“Death to the Christian is the funeral of all his sorrows and evils, and the resurrection of all his joys.” – James H. Aughey
In the grand scheme of things seven and a half years is not a long period of time. But when put in its proper perspective and based on its intensity, it could compare to a lifetime. That is how I view the time I had with my Father-in-law. His given name was James Richard Edwards but I always knew him as “Pawpaw.”
I will never forget the first time I met him. Cheryl, Pawpaw and Nana met me at a Chinese buffet for lunch. It was not only meaningful in that it was our initial meeting but it set a precedent of how important food would be in our relationship. I thought things went well when he offered to pay for lunch. He told the lady behind the counter it was three seniors and adult. Yep, just a little jab at me and almost as important a way for him to save a buck.
Months later when I asked for permission to marry his daughter, it was at their dining room table and I’m sure some type of meal had been consumed. He and I liked many of the same foods: fresh collards, salmon croquets, fried oysters, chicken pot pie and of course bacon, just to name a few. Over the years we would smoke all kinds of meat and even tackled the elusive and difficulty brisket. We watched more food shows than I could ever remember. He would record some and make sure I sat down and watched them with him.
As only God can do, He will lead you to places you never expect and sometimes don’t want to go. Such was the case for my family when we moved in with Pawpaw and Nana. We did so to keep the boys in the school they had been in, a promise I made them when I married their mother and one I do not regret. We thought we would only be there about a year or so before we would have a home on the property Cheryl owned next to them. That one year would turn into four.
Over those years I was able to spend a great deal of time with Pawpaw. We had conversations that covered the spectrum that allowed me to learn some things about him. When Cheryl and I married, she made the comment that she married me so her Dad would have a friend. Having lost my Dad over thirty years ago, Pawpaw would be more of a father figure than friend. For that I am thankful.
Tyler, Noah, Cheryl, Pawpaw and myself would tackle some projects around their home during those years. We put a sub-floor in so hardwood floors could be put in their house. We would replace all of the original windows in the house, replace the cedar siding on one end, and tile the kitchen along with all kinds of odd jobs. One of my favorites is trying to repair the light fixture in the laundry room. I was having trouble getting the wires tied together and kept getting shocked. I couldn’t figure out why until I realized Pawpaw was flipping the light switch on and off and laughing the entire time. I still twitch when I turn on that light.
During some of the projects around the house, he would tell me to do one thing then immediately tell me to do the opposite. I never knew if it was just to pick at me or if it might have been his aging mental acuity. No matter which it was, I was able to not hit him with any tool or piece of wood, although I would be less than honest in saying it didn’t cross my mind.
His desire to stir the pot along with a natural mischievousness would mesh well with my contrarian nature and so we would aggravate each other constantly. Very early on he would take pictures of food he was eating and text to me. If he thought it was something I would have enjoyed he would send me picture. Countless pictures. He was using food as a weapon. All I could think of were the famous words of Bugs Bunny, “This means war!” So for years the food picture bombs would fly back and forth.
We even became full fledge chicken folk. We took a shanty, little chicken pen and turned it into two chicken houses with at one point over 100 chickens. Raising and taking care of those chickens would be a great learning and work experience for Tyler and Noah and for all of us too.
God deserves the credit for the fine young men that Tyler and Noah have turned out to be. But God used Cheryl and Pawpaw to accomplish that task. In the absence of a father, Pawpaw stepped in and showed them how a man should act, work, love his family and more importantly follow Christ. As they get older, they will remember things that Pawpaw said and did that at the time seemed insignificant but in the end had a great impact on them.
I can personally attest to Pawpaw and Nana helping others, especially boys that couldn’t afford their wrestling garments, as well as feeding some of those boys when they didn’t have a parent or money to eat at an event. There are countless other acts of service but they don’t need mentioning, Pawpaw wouldn’t want that. It was not done for publicity or self-promotion, it was done in service to his Savior.
I will miss our conversations about God, the Bible and what it means to follow Christ. I will miss the back and forth of aggravating each other. I will even miss the food shows. I will miss watching John Wayne movies with him. Honestly, I won’t miss all of the Fox News shows. You have to draw the line somewhere. There is much more I could tell you about him, his travel adventures in the motor home all over the country for example, but there just isn’t enough time now.
Watching someone come to the end of their life is not a pleasant experience. It exposes us to one of our greatest fears and causes us to think on not only our end but the regrets and unaccomplished goals we carry. But for a follower of Christ, death is no end, only a transition to the beginning. I know that Pawpaw is now in the presence of his Savior. He no longer hurts, he no longer needs a cane and hopefully, he has seen some who have gone on before. He may even know things that he never knew before.
We all know that when we leave this world we carry nothing with us. But we leave a great deal behind. And it’s not just the stuff we leave behind, it’s the memories, the moments and the relationships. Those are the things that really matter. Pawpaw leaves behind a great deal of what matters, and that’s a good thing. What are you leaving behind?
“We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8 (NIV).
So it’s probably best that I make at least one final confession. For years, Pawpaw was consumed with the weather, especially when it was going to rain. That comes with being a gardener and Pawpaw loved to have a garden. Countless times he would say that rain was coming only to go around us. Time after time, he would complain. We gave him the nickname “Rain Splitter.” Telling him that the rain intentionally went around him. He also had two rain gauges in his yard. He didn’t know this, but for years he didn’t have an accurate reading of getting rain or of not getting rain. You see, I would add water to the gauges and take water out whenever it hit my fancy to aggravate him. Bugs Bunny and Pawpaw would be proud.
Run to the Cross!