Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Gun, For Goodness Sake...

He wasn't perfect, but he was a good man. Most of what I discovered about him came through old stories of others he knew.  I heard stories of a little boy forsaken by the family that should have cared the most, stories of a man hardened through years of demanding work, stories of the woman that changed him and their simple life together.   His name was Willard and he was my grandfather.

He finished third grade and the fields called.  Nine years old was young to start working even back then in the hot southern summers. He found a woman and God found him.  He bought a few acres of dirt and built a house.  He made it into their home.  It was his little piece of the dream and they filled it with three daughters. He made a living beating out pieces of coal from dark tunnels inside the earth.  Life was tough, but he was tougher.  He was a part time preacher.  He wrote poetry. He was a good man.

For most of my life I lived nearly seven hundred miles away from he and my grandmother. Visits were infrequent and short. So, I left Nashville the Wednesday before Thanksgiving my freshman year in college and headed south to spend my break.  Immediately after arriving, I could sense something weighed heavily on him.  He talked about how he loved hunting deer around the pine thickets of northwest Alabama. He told of the deer he shot earlier that year and bigger ones from long ago. And then, he asked me if I wanted to go out and do some shooting with his favorite deer rifle.  I obliged.

He gathered the gun and some shells and we went out under the carport, past the catfish pond and finally settled in the rutted mess of a garden from ages past.  He grabbed a gallon milk jug from the old barn and filled it with water.  The air was cool.  It was quiet and cloudy, the sun barely visible above the horizon. I shot the Belgian made Browning 30-06 first, free hand from fifty or so yards. My ears hurt.  I saw the dirt fly but nothing else.  My second shot was true. 

He didn't bother shooting after that, but instead began to talk.  He said he had just finished his will and wanted to leave one gun to each of his grandsons.  I was one of those five.  This gun I now held would be mine upon his death.  But then curiously, he decided not to wait, but to go ahead and give it away. He wanted me to enjoy it.  He wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to get some use out of it.  I wasn't much of a hunter, but he was and I knew it was hard for him to give up something so dear.  He loved that gun and it took a good man to give it away to the grandson he knew so little of.

We went inside and he pulled a piece of paper loose from a small notebook inside his desk.  In black ink he wrote a bill of sale for a single dollar I never paid.  On the bottom, he signed his name, Willard Ashmore.  It briefly occurred to me that I should mark this moment in time and so I did because he was a good man. 

I guess I wasn't much different than most eighteen year olds, though, who thought things would always stay the same. They didn't.  He got older.  And me too. But now, I wish I had saved that old piece of notebook paper crudely scrawled through the good intentions of the grandfather I barely knew.  I wish I could say it was neatly folded and perfectly preserved.  I wish I could open it every now and then and better recall that day so many years ago.

What I really wish, though, is that he were still around for my children to know, for me to know better, to know the extraordinary heart of this peculiar, preaching poet.

Mostly, to know more of his goodness...

Goodness is the only investment that never fails.--Thoreau

2 Peter 1:4-5 NIV

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness...

Post Script:  The picture of the deer in the truck was taken in November of 1978 when I was eight years old.  Below the truck are two of the guns my grandfather gave away to his grandsons.  The one on the left in that picture is the 30-06 he gave me in 1988 which is also the same gun pictured with the notebook at the end. 

My sincere apologies to anyone bothered by the image of the deer. 


Glynn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glynn said...

Oh, does this brings out the memories. My grandfather's rifle, circa 1900, sat on a gun rack at our house for more than three decades after his death. My father never talked about, but it was clear it was something important. After my father's death, it ended up with my brother -- I got the family Bible (circa 1870). Thanks for this, Jeff -- and it is a piece of goodness.

Jeff Jordan said...

Thanks for the kind words. If the pages in that Bible could talk...well, I guess they do. My oldest son already thinks he's getting this gun passed on to him. I hope one day he'll come to appreciate it, not for what it can kill, but for the goodness it represents to me.

S. Etole said...

what a wonderful memory to have of your grandfather ... thanks for your visit today

Joyce said...

How lucky you are to having something he valued and to have the wonderful memory to go with it too. Great story!

Rebecca on The Homefront said...

Hello, I'm visiting from Bridget's blog carnival. What an amazing man your grandfather was. Thank you for sharing those memories of him with us...his goodness lives on through you.

Bridget Chumbley said...

What a wonderful story, Jeff. I'm glad you were able to share it with us at the carnival!

Joy said...

You sound like you've grown into a man your grandfather would be very proud of.

Jeff Jordan said...

Thanks for all the kind comments, everyone. My grandfather was certainly full of goodness. My grandmother who is still living has every card and note he ever gave her. When he died in 2007, my grandmother gave my own mother his collection of poetry and songs which she has sinced passed to me. I think my mom believes he and I were kindred spirits, but I know how much work I really have left to do...he certainly was a peculiar poet, cut from an uncommon mold. He is sorely missed.

M.L. Gallagher said...

Thank you Jeff for sharing this beautiful and powerful story.

I have a hunch your grandfather's goodness rests well in you.


Sandra Heska King said...

What a wonderful description of a good man. I would have liked to meet him.

Bernadette Pabon ,Teacher, Director of CCD, Author said...

This is a simple person who has shown you goodness and shared hia life with yours. I SAY THE GIFT IT SELF IS NOT IMPORTANT, BUT THE SHARING AND MEMORIES ARE. Thanks for the sharing.

JoAnne said...

Jeff, I have a soft spot in my heart for grandfathers. I only got to see my grandfather on my stepfather's side once as a child. But I was fortunate to get to know him when I was away at college. You brought back those "goodness" memories :). Among my Grandpa’s few worldly possessions, I found that he had saved a cigar box full of newspaper articles written about Hank Aaron. Handwritten on one of the faded, yellowing newspaper clippings, my grandfather stated “Way to Go Hank!” I too wished I still had that priceless memory. Thank you for your kind e-mail! Great post.

Jeff Jordan said...

JoAnne,I was born in Atlanta and Hank Aaron has always been one of my favorite baseball players. That collection of clippings sounds beyond interesting...and, I'm glad you were able to know your grandfather later in life.
Thanks for stopping in.

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