A tribute to Ma and Papa
To the Editor:
In reflecting on my grandmother I realize that I cannot separate my memory of her from that of my grandfather. Benjamin Wesley Brannon and Mary Fowler Brannon (“Ma & Papa”) will always go together in my mind. Like salt and pepper or milk and cookies. In hindsight I realize that is in no small part because they were happily married for over 60 years. That is one of the many gifts they gave to me and one of the many parts of their life I will strive to emulate. It is funny because they were clearly different in so many ways and yet somehow had grown together so beautifully by sharing their strengths. My grandmother saved EVERYTHING – in part because she had grown up during the depression while my grandfather was beyond immaculate. He never had a scrap of paper on his desk and would throw away a pair of shoes, a belt, a shirt, or a pair of pants every time he bought a new one. (A habit I greatly admire but have yet to master.)
They each had many traits that I deeply cherish and strive to emulate. He was an accountant and lived an amazingly disciplined, orderly life, which I always attributed to his remarkable intelligence and incredible self-discipline. In life his books were ALWAYS balanced, and everything was in its proper place. In summary he was a model of integrity. My grandmother also had a very keen mind and seemed to know EVERYONE and yet she was remarkably private and loved having her own space. She never seemed to need approval from others, she was one of the most dignified, elegant, and independent people I have ever known, and yet she was completely approachable and incredibly thoughtful. It was like she could anticipate the needs of others and meet them before you had a chance to ask. In her life I have witnessed incredible strength and confidence but she was the model of grace, always dignified and yet without the slightest hint of arrogance.
My grandparents were terrific people and I am so grateful to have had the privilege of knowing them. From a very young age I felt completely loved by them. They always had time or made time for me, were always happy to see me, and always saw the best in me and encouraged me to live out that potential. I was so fortunate to have such bright, fun and engaging people in my life! They taught me to play golf and bridge and we regularly went on double dates when I was in college through the time Shannon and I were newly married and living in Atlanta. (It is truly striking how much better dancers their generation was than ours – ballroom vs. “I know not what”). We got married in their church, had the reception at their county club and lived less than a mile away from them during the first two years of our marriage – prior to moving away for business school. I realize I live in Atlanta today because they did, I love golf because they did, I love reading about 20th Century history (The Depression, WWII, etc.) because they lived it, and I appreciate the value of close friendships and building a community in part because my grandfather had the courage to do so himself many years ago. I named my children after them because I couldn’t think of better role models. In summary, I have truly been blessed to have grown up under their influence.
Spiritually, they taught me a great deal about the balance between dignity and compassion and while their generation did not speak, as openly about faith it was clear to me through watching their lives and example, how deep a faith they held and how much they quietly put it into practice. Their values are my ideals and I hope I can have half the impact on the lives of my peers and this city as they did. Most importantly, I hope I can model unconditional love for my children and grandchildren the way that they modeled it for me.
There is so much more that I have learned from them but I will close by saying that my wife has taught me a great deal about a powerful concept called “community of the heart.” This is a community composed of the truly influential people in your life (friends, family members, authors/thinkers, great leaders) whose presence is always felt. In many ways these are the people you live your life in front of and whose approval you cherish the most. The book of Hebrews speaks of us, as living our lives in front of a “great cloud of witnesses” so perhaps this is the group on the front row, whose faces are clearly visible. I seek God’s wisdom in prayer when facing trials but I also seek godly counsel from those I deeply respect. I tend to picture my “community of the heart” as a board of advisors, a group of people seated around a table in my mind and I find myself at times pondering their counsel when facing major decisions and seeking their comfort during my deepest trials.
We all have had many people influence us, some for good and others for ill and we all feel the pull of the significant lives around us. While the community of the heart cannot always speak the power of their lives, their choices and their influence continually shape us whether or not we even realize it. I know that part of the stewardship of my life is working hard to ensure that I have the right people seated at my mental table. I work hard to remove bad influences so I can more clearly respond to the good ones. I can pay no higher compliment to my grandparents than to say that they are and always will be seated at the table of the community of my heart.
Robert Brannon Mason