Grandma’s Legacy


After six and a half years of married student life, my husband, Scott, and I had only a few possessions worth moving from our small apartment in California to our new home in New Jersey. My grandmother’s decades-old Electrolux vacuum cleaner was not one of them. In fact, as I prepared for our move, I was tempted to abandon it in the brown metal dumpster behind our apartment building. But when the movers asked me what to do with it, I seemed to feel my frugal, pack-rat grandmother looking over my shoulder. The vacuum was tagged, then loaded into the moving van.

When I reached New Jersey, I immediately bought a new vacuum. When I first vacuumed the barren expanse of our living room with it, I was ecstatic. It glided over our new plush carpet, sucking up piles of popcorn and whole graham crackers. After six years of thrifty living in order to get through graduate school, I finally had the vacuum cleaner I deserved. And in the next few weeks, as I waited for the movers to bring our worn furniture, I envisioned all the other new things I deserved.

Those visions vanished the day I watched the mover wrestling with the gnarled hose of my Electrolux. The vacuum evoked not only the spirit of my frugal grandmother, who seemed to insist I keep it, but, more important, the days I had spent using it. In California, we had lived in a small uncarpeted student apartment. One Christmas, a couple in our ward, Brother and Sister Doxsee, gave us a small, red shag carpet their family no longer needed. Grateful, we placed it in our daughter’s room so that she would have a warm floor to play on.

And that is when I began using that old Electrolux. Unfortunately, the vacuum had no more suction power than a drinking straw, so vacuuming up all the graham cracker crumbs, modeling clay, and dirt Chrissy ground into the carpet was time-consuming.

But each time I went over and over that little red carpet, I thought of the Doxsees and the relationship between their daughter, Deborah, and our Chrissy, born two weeks apart. The fast Sunday in March when Scott blessed Chrissy with health, Deborah, born two months prematurely and suffering the effects of a tumor, was fighting for her life in an intensive-care nursery. That Sunday as I listened to the prayers for Deborah and the blessings promised Chrissy, I became more keenly aware of life and death.

Deborah survived her rocky start, and soon I was watching her and Chrissy crawl, toddle, and squeal through sacrament meetings together. When the girls reached eighteen months of age, I joyfully marched Chrissy to the Primary nursery. But Deborah never joined Chrissy there. Her cancer had recurred, and she began several months of chemotherapy. During that time, we often knelt on that red shag carpet to pray for Deborah. We talked with Chrissy about death and resurrection, sensing that Deborah would soon leave us.

When Deborah was two and a half, she died. Over the next several months as I dragged Grandma’s old Electrolux across our little carpet, I thought of Deborah often. I was reminded of the tenuous nature of life, the kindness of our Father in Heaven, and the grace of our Savior. While I did not rid the carpet entirely of clay and debris, I often came away from my cleaning chores with a renewed view of what matters most in life—faith, family, friends—the imperishables the Savior’s sacrifice allows us to keep when we leave mortality.

Eight months after Deborah died, our daughter was diagnosed as having juvenile diabetes and was immediately hospitalized. A few weeks after her release from the hospital, she and I were engaged in another dramatic chase scene around her bedroom with a syringe. Finally she sat on the red carpet, looked up at me, and said, “Mommy, will my diabetes ever go away?”

My heart broke. Her life depended upon daily insulin shots and finger pricks, and she could not talk her way out of them as she might an unwanted nap. But I could not leave her without hope. I reminded her about Deborah Doxsee and the talks we had about the resurrection. In the resurrection, I told her, she would receive a new body that would require no blood sugar tests.

Such a promise to a three-year-old is not easily forgotten. Even now, a trip to the grocery store with Chrissy still reminds me of that teaching moment. As she moves from aisle to aisle, she stops, at times pointing, at times gently fingering the packages of forbidden foods—animal crackers iced in pink and white, sugar-dusted doughnuts, chocolate bars—and then loudly proclaims, “Mommy, I can eat this when I’m resurrected, can’t I?”

Since our move to New Jersey, I had thought little about the red shag carpet, Deborah Doxsee, life and death, and the resurrection. But on the day our things arrived from California and I watched the mover carry the vacuum up the front walkway, I became frightened—frightened of all those things I had spent the past few weeks coveting. I had come face to face with my own materialism. The pink foil wallpaper in the bathroom was indeed several years outdated, the paint in the hallways was chipped, and our furniture, also once my grandmother’s, was even older than the Electrolux. But my obsession with a redecorated home and new furniture loomed so large that I could not see my blessings. Without a small, red shag carpet and a broken Electrolux to focus my thoughts, my values had begun to wander.

So when the mover, anxious to be rid of the vacuum and retreat to the van for his lunch, vacantly stared at me, mumbling, “Where d’ya want it,” I was perplexed. It did in fact belong in California in the dumpster behind our old student apartment. It served no functional purpose. But it had proved to be a physical reminder as persistent as my daughter, and I was therefore glad I had kept it.

The old Electrolux spent a few days in the front hall closet. But soon winter coats and boots, backpacks, and briefcases crowded it out. After a few weeks, it finally found its way to an almost-forgotten corner in my laundry room, not far from the new vacuum cleaner that replaced it. And there it will remain. For even though I am tempted now and then to haul it out to the neighborhood trash pile, I cannot. I can no more abandon Grandma’s Electrolux than I can the values of which it reminds me.

[photo] Photo by Steve Bunderson; posed by model

Marcia Flanders Stornetta serves as a Relief Society teacher in the Morristown Ward, Morristown New Jersey Stake.