“Grandma Cook” is a good place to start when I seek the mental image of a saint in the making. Although my (maternal) grandfather passed away several years prior to my birth, grandma lived with us most of my life, earning the title of “a second mother” in a very respectful and sacred way.

My earlier recollection of this pint-sized bundle of energy is that of a shadow passing my bedroom window on hot summer mornings. Although the silhouette appeared to be that of a shepherd with a crook, it was actually grandma heading to the garden, wearing a sun bonnet and carrying her favorite hoe. After all, the sun was already coming up and it was time to get the day under way.

Memories of Grandma Cook in our small rural plot located in Ceylon in Adams County, Indiana, range from carefully tended flower beds to special “parties” around the old wood stove when my parents would go away for the evening.

Partying with grandma? It wasn’t exactly playing games on the computer or shooting firecrackers under tin cans. But it did consist of setting up the card table and building a village of out plastic bricks and “Lincoln logs.” It might also involve making home candy or cookies or her version of “elephant ears.”

Although grandma proved to be a quiet, strengthening inspiration to all of us, her qualities of character and solidity didn’t come easy. Her father had literally carved a log cabin out of the Indiana wilderness. Much of her childhood was spent battling the pioneer wars of disease and heartache. In addition, her husband and three children of her children died before she finally closed her eyes in rest.

But in spite of that and other challenges, she never wavered in her firm faith in God, her will to provide for her family or the strong personality that represented rock solidness to a family that rallied around her example.

After her son, Clyde, was killed in a motorcycle accident, my father was faced with the terrible task of informing her of the tragedy.

Her response was, “dear God, do I have to live to see them all go?”

But while it saddened her immensely and grief took its toll on her for a season, she came back to plant zinnias and pansies, organize quilting bees and embroider every handkerchief and “throw” within sight.

Some of grandma’s gestures of love weren’t wholeheartedly endorsed by my mother. One such example would be a little “act of kindness” at bedtime. Since her room was beside mine in the two-room upstairs of the old log frame house where I was raised, she was forced to walk past my dresser in order to go to bed.

On certain nights she would rap her knuckles on the top drawer. I knew immediately what that meant. It was a signal she had put some old-fashioned vanilla chocolate drops in there for me. It wasn’t the best thing for me to eat just before going to bed, but it created a positive memory that I associate with grandma to this day.

It was grandma who took the time to teach my youthful hands how to garden. That was many years ago and I still think of her when I drop seeds in the soil in the spring. I must admit that there are mornings when I hoe between plants in the fresh morning air that I still see the “shadow of a shepherd with a crook” in my peripheral vision.