This photograph with our children, Peter and Brenda, was taken on their grandmother's 85th birthday, almost 5 years ago. On that day in June 1985, the church basement was filled with a crowd of her descendants: five children and their spouses, and many grandchildren with their spouses, and great grandchildren.
In a few months she'll be 90 and she is amazed that she has arrived at this great number of years. In her heart and mind it is so easy to slip back to a time that seems like only yesterday; her girlhood. Easier often, than it is to remember yesterday.
Brenda Sheppard was a pretty, spirited 15 year old girl, with auburn hair and laughing blue eyes in 1941. She couldn't wait to leave school and get on with life. She would have loved to go into market gardening, putting into practice all that she had learned from her father, an engineer with British Rail. He grew prize vegetables in his glass houses and allotments when he wasn't working. But such opportunities didn't exist for a young girl in the 1940's.
They lived in Eastleigh, Hampshire, between Winchester and Southampton. In 1941, the country was at war with Germany. The signs at railway stations were taken down to disorient any potential invaders and had that effect on many of the British public too, if they weren't quite sure where they were going. Being so close to the south coast of England, air raid shelters called Anderson Shelters made out of corrugated metal, were issued, to be erected in back gardens.
While Brenda didn't go into market gardening, she was happy to get a job in Swaythling a suburb of Southampton, about 3 miles from Eastleigh, working in a private home during the day, cleaning and preparing meals, while the family ran their business. She had freedom and responsibility and enjoyed her work.
At the end of the day she would get on her bicycle and ride home, pedaling hard until she reached the curb outside her house, where she would lift up the front tire and then knock the latch of the gate open without stopping, and ride down the garden path.
It was on one of these days that an air raid siren sounded as she was riding home. Her heart pounded in her ears as she pedaled as hard as she could to get home, the wind catching her hair as she rode down already deserted streets.
She was almost home, about to lift up her tire in the movement that was so automatic, when she heard a voice say "Stop!" so urgently that she pulled up and braked right away. But when she looked to see who it was, there was not a soul around. There was a sudden loud, shuddering clang, as a large piece of shrapnel whizzed through the air and through the spokes of her bicycle wheel, bending them apart, and she realized that if she hadn't stopped when she did, the shrapnel would have hit her.
For years the piece of shrapnel was kept on a mantle piece, a reminder of a miracle. Along the way, in one of many moves the shrapnel was lost...but to Brenda, the memory of the day she heard and heeded God's voice is as clear as if it were yesterday.