— Her name was Margaret.
Ten months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the pretty girl — barely 16 — married a handsome young man named Lloyd.
Lloyd, 22, hocked his shotgun for less than $5 to pay for the marriage certificate. He lied on the paperwork because Margaret wasn’t yet 18.
“I know God forgave me,” he said decades later, “because this marriage was arranged up in heaven.”
To the couple’s countless loved ones — including four children, 12 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren — there was no doubt about that.
Married for nearly 69 years, Lloyd and Margaret, members of the Huntingdon Church of Christ, built their lives on faith, love and hard work.
Both grew up in single-parent households during the Great Depression.
Before their first anniversary, the Army drafted Lloyd and, after basic training, sent him to Sicily and North Africa.
While her husband served in World War II — surviving a machine-gun wound to the face — Margaret cared for their firstborn son Chuck and gave birth to daughter Cathy. Cathy celebrated her first birthday before Lloyd got to see her. Sons Bob and Kenneth came along later, after Lloyd returned home.
After the war, Lloyd worked as a cotton sharecropper, carpenter and commercial fisherman in Missouri and Tennessee.
Margaret helped support the family by sewing in a garment factory, but her life revolved around church and family.
“My whole being is wrapped around who she was, what she stood for, how she stood for it, and to the end, her unconditional love and her daily example of caring for her family,” said Patty Ball, Lloyd and Margaret’s first grandchild. Patty and her brothers came to live with their grandparents at early ages.
Four decades later, Patty remains in awe of what her grandmother could accomplish in a single weekend.
After working all week, Margaret would arise bright and early on Saturday. She’d clean house, make breakfast, wash laundry and go to the grocery store. She’d buy fabric and often make Patty a new dress for church, saving the scraps to sew into one of the colorful, detailed quilts that she made all her life.
Margaret would prepare her Sunday school lesson, visit all the children on her JOY bus route, work on her flower garden and assemble a bouquet of marigolds to adorn the pulpit Sunday morning.
On Sunday, she’d wake up early once again. She’d put a roast in the oven, make banana pudding, ready the grandchildren for worship and then begin the JOY bus route. She’d stand up on the front row of the light blue bus as she and Lloyd drove all over the countryside, picking up children, taking them to church and teaching them to sing “Jesus Loves Me.”
Many of the bus riders were black, a fact not appreciated by everyone at Lloyd and Margaret’s white church in southeastern Missouri’s Bootheel in the 1970s.
But Margaret did not see the children as black or white. To her, they were simply precious young souls in need of Jesus.
Later, Lloyd and Margaret entered full-time ministry as houseparents at a Christian children’s home. When they finally retired, they moved in with their son Kenneth, who noticed that his mother read her Bible every night before bed.
Unlike Lloyd and Kenneth, Margaret didn’t care much for hunting deer. But she loved to fish.
She’d spend long hours in the family’s boat and, more often than not, catch more crappie or bluegill than anybody.
Much to the delight of family and friends, she also liked frying fish.
But fish was just one of her specialties, along with chicken and dumplings, tamales, biscuits and gravy, and the freshly grown vegetables such as green beans and tomatoes that she canned herself.
On the sweet side, she perfected coconut cream pie, chocolate meringue pie and chocolate molasses (served hot on pancakes).
Just before Christmas 2009, Margaret, 85, finally succumbed to a lengthy illness that had dropped her weight to about 80 pounds and left her in severe pain.
In her final weeks, Margaret repeatedly expressed her deep desire for all her extended family to accept Jesus and live as Christians. Her greatest hope was that she could see her loved ones — including her husband, Lloyd, who turns 92 in March — again in heaven.
In the entire world, I suppose, you might find as splendid and humble a Christian servant as Margaret Ross.
Trust me, though, you won’t find one any better.
Her name was Margaret. But I was proud to call her Grandma.
BOBBY ROSS JR. is Managing Editor of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].