06 January 2012

Lessons from my Papaw

My papaw turns 91 this month. So I guess it just seemed right to write out a few lessons that I've learned from him. Especially since I plan on sending several months-worth of this blog to my Grandma for some winter-reading. I think he'd enjoy hearing some of his stories retold by his granddaughter.

Do what's right, even when it's hard. Many times I've heard my papaw tell of working as an electrician in the coal mines during the 1950's and 60's. Conditions were bad, and many men seemed to have lost hope that they would ever improve. Cave-ins were not uncommon - one happened at the mine while papaw was home on lunch break. He was used to seeing men working with rocks falling onto their shoulders - and they simply trudged on - hopeless that it would get better. It was no way to live. In his early forties, Papaw decided to move his family from the mountains to the D.C. area. He left a close-knit family and a home that was paid for, and moved his family to a one-bedroom apartment while he worked as a janitor. It wasn't easy, but God blessed his desire to do right for his family. He eventually found a job as an electrician and God enabled him to make a good living.

God has allowed everyone to have strengths and weaknesses. Use your strengths and work on your weaknesses. Papaw has chuckled when he talks about the spelling bees and math games back in his Kentucky grade school days. He says he was one of the first ones out in the spelling bee, but usually the last one standing in the math game.

I'll never forget my sister and me finding a "Hooked on Phonics" book on my Grandma's bookshelf. Remember those commercials? Well, being the ten and eleven-year-olds that we were, we giggled and had some fun with that! Grandma overheard us and appeared from the kitchen. She told us very matter-of-factly, "That's your papaw's. He wants to read better so he can read the Bible better when he reads it in church." Talk about feeling only an inch high!

Reading was not his best subject, but numbers, on the other hand, he could do! I guess it was for that reason that the Army gave Papaw the job of setting the coordinates on the long-range guns they used during WWII. He tells of being woken out of dead sleep by the sirens, and hearing the coordinates being called out as he ran to the gun. And the stakes were high - if you got the coordinates wrong, you might be firing on your own men. But God gave him an ability to work with numbers and work with his hands. He used those abilities and did well.

Be duty-minded, but have compassion for others. When Papaw was stationed in Bora Bora in the Pacific during WWII, a boy in his company went AWOL. He apparently was found, or decided to return, and they met on the road as Papaw was getting ready to return to the States. This boy had enlisted the same time that Papaw did and should have been going home. But instead, he was being shipped to another island - an island, where we know now, there was an awful battle with many, many Americans killed. Papaw said when he turned to look at the boy once more, that boy was holding on to a tree crying his eyes out; he knew he had messed up and was probably terribly afraid. Papaw had fulfilled his duty and was given leave. But rather than talk about what a coward that boy was, he has always spoken of him compassionately - wondering into his old age if that boy ever made it back alive.

I'm so glad my papaw has shared these stories with me and the other grandchildren over the years. I have such good memories as a little girl of sitting on the bluegrass in his backyard while he told these stories from the picnic table; or in more recent years, sitting on the glider on the front porch while he reminisced of the war years.

If anything, it was worth writing this out so maybe my own children, especially my boys, will know their heritage. If they will grow up to possess these qualities, they will reap rewards in life, just as my Papaw has.

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