Friday, June 22, 2007

My Grandfather


In Deut. 6:7-10 God gives instruction to His people people to be diligent in teaching their children the things of God.
They are to talk about them when they are sitting in their house, or when they are walking on the streets, when they are lying down and when they get up. I think the idea is a 24/7 concept - that the passing on from adult to child is a never ending process.

God never gives a commandment that is impossible to obey... and while He admonishes the adults to teach even as they are living their daily lives, he gives them a helping hand in that He programmed into every child’s heart a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ tendency. This gives the ‘sponge’ advantage to both the teacher and the learner – the down side being that the ‘sponge’ is not always discerning as to what it absorbs.

There is a German expression that loses somewhat in the translation …it says “Lass eine gute spur zuruck” (Leave a good footprint behind)
I think we are often totally unaware of the ‘footprints’ we are leaving behind, or who will see them and follow in them. And so often it is not the footprints we purposefully and careful set down in the soft sands of life that are observed by others, but rather it is time and again the ones we never give a second thought.

I have been thinking a lot lately about my maternal grandfather who was born in 1899 in the Ukraine to a Mennonite family.
He died 22 years ago in 1985 when I was 38 years old.
I want to share some of my memories of him to encourage us – whatever our age- to remember that we have younger people watching us. We need to be careful to live such authentic exemplary lives that our footprints will lead others along the right path.

I had the privilege of growing up next door to my grandparents. We lived on adjoining farms and beside the fence dividing our cow pasture and Mom’s large garden was a long, well trodden path between our two homes. Some of my first memories include being carried by my Mom along the path to visit her parents. When I was old enough to go by myself I so clearly remember in the summer Mom’s dahlia bushes were taller than I was and it was a pretty walk to visit my grandparents.

I don’t believe my grandfather was ever aware that anyone was watching him…. he was first and foremost a very humble man – the true kind of humility that is totally unaware of itself. Many times, even as a child, I wanted to defend him….protect him because I sensed that he would never defend himself.
He was a quiet man, not given to many words, but simply who he was has left a deep imprint in who I am.

My best memories of him are childhood memories perhaps because of the fact that the time we spent together was spontaneous as I watched him do his day.
I remember running over, even as a young child, to help him feed the chickens and gather the eggs out of the several little chicken coups he had scattered on his farm. I remember how he enjoyed the fact that I could put my hand under one very ill-tempered hen and take her eggs out from under her. If Grandpa tried she would immediately and painfully peck his hand.

Grandpa never lost the ‘child’ within him. He was always very curious… (That’s where we get it from, Lovella !)
Every Christmas Day morning we kids would get up at the crack of dawn to see our gifts under the tree.
Without fail, a few minutes later, Grandpa – who had been watching to see the house lights come on – would be at the door to see what we got. He was almost as excited as we were.

When I was in high school my grandparents moved to a house in town within walking distance of my school. I would often go to their house after school and my father would pick me on his way home from work.
I can still see Grandpa eagerly waiting for me at the window and his first question would be, “Did you bring your history book?” He loved looking at my textbooks because he wanted to know what I was studying but mostly because his curiosity fueled his interest in history and world affairs. One of my deepest regrets was that he died before the Berlin wall came down… I know if he had still been alive and able to travel he would have been first in line to pick up one of the fallen stones. (His father’s family was from East Germany)

I don’t remember Grandpa ever ‘preaching’ to me but I knew how much he loved God. He was a deacon in our church and we had a custom that anyone could stand and pray at the close of the Sunday morning service. Most people who offered a prayer made it pretty short, but if my Grandpa got up my childish heart sank, knowing the already long church service would now go on for some time longer.
I also heard him pray at meal times and at all family gatherings. When he prayed he was oblivious to the world around him. He was talking to God and he had so much to say. He would talk to God about everything never aware of how much time went by.
Grandpa simply lived his faith and he left a deep spiritual impression on my life.

I knew I could count on him, he was strong and dependable and the love that shone from his soft brown eye spoke volumes. I don’t remember a lot of hugs but he loved to tease and would find little ways of showing his affection – sometimes just a silly poke or tickle.

I remember the day one summer my mother was helping my grandparents pick their raspberries and I was supposed to help too but it was very hot and as is so typical of kids (I was perhaps 10) I got tired of it very quickly. So I had been given permission to go ‘rest’ under a large tree in my grandparent’s front yard.
As I sat under this tree I was idly watching Grandpa’s big bull tied by a rope some distance from where I sat. I was quite used to cows but bulls made me a little nervous. As I watched this bull grazing I played with the thought of what I would do if the bull got loose from his rope.
As if he heard my thoughts, he lifted his head, looked straight at me and charged, the rope breaking without resistance as he pulled against it.
I, of course, did what kids do so well --- I screamed!!!!
I must have frightened the bull – or hurt his ears- because he veered off to the side just before he reached me and I saw Grandpa running toward me from the berry field.
It is the only time I ever saw Grandpa run!!
He captured the bull and assured me over and over again that the bull would stay in the barn and he would not tie it in the yard again.

As I mentioned before Grandpa was childlike in many ways. He loved to talk to himself. I remember picking berries in the row next to his and though he couldn’t see me I could hear him and I would listen to the two sided conversation he would have with himself, sometimes covering my mouth so I would not laugh out loud. I still smile at the memory and I can still hear his beloved voice!

My Grandpa did not have an easy life… he was born in the Ukraine.
He lost his parents to the typhoid fever epidemic of 1918 and almost lost his life as well.
He came to Canada with his young bride, whom he had married after she nursed him back to health, and farmed in Saskatchewan until 1948 when they moved to B.C.
He worked hard to make a living but never complained.
He was content with the simple things of life.

As he aged his hearing failed him and it was sad to see him withdraw from interactive conversation. He would just look at you with his expressive brown eyes when you spoke to him and you never knew whether he had heard you and had nothing to say or if he hadn’t heard what you said. He would never ask you to repeat yourself.

The one constant thing in his life was his faith, which never wavered. He loved to pray and he loved his bible, enjoying nothing more than to discuss doctrinal issues especially eschatology. I would many a night lay awake in bed and listen to the adult conversations going on in the kitchen – often discussions about how Grandpa thought world events would unfold before Jesus came back.

One of his greatest life-time sorrows was that his mother had lost her eyesight before he was born and had never seen his face. He spoke often of his excitement to meet her in heaven and enjoy the experience of his mother seeing him for the very first time!

He was so ready to meet his Lord and Savior and I look forward to seeing my Grandpa again one day !!
Until then, I am so thankful that I was blessed to know my Grandfather and that the footsteps he left for me to follow were good ones!
I treasure his memory.

4 comments:

Thoughts on Life and Millinery. said...

As you know, I had German speaking grandfather as well. He was gentle and kind, but I never heard him speak of God. Isn't it a wonder to imagine the conversations he may have heard from his own grandparents, who would have been born in the early 1800s. Like how Adam was still alive when Noah was born (if I remember my biblical math right) the story of our faith as we know it are echos from the lips of those from centuries before. What dear memories you have!

Lovella said...

Julie, you have so many more memories of Grandpa than I do. I loved reading more about him. Even though I didn't have as much time with him as you did, he always made me feel very loved. He had a pet name for me that I don't know how to spell and every time I came over he offered me a candy. So sweet.

Demara said...

Wow! So excellent Julie! I love the ending the best I think and I could totally picture you and the bull and your grandpa running...I actually felt like I was there from the way you explained it. Was I there??? Just walking up the yard to see you, perhaps? haha :) Your grandpa left a very memorable legacy...so neat!

Lovella said...

a picture . ..that is exactly how I remember him.