When I think of the concept of time, my mind goes to a large three-story house on Baltimore street in Middletown, Ohio. It was build in the 1920’s and it was a majestic house of beauty, standing in the best part of town, filled with a large family and the laughter of children.
But it looked so very different by the time I walked into it’s doors. The local economy had not fared well, and the once bright neighborhood had become dark, dirty, and dangerous. We’d scurry from our car on the street, up the concrete stairs, and duck behind the great oak front door while my Great-grandfather slide the dead bolt lock, and turned the two locks below it.
Suddenly my childhood self would enter a world no less real than Peter, Lucy, Edmund, and Susan entering C.S. Lewis’ Wardrobe. Everything changed, and my white-haired, spectacled grandfather became the best of imaginative storytellers. I would sit at his feet for hours while my mom would set the hair of my great-grandma. Her religious beliefs prevented her from ever cutting it. My mom would roll it up into a Phd…. known as a pentecostal hair do… high above her head.
While all that hair-doing was going on, I listen to the quiet, slow voice of Grandpa Elden. He tell of an old Model-T Ford driving over him, leaving him unharmed in the dirt road. He said that he was unharmed because he'd put on three pairs of pants for a recent spanking. I don't think the corporal punishment had much of an effect on him. He also told of stealing candy at the corner store as a child… and of course getting caught. I think that actually led to the spanking and car rolling?
He’d tell of surviving the Great Depression, and two world wars. He knew the world before televisions, and a phone in every house. He'd gone to Africa as a missionary. He had tribal shields and spears to prove it... hidden in a dusty room that was usually locked. He open it and leave the door cracked so I could sneak it and explore.
I was fascinated with this little quiet man who had so many stories and secrets. I would have ignored his stories for tall tales... except for his intense blue eyes that spoke of truth.
What I remember most of him is his use of time. It was incredibly efficient. I suppose he’d had decades of perfecting his movements. His life was filled with patterns. The old carpet was worn with trails that perfectly fit his footsteps.
Even an action as simple as making a cup of tea was a beautiful symphony of small meaningful actions… the rise and fall of his hand as he’d swirl the spoon. The way his face would crinkle with a smile and a sigh after his first sip. The sound of the teaspoon being gently placed back onto the china platter.
He had Parkinson’s disease. I remember watching him fade. I remember visiting him in the elderly care home when I came from college. I remember his thinned face and hands. I remember helping him in the bathroom. I remember our final prayer together.
My last words to him on this earth were, I love you Papaw Henry. I walked out of that facility feeling like my throat was being squeezed as I fought back tears. I remember my time with him so clearly.
He filled each moment with purpose.
He was aware of his passing days, and he poured those moments into his little great-grandson.
I smile when I think of him.
He gave me a great gift…
time well spent and a life on purpose.
Our house in Guatemala has no shag carpet. And yet I am keenly aware that my footsteps are making paths from the shuffling of my days.