His name is Jack. Quarterback Jack, as he was sometimes called. He spent his youth working hard and playing football and being the oldest of three sons. He spent his early adult years serving his country, graduating from college, and teaching and coaching. And fishing. All of that when he wasn't falling in love with Carolyn. His wife. The mother of his five children.
I'm the oldest daughter of his oldest daughter. Jack, this handsome, hysterically funny man, is my Grandfather.
He has Parkinson's. Before that showed up, though, he had a mischievous streak a mile long. As a child, I'd be sent to the living room to ask my Grandfather if he'd like dessert. Jack would be sitting in front of the ballgame with his son and sons-in-law, my father included, and glance at me long enough to reply, in all seriousness: "Well, BB, is a snake's belly low?". Then he'd wink. I'd double over in laughter and run back to the kitchen hollering, "Mom! Mom! He said 'is a snake's belly low?'!"
We were all shocked to hear his diagnosis. At first, a few years ago, it didn't mean all that much. Not then. We read about it and asked questions and asked him, all the time, "How're you feeling, Grandad?" Fine. He always felt fine. Then one Christmas we noticed his hands shaking as he ate. The next time we saw him he needed our help getting around. The next time he rolled to the table in his wheelchair. The next time he was confined to bed.
I drove to see him last night. I walked the long, brightly lit hall until I got to the room with his name outside the door. James Allen, it read. I walked in. My Grandmother was sitting along side his hospital bed, as she always is.
She gasped and stood, all hugs and smiles. I smiled, for her, and turned my attention to the man in the bed. He was staring straight ahead, his face blank and his mouth slightly open. His feeding tube and IV sat close by, and I busied myself reading the labels on his "food" bottle and answering my Grandmother's questions. Yes, I'm good. Yes ma'am, I'm really busy. Yes, everything's fine.
The room was stuffed to the gills, it seemed, with cards and pictures and plants. One little ivy plant had a scarecrow pushing a wheelbarrow. The forced cheerfulness seemed lost in the sterile, sad room. I turned from the plants and found my Grandfather's hand and held it.
"Jack," said my Grandmother, loudly. "Do you know who this is?"
He didn't. I smiled and squeezed his hand anyway. He coughed.
That man in the bed isn't my Grandfather. I want it to be him, again, but it's not. It's just not. He's not the same man who, as a teacher and administrator, taught thousands of students to think and perform - in the classroom, on the field, in life. He's not the same man who taught me to honor my parents, love the Lord my God with all my heart, and do well in school. And fish. Oh, the fishing...
He took me out in his boat early one Saturday morning, just the two of us. I must have been... what? Seven? He buckled my life jacket and handed me my fishing rod and sat me firmly in the boat. He rowed as I talked... gabbing on about who knows what. When we reached the middle of the pond he stopped, tucked the oars under our feet, and baited my hook. "There's a big one out there, BB," he said, scanning the water. "What do you say we take her home today?"
Anything for you, Grandad.
He told jokes and we laughed as the sun traveled over the water and above our heads. I'd cast my line and flick my rod, like he taught me, to entice the fish. Just as I got comfortable, a yank at the end of my pole nearly pulled me from the boat. "You got the big one, BB!" my Grandfather yelled. "Reel 'er in! Reel 'er in!"
As that pole nearly bent in two, it took all of one second for me to realize that there could only be one winner in fishing: that sea creature or me. I screamed and tossed the pole in, letting the swimming monster have it all - hook, rod and reel, everything.
"What... why'd you do that, BB?" my Grandfather hollered in disbelief. We watched as the rod zipped through the water in a clean, straight line, and then dipped under.
"I didn't mind catching the monster, Grandad," I said. "I just didn't want to ride home with it in the same truck."
He looked at me for a long minute and then chuckled. Then he laughed. And laughed and laughed. I still remember sitting in that boat atop a sea of sparkly, slippery water, and feeling my ears fill with his laughter.
I'm sure, if he could, he'd tell you the story himself. It was one he'd like to tell, ending it each time by shaking his head and saying, "Man, that was a new rod, too."
But back in his room last night, it was apparent his days of telling that story - or any story, for that matter - are over. I stood to go. I said goodbye to my tired, lonely Grandmother and then turned to Jack. Please know me. Please know me, I prayed silently. Then I grabbed his hand once more and bent over and kissed his cheek. "Grandad, it's me. BB," I said softly. "I need you to hear me, okay? I need you to hear that I love you, Grandad. I love you. And I'm sorry. I'm sorry about your rod and reel."
I felt a small squeeze on my hand. When I straightened up and looked at him, he was smiling.
Oh God, I'll wager on Your love as I wait on Your mercy. I will see Your goodness, Lord, in the land of the living. Please watch over and bless my family - all our families - as we wait expectantly for You.
Monday Moment is a little devotional to help kick start your week. See you again next Monday!