Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Six years ago today, I received a phone call letting me know someone in my family had died. But it wasn’t until years later that I started to understand him.
After 77 years of life, my grandfather, my Mom’s father, who we affectionately called “Pop” suffered a heart attack and died by the swimming pool in his backyard.
Pop was like most of the men from his generation in that he always needed to be doing something.
After he retired from the Illinois Central Railroad, Pop opened the Tippah Feed and Farm Supply where he spent most of his time helping the farmers in the community and building relationships.
I remember climbing over the stacks of feed with my cousins, playing with the baby chickens they’d get each year around Easter and otherwise getting in the way of the people actually working there. As I got older, I’d honk the horn every time I drove by to let Pop know I was either in town or leaving.
Even after he sold the feed store, he could always be found working in the garden or canning whatever he had harvested.
Buffet and a Bible
Pop was a very religious man, sometimes to the point that it rubbed people the wrong way, including me.
There was a time when Pop and Granny were in town (Tupelo) and we met up with them at Barnhill’s buffet. You pay before you eat and as we were moving past the register I heard Pop talking with the cashier.
He asked if she knew Jesus Christ as her Personal Savior. I don’t remember her response or what else he said, but before he left he handed her a tiny Bible.
I remember being so offended that he had asked her about her religious views. I felt he had put her on the spot in front of strangers and invaded her rights. I thought it was wrong and it bothered me. It bothered me for a long time.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.”
When Pop died I was at one of the lowest points in my personal life and part of me was still holding onto the feelings I had at Barnhill’s. Don’t get me wrong, I was upset, sad and hurting that Pop was gone. I just didn’t understand why he asked the cashier that question.
I knew Pop and Granny were very involved with the Gideon International, the group most people know from all of the Bible’s in hotels. Pop and Granny would often travel across the country speaking at churches to help raise money for the Gideon’s.
I knew that every Sunday morning he could be found at their church where he was a deacon and Sunday school teacher.
Despite knowing all that, I couldn’t let go of that interaction at Barnhill’s.
It bothered me so much that a year or so after Pop was gone I brought it up to my Mom. Even though she was there, she didn’t remember the time I was talking about. What she told me helped me see the incident at Barnhill’s in a different light, but more importantly it shed light on a side of Pop I didn’t know.
Living Up to His Promise
Years ago after attending their first Gideon International Convention, Pop made a deal with God. Pop had enjoyed it so much and prayed for God to provide the money for Granny and him to go to future conventions.
In return for God providing for them he promised to tell every maid, waitress, etc., about Jesus and how they could get to Heaven.
After that first year, Pop and Granny never missed a convention.
But that’s not the end of the story.
When Pop and Granny opened the feed store, it was Pop’s decision that he didn’t get paid. Granny, who had retired from being the local high school librarian, got paid very little.
In an ironic twist, not long after Pop had retired from the railroad he was struck by a train as he was driving his tractor back from a field. The accident broke his hip and his recovery was long and hard.
Even with all of this Pop and Granny didn’t falter, continued to lean on God and continued to be blessed.
Then there was a time when some local dairy farmers were struggling economically. Three dairy farmers ended up going bankrupt which left large accounts unpaid at the feed store.
To cover the unpaid accounts, Pop and Granny borrowed money from the bank, at 22% interest. Their CPA told them they’d never be able to pay off the loan due to the high rate. He was wrong.
Pop and Granny paid on the loan month after month until they finally sold the store in 1993. The CPA couldn’t believe they had been able to pay off the loan. Pop told him they were able to because they had a “secret partner.” The CPA fell right into Pop’s trap and asked who it was. Pop responded with two words, Jesus Christ.
In 1992, Pop and several men from other countries was asked to go to Kenya for eight days to help with a Bible Blitz. Each man had to pay their own expenses and cover the costs of shipping the Bibles. The total cost of the trip was going to be $5,000 plus anything he wanted to spend on souvenirs.
Granny recalls a few Gideon’s gave Pop a little money but definitely not enough to cover the costs. But when the time came for the trip, Pop had enough money and was able to go.
Looking back at it now, Granny can only say that God truly did provide for them. Despite their small income, they went to several Gideon camps, donated to the Gideon’s, bought Bibles and gave money to their church.
Whether it was a big purchase or someone buying 15¢ of garden seeds, they were thankful for every sale they made at the feed store.
Throughout it all, Pop never forgot the promise he had made.
That promise was always on Pop’s mind. It drove him. It gave him a purpose.
Regardless of what you think about Pop’s religious beliefs, God, Heaven, Hell or anything else, stop and think about how many times you’ve made a promise to someone, to yourself. Have you always lived up to it? Do you still?
I didn’t learn of Pop’s promise until it was too late and I will always regret that.
But one thing I’ll never forget is that Pop wasn’t trying to offend anyone. He was just being a man of his word.