Let me tell ya about one of the greatest women to ever grace this world (I’m biased, but it’s true), Willie Mae Reeves Decker. She had many names – Willie, Mom, Grams, Nurse, neighbor, and sister, just to name a few. She celebrated her 100th birthday in the clouds on 4/28/18. I miss this woman every day – I talk to her all the time. She was, and still is, my hero in every sense.
She was such a gem – and, honestly, for me she was intimidating. She was the epitome of strength and compassion.
After her passing I went through the normal grieving process, and then I remember feeling shame. Knowing she was in heaven, an all-knowing realm, she knew all the mistakes I have made, all my sins. That’s what I believe, anyhow. That was unsettling because I valued her opinion above all others. She was even toned, kind, compassionate, selfless, and optimistic – just to name a few! These traits are admirable, however, given her past, her character was nothing short of extraordinary.
Willie was a wildflower. Despite all the odds, she grew into a beautiful person in the most unlikely place and with the most unfortunate experiences.
Growing up in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina in the 1920s was not easy. She was a child when her dad passed away. Suddenly, her mother was faced with an impossible task – which children she could keep at home and which she had to send to an orphanage. Can you imagine? This breaks my heart. How could a mother ever make that decision?
So, my grandmother was raised in an orphanage. She would run barefoot in the mountains, feet so calloused shoes were not often necessary, which is a good thing because they weren’t always available. She told me once she ran over a nail and it didn’t even puncture the skin!
I will go out on a limb and say that most put in this situation would be bitter, scared, and angry. Most would feel unloved and jealous of others including her siblings back home. I know I would certainly have all these feelings. While I’m sure these thoughts passed her mind – they did not harden her heart. Despite all the odds and hardships Willie Mae grew into a compassionate wife, mother, friend, and nurse.
Amazingly, Willie put herself through nursing school while working as a waitress at a diner. She met my grandfather, Joe Decker, while he was serving in the military police during WWII. They had a love story that puts most others to shame, but I’ll leave that for another time.
After the war my grandparents moved back to his hometown outside of St. Louis. There she worked as a Labor & Delivery Nurse, singing hymns as she walked the ward.
I wanted to share this story as a way to not only remind myself how blessed I am to have had such a hero in my life but to also share her stories with others. When I think life is hard, I think back to all the challenges that Willie overcame. And she did so with a smile. I quickly am given a fresh perspective on my problems and feel instant gratification for my multitude of blessings.
We could all learn something from Willie Mae.
Be a wildflower. No matter where you, or what life has thrown at you, you can choose happiness and grow into something beautiful.
Who is your hero? I am a total sap and love reading stories of others overcoming adversities. I will always root for the underdog! I’d love to hear your stories!