May 27, 2024

My Grandfather and a Life Well Lived

On February 13, 2006, a man that had much to do with who I am than I will probably ever know went home to be with the Lord. My Grandfather left his life on Earth this past Monday sometime between 6:00 and 6:45 am. He was born in 1915 and lived to see 90 years of change.

Trying to think back over all of that time lived, it is hard to comprehend what he must have seen (and by that all that I might see in my lifetime should the Lord tarry). He was born and was a child with the world at war. Cars were just coming out, and I’m sure not everyone had electricity. He grew up in an America that would seem third world to us now, and yet they know the value of hard work, family, and loyalty.

As a young man, he went off to learn different trades and ended up in the army for World War II. He tested into the signal corps, working in Morse Code. His tour of duty took him to Georgia, where he saw my grandmother working as a secretary in the window of an apartment. He got invited over to her house to fix their radio, and they were married shortly after.

His tour of duty took him to Germany during World War II. The hand of God was clearly evident in his life, though he had yet to ask Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. I remember a couple of stories he told in which he talked about times that he should have died, and yet God spared him.

In one circumstance, he was out driving this higher ranking officer into a town that the allies occupied. On the way back, they had to run dark so that the Germans could not find them, and as they approached a cliff, my grandfather stopped the car because he the ravine in front of them looked too dark for some reason. That morning they had come across on a bridge that was there, but something was wrong. They stopped the car to check, and the bridge had been removed or destroyed.

In another case, he took his trucks (being in the signal corps, he wasn’t usually on the front lines, but was in charge of relay stations. He did come under fire, but not front line fire. So, he pulled his trucks up to a place that he would spend the night, and something told him to park his truck in a different place than the rest. He spent the night in his truck, and the next day, in the place where the rest of the trucks had been there was instead a crater.

Back home, he ran an appliance store in a small town. It was in this town that he and my grandmother had four children, the third of which was my father. He built three houses in that small town, and owned land there for another house until only a few years ago. He was an important man in the community. He served as chairmen of the school board. He was the President and member of the Kiwanis.

How did all of this affect me? Well, partially because of my father. One of the things that has hit me the most in this time of reflection on his life is how much family is alike—not just in physical features, but also in how we think, and what we think about who a man should be and how he should relate to his family. The values of family, loyalty, and duty were something that I would pick up from my father, just as he picked them up from his.

The day I was born, my grandfather was in a school board meeting as chairman and announced that he was pleased to be a grandfather for the second time. I would be the second of thirteen grandchildren he would have. Shortly after that he started visiting and progressing to a move to Arkansas where his two daughters and son (not my father) had relocated.

This is where my memories come into play. My memories of him center on the times that we were together, both at my home and in Arkansas. My grandmother and grandfather had a home in Arkansas, but for along time called my home state their home. They even kept my home state’s license plates on their car up until I went to college. They had a house on the family farm in Arkansas where they would stay during the winter months, and then would come up to our family’s area every summer. With this arrangement my grandfather could play golf and keep busy.

This highlights one of the ways that my grandfather and I differ, and I’m challenged by his example. My grandfather was always busy doing something, be it in his field of expertise, or just working around the farm in Arkansas; he always wanted to be doing something. It may be the thing I remember best about him because he was hardly around!

Every May, before he would arrive, we would get calls at my house from people wondering when my grandfather would be coming up. I swear that people kept their appliance problems around waiting for him to return. These calls would last all summer. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, and he would only be in for lunch, or an occasional afternoon before being out again on a call.

Friday nights were special because my family would get together with my grandparents to play cards at our house. They’d play Rook religiously. As I got older and could play, I would play a few hands too. I can look back fondly on those many nights—guys against girls and my grandfather with all of the tricks, and the jokes about signs between him and my dad.

He was always there to lend a hand. When it came to appliances he knew what he was doing. He fixed most things that broke in our house. He helped convert our breezeway to a bedroom. After I got married, he got us deals with the local appliance dealer that took over after him and came and installed the washer and drier into our apartment himself.

When I went to get my first car, I picked out this two-tone (red and silver) Saturn SC2 that had been sitting at the family friend’s used car lot for two years. I had to have it, but there was a problem. The headlight on the right hand side would not go into high beam, even after we changed the bulb. There was a short in the electrical, we came to find out—probably some furry friend nibbled on the wire. How did we find it out? My grandfather went down to the dealer and worked on it and came up with the solution—even though he didn’t like the car because it was too small and sat too close to the ground!

He also knew the importance of family. He was there for my wedding—coming up to my hometown for the last time that year. I was blessed to have all four grandparents present at my wedding. He kept teasing me that it wasn’t too late to change my mind. He was faithful to my grandmother for sixty two years. He made sure that he was here when we needed him, and did not stop up until a couple of weeks ago to make sure that he was doing something to help.

The last time I saw him before this trip was the event of my grandparent’s sixtieth wedding anniversary. He was himself, though admittedly more tired. He kept joking that he’d have to retire, and looked forward to resting more. We took pictures with my one year old, and had a four generation picture. When we went to leave as the last of the visitors, I don’t know if it was because I was tired or because I knew something would happen—but I gave him a hug, told him that I loved him, and cried, feeling somewhere inside that I might never see him alive again.

And then, I didn’t call or write as much as I should. He had instant messenger, but it was difficult to talk with him because it took so long for responses and he wouldn’t want to distract me while I was working, and it was hard because he started to fight with prostate cancer, and soon we were hearing that he was walking with a cane, and then had to be in a wheel chair. I don’t know when I started making talking with him a priority again, but it wasn’t soon enough.

I can remember a few phone calls over the past year. Once I called and said I was going to make it a better habit, but I didn’t. The last time I talked with him and he was coherent, we talked about when he was going to die, my dishwasher, and the kids. It felt like it would be easier to talk about his passing by making light of it, but it proved empty.

I was going to call him with my kids talking to him on the phone—first on Saturday, then Sunday, and eventually I called him Tuesday. By that time, he needed help to get to the bathroom, and I didn’t get to talk with Him. We then decided to make the trip to come down in person before he left. When we got here, he had one lucid moment while I was there in which I said that I was there and said my name, and he repeated it. Shortly after that he was asleep again.

It was hard to see him that way—harder after looking at the pictures of when he was younger—pictures I don’t think I’d seen until yesterday night. I’m still having a hard time emotionally working through it after the funeral today. I fought back tears twice during a slideshow of the same pictures I had seen the night before and then at the grave side as they folded and presented the flag to my grandmother. I’ve also gotten misty writing this.

My grandfather has impacted me in ways that I’ll probably still be finding out years down the road. Even in his passing he is impacting my thoughts and desires—my longings to be a good father and dependable helper. In many ways he was humble and selfish. He had time for his family and friends, and yet was simple. He was smarter than he let on, and knew how to tell a good joke.

Most of all, he left a legacy and a testimony. He faced certain death looking for Christ’s return. He did not let his physical ailments slow him down or take his eyes off of Christ. I used to think that this was weakness on his part. My grandparents always looked toward the rapture, and I thought it was because they were scared of death. Certainly no one wants to die or be separated from loved ones; however, they looked for his coming to be eminent and lived in that way, with that desire. They took the theology of Christ’s return more serious than many, and believed He could return even up until the day that my grandfather died.

It is hard to gauge the impact that this man and his wife had and will have on those around him. In some ways it would be easier to try to figure out how many people he lead to the Lord. This man impacted many lives—of those that have gone on before him and of many that are still here. His legacy lives in those that bear his name, and those that he helped. His country is better for his service. His town is grateful for his business. His family was rooted in the things of God.

The last is the part that will be hard to gauge. The impact of his values and his love for God is something that is still being seen down the generations to my children (I pray). As the numbers increase, the impact will be hard to measure. How many preachers will trace their line back to him? How many lay workers? How many people will come to Christ because of the faithfulness of this man?

We tend to look at the here and now and what has happened in the here and now without an eye toward the future. I don’t know how God will look at what my grandfather did in this life, but I pray that he will be rewarded for a life that demonstrated Christ through his humility, that showed Christ in his effect on his family, and that longed for Christ’s return until his final day.

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