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. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Don't ask me to give you a hand...
I'm about as handy as a snow blower in Guatemala.  Never have been much of a builder/fixer upper.  I acquired it honestly, though.  I come from a long line of construction ineptitude and from men who would rather pay someone to fix their problems than latch up a tool belt themselves. 

How could a boy with a full moustache at fourteen years old lack the necessary physiology for handiness?
I took industrial arts my first semester in eighth grade.  Evidently, I'm not very industrious.  This painful reality started to become rather obvious to the teacher/foreman/real man when he first commissioned the class to make pictorial drawings.  Most in the class expertly produced three dimensional sketches of various geometrical shapes using a pencil and some sort of protractor type contraption.  My paper ended up as mostly a gaping hole from constant eraser abrasions.  The rendering left could best be described as an abstract mess of cloudy, graphite splotches.  Imagine my pain when I learned this would serve as the template for constructing a wooden model.

"Why don't you just make me run naked through the cafeteria at lunch time," I thought.  That would certainly be less emasculating than baring my deficient construction capabilities to the real hunter/gatherers filling the desks beside me.

 "Uh, the home economics class is down the hall, cupcake," I could hear them saying.

I lucked out in the end.  After seeing what I did to the paper, the instructor didn't want to give me a chance with his precious band saw and hardwoods.  He let me do some "filing" for him in the office while the others deposited sawdust all over the shop floor with their masterpieces.

So, of course, I married a woman who was accustomed to men in her life that made their living from building and repairing things. I mean, they just walk by a pile of wood that looks like junk to me and "ta da," a house appears.  Imagine her surprise when she married me.  My skills end at unscrewing a light bulb and even then I have to take the bulb to the store to make sure I get the right thing to replace it.  All that wattage and amperage and voltage talk gets my head turning in circles anyway. All I understand about electricity is that somehow it lights up that bulb and too much of it will kill you.  Isn't that what they made electricians for?  For most of our early years together I was able to discreetly disguise this secret from my wife.  But, having too much pride to admit you can't do it yourself and too little money to pay somebody else is a dangerous combination.  Eventually she found me out.

I remember one particular occasion before our first child was born when she wanted me to put the new crib together.  Talk about anxiety.  This wasn't just some romper room toy ultimately destined for the landfill.  A baby was going to sleep in the thing for crying out loud.  I took the day off to do it.  I still hadn't finished it when Lisa got home from school.

"What did you do today, honey,"  she asked.

"Uh...I've been working on the baby bed," I responded.

"ALL DAY," she inquired.

"Uh...uh...well, no..I mean, after I remodeled the kitchen, finished hanging drywall in the basement, and repaved the driveway I started on the crib," I thought to myself.  "Yes, ALL DAY,"  I finally was forced to admit.  Eventually, I completed the project with my inferior tools although I did hack out a few chunks of wood with the channel locks (I think they're called)while bashing a couple of the rails in frustration.

"Work smart, not hard," I was always told as if I knew what that meant.  Might as well be talking to the light bulb itself senor because I no comprende your ingles.

The truly sad thing in all of this is that I have two boys myself and at least one of them is as mechanically useless as me.  Sorry, Luke, it's not your fault. 

So to my children if you are listening (especially the boys):  You've started off life in a big hole, so you'd better grab the rope and get climbing...