In Memoriam of Poppa: A Guest Post by Joel

Joel, age 15
Joel, age 15

This is Joel. He’s my oldest biological child, and the oldest son in our home. A few days ago, I shared this open letter to Joel, writing about how proud I am of him and what a joy it has been to be his mom. It probably describes him better than anything else I could say.

Joel is my high achiever with the big life dreams. He is my hard and diligent worker, who gives everything he does 110%. He is either utterly serious or the biggest clown you’ll ever meet. Tall, lanky, and tenderly sweet … he’s the boy that made me a mom, and I treasure the gift that he is to me.

Today I am proud to share Joel’s essay about his memories of his grandfather. He is my fourth of my five children to guest post for me during the month of April. Next week, I’ll share Megan’s story. But until then, please enjoy …

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In Memoriam of Poppa

Wednesday, September 17, 2014. 7:30 am. My mother’s 42nd birthday. Typically my siblings and I would have woken her up, but today I was the one being shaken awake. Bleary-eyed and fuzzy-headed, I tried to comprehend her words. “Joel, your grandfather has passed away.”

Poppa? Dead? How could that even be possible? Just last night I had talked to him on the phone. Lying back down, I pulled the covers over my head. Maybe it was just a nightmare.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t a bad dream. My family spent the morning, throwing clothes into bags and boarding our two dogs at a local kennel. My mother, who was close to her father, seemed strangely calm as she double-checked our suitcases. She wanted to be sure everyone had packed dress shoes, and that my brother and I had both packed a tie to wear to the funeral. Shortly after 12 pm, everyone piled into the mini-van to drive the two and a half hours up to my grandparents’ home in north Louisiana.

Soon the flat swamp lands of southern Louisiana turned into rolling hills covered with pine trees. As the car sped along the highway, I began to recall the many road trips I had taken with Poppa. I enjoyed nothing more than traveling with him in his white Ford F-150. It didn’t matter to me where we went for I just enjoyed being on the road. Poppa and I both shared a love for just taking a long drive, no particular destination or schedule in mind.

I watched the trees pass by in a blur, and thought about the previous Christmas holiday. As it turned out, I had the opportunity to spend the week prior to Christmas with my grandparents. None of my cousins were there, so I got completely spoiled by my grandmother’s amazing cooking. During the day, Poppa and I drove around the back roads of Catahoula Parish together, making Christmas deliveries of jars of cane syrup to friends. . Sometimes we would go in for a short visit. Other times I would just jump out to leave the jar of cane syrup next to the door. Now I felt sad, knowing it was Poppa’s last Christmas, and yet at the same time glad because I had gotten to spend so much of it with him.

Before I knew it, we were pulling up the hill to my grandparents’ home. Cars were parked everywhere. Inside, there was a small crowd, talking in hushed whispers. Yet, even with all those people, the house felt empty and lonely. Poppa wasn’t there, and suddenly the house I always loved to visit didn’t feel comforting or familiar.

The following day we went to the church for the time of visitation. Slowly, I walked up to the open casket and stared at my grandfather’s body. I realized, as I stood there gazing at the man laid out in the casket, that a part of me still held on to the hope that perhaps everyone was just wrong. My grandfather was still alive and we weren’t about to bury him in the ground after all. Now, that hope was gone. I had seen for myself and I knew it was true. Poppa was dead.

I sat down in one of the empty pews, watching as the pictures of my grandfather’s life scroll by slowly across the screen. Photos of his boyhood, college years, and of the years when my mother was just a child. I didn’t recognize this younger man, though I could see the resemblance he had to the Poppa I knew and loved. Same twinkling eyes. Same happy smile.

Then there were photos of Poppa I clearly remembered, like the one of us standing outside in the yard with the white house on the riverbank behind us in the background. Poppa and Kaytee, my grandmother, had lived there for 15 years. My mother and my siblings and I had lived there with them for two years, after my parents were divorced. I learned to ride a bike down that old gravel drive, Poppa and Mama cheering me on as I pedaled faster and faster. One spring, Kaytee and Poppa planted a garden. I can still remember the feeling of the warm sun on my back as we planted the seeds. And I don’t know who was more excited, Poppa or me, when we started finding ripe tomatoes and cucumbers ready to be picked.

Another photo showed my grandfather at his retirement party, just four years earlier. Poppa had been a high school principal. I used to love to go visit him at “his school.” I really did think he owned it, too. Many afternoons, my mother would bring my brother and sister and me to visit him at his office. We would walk in, and Poppa would beam with delight. The first thing he wanted to do was walk us around the school, proudly showing off his grandchildren to his staff of teachers and to the students. If the gym were not being used for a P.E. class, Poppa would take us there so that we could run up and down the court. Later, before we left, Poppa would walk us to the candy machines. He would pull a key from his pocket and open up the door to reveal all the candy hidden within. “Choose whatever you like,” he would say. I always got the green bag of Skittles. My brother Nathan used to believe that we could have all the candy we wanted for free, but I knew better. I knew because I saw that before Poppa shut the door to the machine, he slipped a five-dollar bill into the coin box, payment for our snack and then some.

That night, we returned to my grandfather’s house. We were quiet and somber, everyone lost in thoughts and memories. How odd it seemed that a person could be so full of life one day and then dead the next! I had been hearing people around me talk. “Why just last Sunday, Malcolm was elected to be the chairman of the deacons at church!” Another mentioned how he was president of the town civic club, and was present at the club’s Monday night meeting. One lady shared how she had carried on a long conversation with my grandfather at the post office on Tuesday morning. I thought about all of this, and pondered proudly that my grandfather had lived right up until he died.

Lying in my bed, I thought of all the things Poppa had taught me: how to shoot a gun; to bait a hook and catch a fish; to drive a truck. Mostly though, he taught me by example how to live for God. Early in the mornings I would get up to see him sitting with his Bible in front of him, reading God’s word. He was a man of prayer, too. No doubt I am a Christian because of my grandfather’s prayers for my salvation. I feel asleep comforted by these thoughts.

The funeral the next day was crowded, the sanctuary of the Baptist church where my grandfather served as a deacon filled to overflowing. I felt honored that he was loved by so many. As I sat there during the funeral, in my heart I came to an understanding that to this day has helped me process my grandfather’s death.

While Poppa may have not lived as long as I would have liked, he left behind memories that I will never forget, a legacy for me to cherish, and a love that I will carry with me until the day that I die. Death may be able separate me from my grandfather, but the one thing it cannot do is put an end to the truths of who he was in Christ or the love that I hold dear for him in my heart.

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On my grandfather’s tombstone are engraved the following words: “The righteous will be remembered forever. ~Psalm 112:6”

Truer words have never been written.

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BaptistGirlConfession

This post is part of the 2015 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. If you are visiting due to that, thanks so much for popping in to read today’s post. I hope you will leave me a comment so that I can return the visit to your blog. I love to connect with other bloggers and readers. If you are a regular reader, I hope you’ll stick with me during April when I blog about the stories of my faith.

 

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All That Really Matters

This morning, at about 4 am, my grandfather left this earth and entered the gates of heaven.

I’m sad. He is my father’s father, so in a way the grief from my father’s death feels fresh all over again. And yet, there is also peace and even joy. My grandfather knew the Lord personally and the comfort of that is a precious gift in the middle of the pain of losing our family patriarch.

In memory of my grandfather, I am sharing an essay written nearly two years ago by my daughter Maddie. It was a school assignment to interview someone and then write up the interview. I’ve always cherished that she chose my grandfather and the words she wrote about him.

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All That Really Matters

written by Maddie Hamilton

On the surface, the life of James Herbert Terry, my great-grandfather, seems to be very ordinary. Known to his family as Papaw, he was born on September 19, 1923 at his grandparents’ home, located in the hills of Catahoula Parish in north Louisiana. He grew up as an only child splitting his boyhood days between living in the small town of Harrisonburg (population 3,500 at that time) and staying at his grandparents’ rural farm eighteen miles away.

As an adult, he did all of the typical things expected for men of his generation — married, raised five children, served as a leader in both the local church and community. Papaw worked hard to provide for his family, working as a teacher, banker and real estate agent. He even became a small-business owner with his wife. Even though he just celebrated his 90th birthday, Papaw still goes to work at his office each weekday because he wouldn’t know what to do if he just stayed home all day.

While his life may appear to be typical to someone of my generation, Papaw actually lived through many big events of the 20th century. He can recall his boyhood years during The Great Depression. He remembers what it was like to fight for the freedoms of others as a soldier during the Second World War. Perhaps most importantly, Papaw lived his entire adult life with his personal foundation built upon faith in Jesus Christ. Because of all these reasons, Papaw has many things to teach me about how to have a life worth living.

Papaw’s earliest memory is of The Great Flood of 1927, which was so devastating it actually changed the course of the Mississippi River. During the spring of 1927, most people had between six and eight feet of water inside their homes, so they slept in attics and somehow survived until the flood waters receded. Even though he was only three years old at the time, Papaw can still recall taking a boat ride through the flood water inside of a hardware store owned by his uncle.

Life in rural Louisiana was hard even before the stock market crash of 1929. Papaw, who was just six years old at the start of The Great Depression, recalls that his life didn’t change tremendously as a result of the stock market crash because his family was already poor. His father was a carpenter. His mother didn’t work outside of the home, but she did help provide during those hard times by taking in ironing and babysitting for a family friend who taught school.

Papaw recalls everyone had a vegetable garden, mended their clothes, and learned how to “make do” with whatever they already had on hand. “Every little thing was used,” Papaw told me. To illustrate the point, Papaw told me the story of how he once asked his mother for pet dog. “What will we feed it?” she asked him. Papaw told her that the dog could eat the table scraps. His mother said, “No, Herbert. We use the scraps to make a pudding.” And Papaw said that’s exactly what she did — leftover rice became rice pudding, leftover bread became bread pudding and leftover corn became a corn pudding.

Looking back, Papaw doesn’t recall that he had many toys as children do today, but he remembers getting presents like oranges, apples and candy at Christmas. And once, when he was in the 5th grade, he got a dictionary, a gift he was especially proud to have received. Papaw told me that living through the Depression taught him many lifelong lessons, such as saving as much as possible, living on as little as you could, and never letting anything go to waste.

As the Depression came to an end, Papaw had grown up into a young man, eager to begin life on his own. Unfortunately, life did not get easier because shortly after Papaw’s 18th birthday America entered World War II. It wasn’t long before he was drafted into the army.

For his first assignment after basic training, Papaw was sent to Vail, Colorado, where he trained to be a medic in the ski patrol. It was a strange job for a young man who had never seen snow or mountains! Somehow, he managed to learn to ski and was soon ready to head to the war front in Europe.

Once he had finished all of his training, Papaw boarded a ship and set sail for Naples, Italy. It was a miserable boat ride! For eighteen days straight, Papaw and all of the other soldiers were allowed to eat only one box of K-rations a day. Each box of K- rations contained a package of stone-hard crackers, a tin of rancid cheese, a bullion cube, and a piece of chocolate. A soldier was to mix the bullion cube into some water, which he would heat for a soup. The crackers could be soaked in the soup before eating them. Papaw said no matter what you did to those K-rations, it still tasted terrible.

In May of 1945, the war in Europe ended. Even though Papaw was glad about that, he was still concerned because his ship was about to leave Italy and head straight over for the Pacific to help win the war there. Needless to say, Papaw was very relieved when the Japanese finally surrendered before his ship departed. By this time, he had been in the army for three years. Papaw was eager to go back home.

Once Papaw was back in the United States, he earned a college degree, married, and began his family. I wondered if perhaps all of the most exciting, interesting, and important parts of his life were over. However, Papaw told me that actually the most important part of his life is something he had all along — his faith in Jesus Christ.

Outside of his mother, who was perhaps the greatest influence upon his decision to become a Christian, two other people encouraged Papaw to grow in his Christian faith. The first was a preacher named Brother Miley. When Papaw was a young teen, Brother Miley would often ask him to go fishing. Papaw said, “I think he mostly wanted to take me because I would always dig the up the worms for our bait.” While he enjoyed those afternoons fishing with Brother Miley, Papaw also said, “I felt uncomfortable about going on those fishing trips because I knew at some point he was going to start talking to me about Jesus. Between him and my mother, I didn’t have a chance!” Finally, when he was 14 years old, Papaw asked Jesus into his heart. As Brother Miley baptized him in the water of Bird’s Creek, the crowd stood on the bank singing the old hymn “Shall We Gather at the River.”

The other person who greatly influenced his faith in God was his wife, Juanita. They were married for 60 years, most of which they spent working together in their family business six days a week. According to Papaw, she didn’t work with him for free. He chuckled, “I paid her in dimes. She literally took every single dime that came through our store!” Papaw laughed and then continued with a smile, “Some folks would come in just to pay their whole bill in dimes because they knew that way Juanita would get her spending money.” Describing her as his better half, Papaw said, “I never knew her to get angry or to say a cross word to anyone. She had a sweet spirit through and through. She’s been gone almost seven years, but not a day goes by that I don’t miss her being here with me.”

This past September, Papaw celebrated his 90th birthday with a luncheon party. The party menu was filled with many of his favorite treats, including “The Gospel Bird” — Papaw’s special name for fried chicken. Surrounded by his five children and their spouses, ten of his twelve grandchildren and their spouses, and a myriad of great-grandchildren, Papaw shared with everyone how he had very few regrets about his life. “I am happy. I am blessed. God is good.”

Lovingly, Papaw admonished his family to cultivate relationships with others. “Doing so,” he said, “will allow you to have more opportunities to talk about spiritual matters. When chances come along to talk about these things, do not be fearful to tell other people who do not know Jesus about the free gift of salvation found through Him. After all,” Papaw concluded, “at the end of your life, that’s all that really matters.”

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Papaw

James Herbert Terry

September 19, 1923 – March 6, 2015