~by Jessica Poe

Editor’s note: Jessica compiled these stories of faith for her mother and grandmother as a Christmas gift, and they all kindly consented to have these beautiful tributes and photos posted here.

Women of faith -- photo - five generationsWomen in my family tend to live long lives. So long, that I’ve posed in two all-female, five-generation photos; once as the baby of the group and once holding my own baby. Knowing these women has given me a privileged perspective. Having close personal relationships with three generations of women who came before me, and having two daughters of my own, makes it possible for me to gaze into the past and the future –- and to recognize several links between then and now. Each woman’s story and faith inspires me. Seeing how traits and talents overlap gives me a thrill; and it proves the importance of knowing who we are and where we came from.

women and legacy of faith across five generationsThis short compilation of thoughts is not a personal history for each woman; rather a written recognition of a few observations, memories and affections. Perhaps when sewn together, we’ll have clearer visions of the Master’s tapestry.

We lovingly called Verla Ramona Woody Vaughn {my great-grandmother}, Nana. She lived from October 1915 to May 2008. Working as a telephone operator during the Depression Days left her anything but depressed; the woman’s whit, spunk and sass were pure charm. Like every generation after her (and I’m guessing, the women before her too), she was a hard worker who cherished cleanliness, knew the value of a dollar, and wasn’t afraid to work. She mastered the art of being a domestic diva; she knew the right way to keep house (she instructed me to be sure the top of my refrigerator remained dust free – just in case someone brushed their fingers across the top) and set the tone for her home.

Her creativity shined through beautiful afghan blankets, famous homemade pies and crocheted dish towels. My special relationship with Nana sprouted during games of “Go Fish” and while watching Wheel of Fortune. She had a way of making me feel sweet and special when I was young and tender – like I could do no wrong. Growing older, I caught on to her strong opinions and dared to share my own. She cracked me up, but was never too silly –- she commanded respect along with admiration.

Nana was beautiful inside and out. At 15 years old, she won a local beauty contest. But, when I close my eyes and picture her, I see a much older Nana: she sits in a blue Lazy-boy with her silver hair in curls, her eyes sparkle and her smile lets me know she’s up to something. That particular smile, the one where her lower jaw slid sideways and her teeth grit together, appeared when she’d say Grandpa wouldn’t want her on a ladder (as she tip-toed up the step stool to reach something high), or when she’d request a nap before heading to the store (but would use that time to put on makeup and a pantsuit), or when we’d catch her walking unassisted, when she really needed assistance. Ah, that stubborn, competitive, “I can do it” attitude – it’s classic Nana, and it’s deeply rooted in the genetics of so many family members. It’s probably what kept her alive for so long. I’m thankful she swooned over my firstborn, Avery, and that I could name my own spunky Anna after her.

With a rock-solid faith in Jesus Christ, Nana taught Sunday School for many years in her beloved Presbyterian Church. As she grew closer to meeting her Savior, her testimony never wavered. She looked forward, with hope and knowledge, to the time she’d be reunited with her husband of 50 years, her Heavenly Father, her Lord and the many friends and family members who left before her. Knowing that she knew where she was going, helped me say, “I’ll see you a little later” with greater peace and ease.

Nana’s first-born daughter, Gail Ann Vaughn Fage, is my mutli-talented grandmother. Born in 1937, she’s still blessing our lives today. Grandma Gail (known as G.G. to my children) is one of the most beautiful, service-oriented and humble women I know. She’s so humble that as she reads this, she’ll shake her head adamantly; convinced she’s not worthy of such praise. Truth is, I stand in awe of this woman. Her talents are endless. She has the same “can do” attitude as her mother, and it enables her to learn anything she puts her mind to –- and she’s successful at everything she tries. At 73 years old, she roughs it through Wyoming back country with gun in hand, hunting for deer, antelope and even moose. After she’s hunted, she prepares and packages the meat; then selflessly gives her work to feed her daughters’ and grandchildren’s families. Though she’s not afraid to get dirty, she’s feminine as well. She’s gorgeous inside and out (the white streak in the front of her hair is one of my favorite physical attributes) and she is graceful and refined. Her home is decorated with care and an eye for style; it’s filled with food storage, canned and preserved by her skills; and it’s immaculate (clean is an understatement!).

Of course, all these talents take time. Grandma Gail doesn’t waste a minute of her day. It seems she’s always productively busy, working on the next project – and 99.9 percent of her projects are for others. She’s worn knee pads to scrub my bathroom when I was too pregnant to care about the dirt, she’s worn an apron to bake fresh, iodine-free bread for my dad going through thyroid cancer treatment, she’s sat behind a sewing machine for countless hours making my babies beautiful quilts, she’s stood near my mom’s bedside, nursing her back to health after brain surgery, and she’s currently far away from her home, tending for her daughter who had a double lung transplant … and all of those things are from this year alone! Heavenly Father must say to himself, “This is my daughter who will serve anyone who I place in her path. When she’s around, I can be sure she’ll take care of my other children who need help.” She truly shares her testimony of the restored gospel through her actions.

Grandma Gail’s daughter is my cherished mother, Julie Ann Dunn Rognon; born in 1958. If you ask my mom what her greatest accomplishment in this life is, she’ll have the correct answer: she served a vital role in our immediate family joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She took the intrinsic faith established through previous generations of women, and grew it, and then grew it some more. She strives to keep every commandment and is honest through and through. Because of her faith, there will be future generations of faithful women. She also has a close connection to past generations, who dwell on the other side of the veil; her heart pulls at her to complete their temple work. Her loyal and enthusiastic love for family (living or dead) is contagious.

Julie has a strong desire to impact future generations on many levels; and is a pioneer by nature. Not only did she bring the gospel to life for us, giving us spiritual knowledge, she strongly encouraged my brother and me to receive formal education at college,  giving us temporal knowledge beyond previous generations. She’s now introducing nutritional and health wisdom as she reads, eats and tries anything and everything to keep herself and her husband in the best physical condition as possible. When she sets her mind to something, she does it full-out and accomplishes her goal – and she even goes the extra mile. For example, in August of 2009, she set a goal to give up desserts for one year. Then her personal diet became more strict and sugar was nearly nixed entirely (she’d even count sugar grams in a slice of bread). Her year mark flew by and she trudged forward, undaunted. Someday, I hope to achieve her vigor and zealousness.

When thinking of my sweet mom, I can’t help but think about the thumbprint she’s making through traditions. Her voice often belts out “Tradition! Tradition!” (from Fiddler on the Roof); and she creates these traditions not only because of her love of repetition, but to glue family and memories together. One of her most common sayings is, “The family that does ______ together, stays together.”

Her grandchildren know the phrase and cheer her on with gusto. Whether it’s raking the leaves, eating Sunday dinners or preparing for Christmas, there is a family tradition (and her extra special touch) involved.

I adore my mom. She’s one of my best friends. She has a sensitive spirit; which gives her a rare gift of heightened empathy for other spirits. I hope to be like her in so many ways.

These three generations of women have impacted me. I’ve watched them carefully, and I strive to take a dash of their faith, beauty, poise and talents and add it to my own personality. Even more than that, I want my daughters to learn of them, learn from them and become like them. Many of the traits from past generations are naturally embedded in my little ones. My oldest daughter’s sharp memory focuses her on traditions, she loves learning and she has a five-year-old faith that could move mountains. My youngest daughter’s spirited responses prove enthusiasm for all she does –- just like every generation before her –- and at two years old, she exhibits a classic, strong-willed, “I can do it” attitude.

I know Heavenly Father links each of His spirit children in a certain order, so that we may most benefit from each other. I am thankful for those women who are linked on both sides of me. They make me stronger and keep me in line to my Heavenly Father. They also inspire me to not become the “weak link” as President Gordon B. Hinckley said in a devotional at Brigham Young University (BYU) in November of 1999:

“Be faithful. Be true. Be loyal to the great cause of which you are a part. Never become a weak link in the chain of your family’s generations. Do whatever you are asked to do, and do it with a glad heart.”

I will strive to do just that, and to do it gladly.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.