“Who is like the wise?
And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
A man’s wisdom makes his face shine,
and the hardness of his face is changed.” (Ecclesiastes 8:1)
As I sit here this morning at my parents home, my mind is currently focused on my paternal grandfather. When I was child growing up in rural Louisiana, my grandfather was one of my heroes. It’s no exaggeration when I say I idolized him. So many things I remember from my childhood centered around his influence and love.
I remember sitting on top of his prized Brahma bull on his beefmaster farm when I was an itty bitty grasshopper. I remember riding with him on the back of the pickup truck picking up hay bales and stacking them on the trailer and then piling them up in the hay barn. I remember climbing around in the hay bales and making hay bale forts and jumping from level to level and hearing his hearty laugh as he watched us while he worked loading cattle for market. To me, he was a real cowboy – a regular John Wayne.
Perhaps some of my favorite memories of him centered around his love for the grand old game of baseball. He had a chance to play professional ball, but turned it down to stay home and care for his ailing mother. He did go on to play semi-pro ball for a small club in New Roads, LA. Most of my childhood I can remember him playing in softball tournaments and teaching me the finer points of infield play. He volunteered as an umpire for many years for youth boys and girls leagues and often would umpire weekend softball tournaments. As I played myself, there was rarely a game that he and my grandmother were not in attendance cheering me on and teaching me strategies for my own personal improvement.
He would routinely regale me of tales of experiencing the Roger Maris / Mickey Mantle (his own baseball hero) home run race. He told of how in high school he dated a young lady named Donna Douglas, who would end up going on to Hollywood to portray the iconic Ellie Mae Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies. I believe he was the first to tell me the legend of Dutchman’s Creek and the legendary treasure of the Dutchman (likely a fantastical attempt to get me busy exploring the woods around my childhood home). He was the first to take me hunting when I was a pre-teen. On weekends, we would routinely watch old John Wayne westerns (I’m sure I’ve watched every one of them at least 2-3 times.)
To supplement his farming income, he spent several years as a successful salesman for a liquor distributor, traveling around to various stores and establishments to fulfill restock orders. I was fortunate to travel with him on various occasions during the summers on days that I didn’t have baseball games. I got to explore all over the south Louisiana cultural region. During these trips, he introduced me to joy of Chinese cuisine. At one time, while I was in high school, he told me a story of how he was eating lunch and sitting behind him was this really tall kid that played basketball for LSU, whom he got an autograph from – Shaquille O’Neal. I had that autograph on his business card for many years, which unfortunately was lost during one of our moves many years ago.
He was also a man of great faith. He served as a deacon in our local Baptist church. While he wasn’t the type to be “in your face” about his faith, he loved greatly and served passionately and faithfully. He demonstrated grace after my accident in 1990 by never bringing the subject up and continuing to love me knowing that I was dealing with my own sense of self-judgement and remorse. He was one of the first to take me aside and put me back behind the wheel of a vehicle to force me to confront my own fears of driving again.
My grandfather, while he would never admit it, was a great teacher. He taught me the value of hard work. He taught me the value of living a life of adventure. He taught me the value of laughter, even in the midst of trial. He taught me the value of overcoming tragedy with grace and determination. He taught me the value of serving those less fortunate that myself. He taught me the value of knowing and appreciating your roots, no matter where you are. He taught me the value of being a man with strength of mind and character. He taught me the value of faith in God lived out quietly without drawing attention to himself.
Today, my grandfather is gravely ill and I ask for prayers for our family during this time. I was able to visit and see him yesterday, although he likely doesn’t realize I was there. But I take comfort in knowing he is resting in preparation for his journey Home to be with his beloved bride, my grandmother, Leona. I can only pray that my life is even half the reflection of the example he lived.