Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Step into the Garden

Remember how fleeting life is. What man can live and not see death, or save himself from the power of the grave?

I suppose the more one advances in age, the more thoughts of one’s own mortality assault the mind. You look in the mirror and an elderly person looks back at you. “My feet hurt. Knees wracked with arthritis. Diabetes. How much longer,” you ask, “will this old body keep creaking?” Funny, you don’t necessarily feel elderly, except when the arthritis flares up, or you get “tired” taking a shower. You know that others with a body as old, or maybe even younger than yours, have suffered strokes, heart attacks, etc.; one day they are here and truckin’ along, next day they are gone.

Uncle Seb died of colon cancer. These days, colon cancer is one of the easiest cancers to treat, discovered in time. It wasn’t so easy 60 years ago. He died suffering and in great pain. These days, terminal cancer patients are kept comfortable, and all but free of pain. I visited Pop at his bedside, just a few days before he passed away. He knew, as we all knew, that he only had a few hours, or perhaps days left. I was privileged to visit and see him, as I lived out of state and the time.

All of the kids, even his own adult children called him, “Pop.”

Morbid stuff? Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on your perspective. “Mortality is just as much a part of life as being born,” one might think. You hear your heart beat and it sounds far away. You know one day it will stop.

The psalmist speaks languidly of the ‘power of the grave.’ At the moment he wrote this, perhaps he was not aware that for those who believe, the grave has no ‘power.’ For them the heart doesn’t stop, it just skips a beat. It comes to its last and final beat in the throes of death, and takes its next beat in the joy of eternal life.

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
neither has it entered into the heart of man,
the things that God has prepared
for those that love him.”
--1 Cor. 2:9

Pop lay groaning in his bed. I knew it would be the last time I would see him alive in this life. I remembered the many times he was a part of my life, from a small boy to a young man in college. Pop was fond of giving all us kids nicknames. Mine was “Red Willy” – owing to my red hair as a child. Pop could be gruff at times, but even then, his gruffness was painted with love.

I remember sitting at the breakfast table over a platter of Aunt Cue’s biscuits. If I reached for one of these delectable confections without asking, “May I have a biscuit please?” Pop’s hand shot out like a rattlesnake and popped me on the back of my knuckles with the handle of a tableknife.

“Boy,” he would say to me, “Nex’ time you want a biscuit, you ask for it, and you always say ‘please.’”

Pop loved gospel music, especially when it was sung by a quartet. I remember listening on the Philco radio, the melodies of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.” Pop would lift his voice in sweet notes and sing along. I can still hear his soft, musical voice as I write this.

He was a captain in the United States Army. Shot off his finger while demonstrating how to shoot a .45 automatic.

He was a Sunday School teacher at his church for years.

He kept a couple of hogs named Ike and Mike. I loved slopping those 300 lb. monsters. They’d get up in the trough with their front feet and I would pour the slop over their heads. They loved it. I thought it was funny. One day I was surprised by a couple of slabs of Ike and Mike on my plate at the breakfast table, along with Aunt Cue’s biscuits, and big, fresh eggs cooked sunny side up, with their fringes crisp and brown.

Pop built himself a motorized plow. Put a Briggs and Stratton engine on a pair of wheels with tractor-like tires and attached a plow to it. Blue exhaust from the Briggs and Stratton mixed with my sweat causing my eyes to sting. He let me plow a couple of times. He walked behind me, one might say, encouraging me, with a few expletives thrown in, to plow a straight furrow.

When I was maybe nine years old, he let me drive his truck on the dirt road leading up to his house. I promptly put the truck in the ditch. You should have heard Pop cuss. “Hell-toot, Red Willy,” he would fume, squinting and scowling around his big nose, “That ain’t no way to drive this hoss.”

It was a quiet moment as Pop lay dying on his bed. Aunt Cue stood next to me as I leaned over and said, “Pop, you’re going to be with Jesus, soon.”

“I hope so,” he groaned back, his voice terribly stressed by pain.

“I know so, Pop!”

I hope Pop’s plow makes to heaven. It prob'ly won't smoke so much, and I won't sweat so much, and my eyes won't sting, and maybe I’ll have time to learn how to plow a straight furrow. We’ll plant honeydew melons, okra, maybe a potato or two, corn, and . . .

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