part of us, too, but it can't take away the memories.
Thanks to Brenda Minnis for the angel hanging in my window!
So, when the African violets bloom, I think of my Grandma Neelly, for whom the life of the Byers United Methodist Church was central. At Grandma's house, we often pounded away on the manual typewriter in the spare bedroom. It was there she did correspondence for the many offices she held locally and for the district level for WSCS, the precursor to United Methodist Women.

Grandma was a master at the gift of hospitality and friendship.  For me, it's always a little bit of a miracle when the purple blooms again emerge from the velvety green leaves. Thanks, Arnita, for paying it forward (and to Randy, too, since he's the only reason the plant is still alive). There's love and caring in all of that. And I'm thankful.
I'm linked to Michelle's Hear It On Sunday, Use It on Monday and Jennifer's Tell His Story. Click on the links to read what other bloggers of faith have to say today.


  1. HI Kim! What a beautiful and dramatic story! And the flower photos are beautiful and dramatic too. What a great way to keep the memory of your Grandma in your heart. I know she is smiling on you today :)

    Happy Monday!

    1. Thanks, Ceil. Grandma had ties to Trousdale, so it makes it even more special that I have this reminder in my kitchen. I think she is, too.

    2. Oh you know your Grandma is right there with you!

      Thank you for coming over to my blog today. I love making new blog-friends!


  2. The women in my family have a legacy of African Violets too. Kitchen window to kitchen window, through the depths of northern midwest winters, these sunny blooms have brighten the day of generations washing away at the sink.

    1. Thanks for visiting, Lisa. I love having that connection to my Grandma, even after she's been gone nearly 25 years.

  3. Such a lovely story, Kim. Maybe this is a plant that I could actually keep alive! :)