Be Prepared!

Arms browned, like wide upper branches, wrists tanned and thick, large head covered in silver white prickles, eyes of blue china, dark denim “overhauls”, and a laugh coming from so deep from his insides, we could just breath in the joy, that was Grandpa.

He always said he’d lived more lives than “Carter’s has pills.”  To this day, I have no idea what that means, nor do I care.  It means a heck of a lot in “Grandpa-speak” and I’m fine with that.  Grandpa boxed in church basements, he rode the rails and slept with hobos in those camps written up in history books.  He was a selfish man, he always said, before he was “slain in the spirit,” was “washed in the blood of the Lamb,” and gave his life to the Lord after living a life of sin and sorrow.

Every morning, before he went out to work the farm he loved more’n anything except the Lord God and Grandma, we’d gather in the front room.   Grandpa would read a selection from his Bible and we’d then kneel and pray for the day ahead.   We were a strong Christian family, but Grandpa took it heights we could only observe.  He gave thanks for every drop of rain and every ray of sunshine.  He marveled at the Lord’s work in the very seeds he planted.  He sang hymns at the top of his voice while baling hay and milking cows.  He lived his faith and we never doubted one iota he considered his every day blessed.

As he lived through his years, his only job was toiling the land.  To this day, I’ll swear on a stack of Bibles (we never did believe in swearing, and never, EVER, put anything on top of a Bible….even another Bible!), being a farmer requires the most intelligence and resilience of any profession out there.  He’s a horticulturist, he’s a chemist, he’s a mechanic, he’s a whiz at animal husbandry.  He’s a carpenter and a builder and a plumber and a tree-trimmer, and a hunter, and a dog handler.  He’s a vet,  he runs a dairy, a slaughterhouse, and has to keep the books so the whole thing comes out ahead so he can do it another year.

My Grandpa could do anything.  Anything at all.

And of all the grandkids, why, he loved me best.

He’d never admit it, no, that would be wrong.  But I knew it.    And he knew it, too.  Maybe it was because we shared the same blue, blue eyes.  Maybe because I could stand toe to toe with him, arguing my feelings about secular music or why I wore blue jeans instead of a proper dress.  Maybe it was because I could shoot and drive a tractor before I was in double digits.

Maybe it was because I could make him laugh his down deep belly laugh.

Didn’t much matter then, doesn’t much matter now.  My Grandpa sang German songs his Mama taught him when they come across Kansas in a covered wagon.  I sang them to my kids, too.

Time marches on, though.  Grandma passed away, quietly, happily, gentle woman that she was.  Dogs came and went and new ones came and went, too.  The favorite was always the once just passed.  The farm began to look a little ragged around the edges, and the fence rows became tangled with weeds and brush.  But Grandpa’s faith never waned.  He knew he was inching closer and closer to the Promised Land and since he couldn’t get out to profess his Gospel like he once did, he found himself a new way to advertise and, yes, proselytize, too.

Driving up the lane one fall afternoon, our car rolling up and down the lazy Missouri hills, green and brown grasses waving in the ditches either side of the two lane road, we spotted the never-changing profile of the house and the barn from the valley below.  Looked the same my whole life through.  As we got closer, the house and barn came into better focus and we could see the shape of Grandpa in his rocker on the porch, just like always.

It was when we slowed to pull into the white gravel drive, my Dad hit the brakes hard, slamming we back-seaters back and forward into the bench seat in front.

“Would you look at that…..!”  Wonderment in his tone.

We kids tumbled to the left side of the car, noses to the window.  There, hanging from the mailbox by the side of the road was a sign….

“Prepare to Meet Thy God.”

Oh, Lord.

Couple of us kids got the giggles, it was Grandpa, after all.  But Daddy and Mama looked stern, opening their car doors with purpose and slamming them with force.

“Daddy?”  Mama crunched across the gravel, undid the wire loop holding gate closed, and marched up to the side porch.  Grandpa waved grandly, giddy grin across his face, “Hey, Beppy!” Twas his pet name for Mama.

“Daddy, what is that?”

“You like my sign?  Got it over to the market this week, hung it just yesterday.  Purty, ain’t it?”

He was proud.  We kids then and there decided which side we were on.

“Now Daddy, you oughtn’t put something like that out for everybody to see.  Folk’s’ll think you’re touched!”

Crestfallen, Grandpa’s smile faded.  We kids rushed through the gate, and hung on his knees and the sides of his chair.  We’d were committed.

“Beppy, you know I love the Lord with all my heart.  I want others to know it!”

Mama tacked a different direction.  “Daddy, it hardly sounds like you want to save souls.  It sounds a little more devilish.”

Well, Mama should have chosen her words more carefully.

“Pop,” inserted my Dad, “Folk’s’ll think you’re laying wait with shotgun!”

Well, Daddy should have thought before he spoke.

Grandpa rose from his chair, shedding children, standing tall and strong.  “l tell you what, I’ll not be removing that sign.  It’s a light in the darkness, a beacon for the weary.   I am proclaiming my Lord to the world and I shall not be deterred!  And that’s all I will say on the matter.”

We kids all nodded.

And that was, indeed, that.  The sign stayed.

And the mailman wouldn’t deliver mail.

And the sign stayed.

And the man delivering the gas stayed on the road running a hose to the tank.

And the sign stayed.

And neighbors called instead of stopping by.

And the sign stayed.

And it rusted and needed repairing after a storm left it hanging by  one corner.

And the sign stayed.

And Mama fussed and Daddy pleaded.

And the sign stayed.

 

And Grandpa passed away, out in a field, surrounded by the sky and the crops and the sound of the birds, his last moments resting in the land he believed the Lord had given him.

And the sign, still rusted and tattered, is now behind museum glass and surrounded by mahogany and leather, enjoying a place of honor in our home.

And there the sign will stay.

 

 

 

Please Plass the Salt!

Fourth of Ju-ly.  Every year, Fourth of Ju-ly up at Grandma and Grandpa’s lazy, hazy farm in Northern Missouri.  Days was long and blue, breezes playing amongst the trees and the Rose of Sharons sidling up to the wire strands fencing the yard.

Sparklers and fireworks and punks and M80s under a can would come with twilight.  But for now, a still afternoon, chores done, America celebrated early, we’d slowly gather, meander, find our way, to the just barely overgrown front yard. Thick blades of dark green grass felt soft and cool under our bare feet.  We kids hated to sit down, but when we did, we left deep marks in the flattened grass.  Jo Jo left the biggest mark.  He had the biggest backside.  He’d always quick fluff up his spot, to avoid ridicule from us cousins.  Don’t recall that ever working.  We were beasts.

Grandma’d cleared the midday dinner dishes from the hot kitchen only  an hour ago.  She’d barely time to wipe her worn hands on her equally worn apron from that meal before the next stanza of the day.

Not a hurry nor a worry, today was the Fourth and one for just relaxing and playing, after all.  We knew what came next, though, and it was up to us cousins to find the saw horses down to the machine shed and haul those puppies up to the yard.  The men, uncles and grown boy cousins, they’d bring some planking up from the barn on their shoulders, makeshift banquet tables in the making.

I knew what was comin’.  I KNEW what was comin’!  I’d seen them giant green orbs coolin’ down to the edge of the pond.  Pretty soon, never knew what took them so long, the men’d amble off that di-rection.  We kids would fairly burst with whoops!

Nearin’ time, it was!  Grandma popped through the screen door, slammin’ hard behind her, arms laden with metal cups that hurt my teeth to drink from, and a gallon jug of her sweet, sweet tea.

We did like it sweet in our family, begun with a pure sugar syrup, tea bags steeping just so.  Clear brown tea, mine with no lemon, thank you, and barely cooled with only an ice-cube or two so’s I could gulp it down quick, long slurps, satisfying all the way down.  Then I’d ask for my.

My belly’d be nearly as big as Jo Jo’s be-hind after downing a long tall glass or two or three or four if it was real hot, but like love, there was ALWAYS room for more.

And I was born ready.

Eyeballs pealed to the other side of the lane, we heard ’em before we seen ’em.  The men, giant green and white striped watermelons  hoisted on their shoulders, whistled and laughed, actin’ like a bunch of boys, come over the bank from the pond,  Sleeves rolled to the elbows, wider grins that what we saw regular days, we knew they was as giddy joyful as us, knowing what lay ahead.

Odd, but ever Fourth, ever single one, it happened the same.  Like Disney’s dwarves, they carried their loads up over the hill up to the yard, all us left to the yard near standing at attention.  One by one, they unloaded their bounty into the metal tubs, filled with ice water, under the sea-horse tables.  Couple of us kids would slide below and bounce and spin them in the water, just a wantin’ to be close.

Over our heads, the laughter and chatter was a low buzz, the main event on the horizon.

“‘C’mon over here, ” Grandpa’d bellow to one of us cousins, ragamuffins all, bouncin’ and pokin’, knowin’ one day it’d be our turn, but hopin’ beyond hope this would be the one!

Like runnin’ a gauntlet of grins and joy, the lucky one would dash to Grandpa’s side.  A big ol’ knife, scary anywhere else, anytime else but now, rested firm in his hand, poised over the top of the first ripened watermelon.

With care and caution, the chosen one would lay his hand atop grandpa’s, with the precision of a surgeon, they’d slice open the first melon, laying bare the succulent, juicy ruby red, strawberry red, what am i saying, WATERMELON red fluffy icy insides!  Dots of black seeds stood at attention during the slice, and once the first melon was done, triangles was passed down the line.  We’d settle in, makin’ us new dents in the too long grass, and starting with the point where the melon was near pure juice, we’d dive in!

Heaven!  Juicy, delicious, cold, eyes-waterin’ deliciousness!  No idea what anybody else was a’doin’.  Me, I was in my own little watermelon nirvana, juice decoratin’ my face ear to ear, sticky fingers and juice runnin’ clear to my elbows, drippin’ off the ends.

Ain’t nothin’, ain’t NOTHIN” better’n this moment right here!

Unless….(and Grandpa taught me this…)

“Hey Ain’t Florence?  Please plass me the salt!”

I’d learned to ask Ain’t Flo, since she’d never make me “Come up and get it.”  She’d just reach right over the table where the grownups would eat their melon off plates with knives and forks, imagine, and toss the shaker to my spot in the grass.

Only thing better than watermelon in the grass?  It’d be watermelon in the grass with a shake of salt here and there to keep the eyes waterin’.

God Bless America!