“Papa, why does Elvis shake his hips?”
“What’s better, a Ford or a Chevy?”
“Papa, what would you do if a tiger came up on the porch?”
“Papa, what would you do if a tiger came up on the porch and Elvis was riding him?”
I must have asked my grandfather a million questions when I was a boy. I would spend hours each day picking the old man’s mind as if I were on a treasure hunt, tracking down the secret of life and somewhere in his brain was the answer. It’s odd how, through the years, all those answers to life’s biggest problems faded away like an old photograph left in the sun. It’s kind of sad to think about all those words of wisdom gone and it being my fault. I had grown up and chosen my own path in life. It was a path that many young men have chosen. A path where you leave grandpa’s wisdom behind and learn things your own way… the hard way.
In fact, I even messed up a few years back and bought a Chevy. My momma said , “You should’ve bought a Ford. That’s what your grandpa always drove.” I wish I would have remembered that one. It would’ve saved a bunch of busted knuckles. There’s a lot I wish I remembered about the man. Especially what to do about Elvis riding up on a tiger, because I don’t have a clue about that one.
One day I was telling a friend about my grandfather. The conversation somehow turned to Jesus. It had been decades since my grandfather had passed away. It had been even longer since I had been to a church service. But at the sincere request of a very good friend, I told him I would go.
“Today’s sermon is found in the book of Psalms, a familiar scripture, Psalm 23,” said the preacher as he held up his bible.
I remembered a trick from years ago in Sunday school. If you open a bible up in the middle, nine times out of ten it will be the book of Psalms. I grabbed one of those bibles that stay on the pew and tried it, hoping someone would see me and think that I actually read my bible.
“Oh no, Proverbs, what do I do now?” I mumbled to myself.
I finally found Psalm twenty three. I just took the long way through Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Micah, Malachi, Mathew, Mark, Acts, Maps of Jesus’ Day, Genesis, Judges, Job; there it was- Psalms.
I tuned into the preacher before he got too far ahead.
“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness…”
Word by word, he explained it all. He explained righteousness, he explained walking through the valley, he explained death, and evil.
“For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…”
The preacher explained how a shepherd would use a staff to bring a wayward sheep back towards the flock. He said that the shepherd would nudge a straying sheep in the ribs with the end of the staff. If that wouldn’t work, he would take the crooked end and wrap it around the sheep’s neck. Then he would drag it back towards him. The preacher laughed as he said, “Don’t ask me how that could comfort anybody!”
All of a sudden, those words jumped off the page at me. The words of the psalmist made complete sense for the first time in my life.
I could see my grandfather the year he died. I was still a boy. It was a hot summer afternoon. He was sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair with a glass of iced tea in one hand, a black bible in the other, and his old walking cane laid across his lap. It was one of those canes that curved over at the top. The kind that reminded you of an old shepherd’s staff. I was playing in the yard, when suddenly I realized that grandpa looked way too relaxed. I thought I should go ask him at least one important question, if for no other reason than to keep him from falling asleep.
“Papa, why does that walking stick have a hook on the end?”
Grandpa didn’t say a word. He just took his cane and grabbed me around the neck with the crooked end. Then he gently pulled me towards him, gave me the biggest hug ever, and whispered “I love you.”
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