Have you ever been with someone when they breathed their last earthly breath? I have, only twice. In September I had the privilege of standing by my Grandpa’s bed as he stepped out of his earthly shell, and into eternity with his Savior.
He lived until his dying day at 91 in the small railroad town he was born in. These days the tracks are gone. They began, lived out their usefulness, and disappeared in little more than the span of his lifetime. Born just before the Great Depression, he was no stranger to need. There was the summer he ate black-eyed peas for every meal, every day. “I swore I’d never eat another black-eyed pea again!” He would declare, the disgust still audible in his recounting. When I was in high school in the late ’80s, we would visit his father in his childhood home. It still didn’t have indoor toilets.
I remember early days of holidays and summer vacations spent at my Grandpa and Grandma’s home. My sister and I would wake up early, way earlier than we were used to, for my grandparents were up-before-the-crack-of-dawn, make-hay-while-the-sun-shines, salt-of-the-earth kind of people. Only the ticking of the wall clock in the kitchen could be heard, but the smell of blueberry muffins and Streak o’ Lean lured me out of bed. If you’re not from the south, you may need to search some sort of rural dictionary for Streak o’ Lean. Think bacon only cheaper. Rest assured it smelled and tasted delicious. Today I think we know it as pork belly and consider it quite gourmet. We would groggily eat to get out the door to the shop where Grandpa was already working. My grandparents ran a TV and appliance repair shop in their town for as long as I can remember. I loved it because it had an official small-town-with-awnings type of storefront, and I got to spend all day building forts among refrigerators and washing machines on display and play with a real cash register. Grandma usually didn’t work the full day when we were there since I am sure we were not quite the assets we thought we were at the time.
After an honest day’s work, there was always time for walking around Grandpa’s extensive garden. I mean acres and acres of garden with a cellar for potatoes, a cage for berries, and any kind of homemade contraption you can think of to keep the deer and even the occasional bear away. My Grandpa was the King of Homemade Contraptions. Lately, at their estate sale, I was approached by a couple with armfuls of miscellaneous tools and parts. “Do you know what this man did?” I could see the wheels had been turning trying to solve the mystery of why one couple would have such a vast assortment of odds and ends.
“Everything. He did a little bit of everything.”
If we were lucky we would get to ride the tractor, holding on tightly in Grandpa’s lap in the seat built for one. For dinner, he would make the best hamburgers you have ever eaten, slow-cooked on his charcoal grill with his own special basting sauce, every time we came. They were the only burgers I would eat as a kid. After dinner, the treat I looked forward to all day, “gingale” floats, finally came. No day was complete without sitting on the front porch swing listening to Grandpa casually picking his banjo or strumming his guitar, and in his gentle twang he would always let a few lines of chorus slide out. If we were there on a weekend, you can bet we were going to church, the Nazarene church they attended for 70 years.
As the story goes, Grandpa saw my Grandma sitting inside through the church window, and the sight of her took his breath away. He never looked back, and he never left that church. We loved it because people sang and shouted throughout the service, and it made us giggle. Grandpa would lovingly pull a handful of hard candies out of his pocket to distract us. I can still hear the crinkling of the wrappers and picture the variety of butterscotch, peppermint, strawberry, and horehound in his weathered palm.
We traveled back to that church for one last memorial for his earthly body. We gathered with family and friends to celebrate his life, his service. We saw the open beams of the high church ceiling which he walked all over to install lighting and fans. How fitting to have these great beams as a reminder of the pillars I know they were to so many in their small town. Through my tears I saw a community touched and changed by the humble lives of my grandparents. I saw that they were the ones you knew you could ask for help, and they would never say no. I saw that their impact is still alive today, not because they had things, but because they had love, and they gave what they had.
In December, Grandma joined Grandpa in heaven, and once again Franklin and Neda Smith, married for over 70 years, are reunited. For years, Alzheimer’s kept her from communicating with him, and still the last time I visited him at home he was crying because he missed her so much. It’s amazing that even though she may not have known who he was during the last years of her life, she followed him so closely into heaven. “A man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24 I’m so thankful for their lives, thankful they are with Jesus, that they are together again, and that we will be reunited with them all in heaven one day soon!
A Godly man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children. There’s no denying I am living the blessing of that legacy.
Hollie Gilman is a freelance writer who has spent the last 21 years momming, homeschooling her 3 almost-grown-and-flown children, and working with her husband of 24 years. She is a lifelong passionate learner in all things Faith, Health, and Leadership. Right now she is loving her new life in the country (being a pretend farmer) just outside her hometown of Richmond, VA. Her blog is where she spills her guts on the things of the heart we all share: faith, life, love, family, and anything else that tumbles through her mind.