My grandfather on my mother’s side was born poor in Clark County Arkansas. One of the major markers in his life is that he survived the depression. His father cleared land and hired himself out as a farm hand. Many times, his only pay was the opportunity for his family to live in a poor excuse for a house. I never knew this until near his death, but he hated dogs. His hatred came from jealousy. He remembers being sent to the landlord’s house on an errand. He was hungry. That wasn’t unusual. He was always hungry. As he approached the landlord’s house he could smell bacon. They were having a hearty breakfast. He thought of all the many things he would give up for a piece of bacon as he carried on his business with the landlord. None was offered. As he left the landlord’s home he saw a plate of food on the front porch that was set out for the dog. On top of that plate of food were several slices of bacon. His pride struggled hard with his hunger. He stepped down off of that porch still wishing he could steal a bite of the dog’s breakfast.
He bore the mark of his family’s poverty and illiteracy. You see, his own mother misspelled his name on his birth certificate. As he aged and his position in life improved, he saw the spelling of his name as a constant reminder of his origins. He would never forget the poverty. He would never go back to the illiteracy. His life’s work ended up being focused on caring for children much like he had been. He had one thing, though, that his charges didn’t. He had loving parents. He knew that was the difference.
His father was a hard man. He had no choice. His family’s survival depended on it. Grandpa told of the day his father told him, “If you can pick this whole row of cotton in a single day, I’ll give you a nickel.” A nickel was a fortune to a kid back then. He worked hard. The cotton plants didn’t give up their fruit easily. They tore at his fingers as he plucked the white fluff. The long burlap bag strapped to his underfed body began to get heavy as he made the halfway point in the row. The thought of it getting heavier made him look ahead with dread. His determination pushed him forward. He was going to earn that nickel. He did it. By the end of the day, he had filled his bag. He had finished the row. His father handed him the nickel. The next day, he arrived at the cotton field a bit sore but ready to pick another row to earn another nickel. As his father approached, he expected to be told that he could earn another nickel by the end of the day. Instead, his father looked at him and told him, “If you don’t pick this whole row of cotton by the end of the day, I’m gonna give you a whippin.”
On the surface, this sounds mean. At the time, I’m sure Grandpa thought that was mean. The fact of the matter is that it was good parenting. He had proved that he could pick a whole row of cotton in one day. His dad could not possibly afford to pay him a nickel each day. The family needed the income that another 100 pounds of cotton per day would bring. As he got older, he saw the value of the lesson he had learned that day. While he didn’t copy his father’s lesson, he did repeat the concept on several kids through the years…myself included.
Grandpa struggled in school, but he knew it was important. His parents did what they could to keep him in school, but when he was in the 8th grade that all changed. At that time, his father was clearing land to support the family. It was hard physical labor. He would dig dirt out from one side of a tree’s root system and pile that dirt on the other side. After enough dirt was removed, the tree would eventually fall toward the pile of dirt. The pile of dirt would cause the roots of the tree to be lifted up during the fall. He would cut up the tree, burn the roots, and fill in the hole. In the process, his father broke his femur. Medical care at that time was limited. His access to medical care was even more limited. He never fully healed. Grandpa had to quit school and work with his father to clear land. His dad would sit on a log and run the other end of the bucksaw. He would instruct Grandpa on the best techniques. Beyond that, his abilities were limited.
Grandpa was a smoker. He loved to tell the story of the first time he met my grandma. They were at a dance. Grandpa was outside of the building smoking with his friends. Through the window they could see the dance floor. Grandpa elbowed one of his friends and said, “You see that gal right there?” He was pointing at Ellen Rountree. “I’m gonna marry that girl.” He was right. At that point they hadn’t met, but they did eventually marry. Their loving faithful marriage lasted until death finally parted them.
Grandma led Grandpa to Christianity. She had been a faithful Christian most of her life. Grandpa just hadn’t been raised that way. One day he walked through the kitchen in their little apartment and laid his pack of cigarettes on the corner of the counter. He said, “I don’t believe a Christian ought to be smokin’.” Grandma left them lying there for a few months. Finally, as Grandpa walked through the kitchen she pointed at the pack of cigarettes with the knife she was using, “Hey, what’cha gonna do about that.” He looked at the pack, looked up at her, and said, “Oh, yeah.” He picked it up and tossed it in the trash. He never smoked again.
After my mom was born (she was the second child), Grandpa decided he was called to be a preacher. He went to Midwest Christian College and told them he wanted to enroll. They told him that he couldn’t go to college there because he hadn’t graduated from high school. He convinced them to let him go through the course of study and told them that he didn’t need the diploma. Grandma got a job running the school’s cafeteria. She would spend her evenings typing Grandpa’s papers. With nothing but an 8th grade education, he passed all of the coursework but received no degree. Many years later they honored him as Alumni of the Year. He received an honorary degree.
Not far into his preaching career, Grandpa took over the leadership of a fledgling orphanage in northeast Oklahoma. There were a thousand acres of rocks & trees. They lived in a trailer house with a lean-to shed built against it. It wasn’t unusual for them to find a child, or several children, dropped at their front door with a grocery bag of belongings. They loved them with no regard for their past, their behavior, or their condition. He used good old-fashioned common sense. Many of the things he did with those kids would land someone in jail these days. Back then, it was called tough love…and it worked.
As the ministry grew, so did the staff. Grandpa’s responsibilities gradually grew from one-man show to primarily public relations. One of the ministry’s supporters would buy himself a new motor home every couple of years. He would donate his old one to the ministry for Grandpa to use in his travels promoting the ministry. During the summers, I would travel with him. I never tired of hearing Grandpa tell his stories about the kids at the ministry. Just because I was hanging out with my grandparents doesn’t mean I was a spoiled brat. Grandpa made sure I behaved myself. One time a preacher asked him why he was hard on me. He told him, “I make him behave because I want other people to like him.” Many years later, Grandpa was visiting that preacher’s church. As the preacher was at the pulpit, Grandpa sat behind his ill-behaved son. Grandpa was sure that the preacher remembered what Grandpa had told him. It was a very uncomfortable service for that preacher.
Grandpa operated on faith. His philosophy was that God has all the money in the world. He has all the people in the world. He has the world. If the ministry needed a new building and had enough money in the bank to buy a shovel, he would buy a shovel. They would begin to dig the footings. By the time they had the footings dug, they would have the money to order the concrete. They built the entire program that way. He trusted God. God honored that faith.
Early one morning soon after I had turned 16 Grandpa came to our house and woke me up. “C’mon.” he said, “We’re goin’ to get you a car.” I gladly jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes, and jumped in his truck. I had no idea where we were headed. I had no idea what kind of car he had in mind. I trusted Grandpa. We pulled up the driveway of one of Grandpa’s friends. There in the yard sat a 1978 Chevrolet Chevette. It was in good shape. It was blue. I was happy. Grandpa paid him $900 for it. Before I got in to drive it home Grandpa told me, “I’m buying you this car with one string attached. When it breaks down, you fix it. If you can’t fix it, you bring it to me and I’ll help you fix it. I’m buying you an education in auto mechanics.” It would take many pages to list the repairs I made on that car. Many of those fixes were made in Grandpa’s carport with him right beside me. With the exception of an automatic transmission rebuild, there isn’t an auto repair that I can’t tackle. Grandpa’s investment pays regular dividends.
One thing every grandkid (blood related or not) experienced was standing in the palm of Grandpa’s hand. If the child was strong enough to stand in his lap, Grandpa would gather their little feet in his hand, help them to a standing position, and hold them out in front of him. He would chuckle at the excitement in the child’s face (as well as the fear in the mother’s face) as they balanced in his outstretched hand. I never saw him even come close to dropping one.
I’ve saved my favorite Grandpa story for last. I mentioned that I would ride with him in his motor home during the summers. His problem was that the sun would make him sneeze. We could see it coming. His eyes would get glassy. He would begin digging in his pockets for his hankie. By the time he would find his hankie the sneeze would hit him. When Grandpa sneezed, he sprayed. This would frustrate him. He would growl and grumble as he used his newly found hankie to wipe the steering wheel and dash. Another thing about Grandpa’s sneezes, they came in pairs. He knew this. He would place his hankie on the dash where he could reach it for the second sneeze. Usually, by the time the second sneeze came around he would forget that he had conveniently placed the hankie. He would begin digging in the pocket where he had found it last time. Before he remembered the hankie’s location he would spray the dash and steering wheel a second time. Grandma & I would howl laughing at Grandpa as he mopped up his mess again.
By this time you may be saying, “OK, those were some fun stories about your Grandpa. Why did you take the time to write them here?” Well, two reasons really. For one, I love telling people about my grandpa. He’s one of the greatest men God placed on the earth. The second reason I typed all of this is as a partial introduction of myself. You see, Grandpa poured his life into me. He taught me integrity, how to be a loving parent, the value of hard work, the importance of self control, The difference between a degree and education, tough love, what it takes to be liked by others, how to have faith, auto mechanics, trust, and how to laugh.