His face resembled old leather. Silver wisps of hair poked beneath his cowboy hat. Although ancient, his was mind sharp, and his body spry. His name was Abraham Lincoln, a distant relative of the Abraham Lincoln. Everyone called him Pappy Abe.
I was a jaded journalist doing a magazine series on centenarians. Most interviews had been uneventful because of centenarians’ inability to respond. Relieved that Abe was the last, I was anxious to pursue something exciting.
The old geezer captivated me when he cackled, “Howdy, youngster. Fire away with your questions,” then offered me a glass of iced tea. The glass of tea was as much a fixture on him as the cowboy hat.
My research said he’d lived in the small Texas town his entire life, as had his father before him. It was a non-descript place that progress had overlooked. His family had owned a small store since the days when it was called a mercantile. Although a chain had opened a grocery store in town, he made enough to get by.
The middle child in a family of twelve children, he had outlived them all. The most noted thing about him was how the community considered him an authority on things. No one could be an authority on everything. I was spending two days with him, ample time to dispel that myth.
The first day, we sat on the porch in front of his store. My first question was simple. “So, your parents had twelve children?”
“Yep. Eleven boys, one girl. Pop’d tell Mom, ‘Agnes, we’re not filling my house with boys so you can get a daughter.’” Abe chuckled and rubbed his chin. “Marilyn was number twelve. Weren’t no more after her. I liked being in a big family. Me and my Delores had six kids.”
He got up when a customer arrived. I followed him inside, wanting to see him in action. It was a young mom holding a baby. She made some purchases, then blurted, “Pappy Abe, Jason has colic real bad. I’m at wit’s end. What should I do?”
“I’m not an expert on babies, but try this.” He proceeded to list a number of things, to which the mother gushed her thanks.
Back on the porch, I glanced at my list of questions. “Abe, what are your views on politics?”
Another chuckle. “Well, I pray ‘fore I vote. Reckon the rest is up to God.”
I nodded, disappointed with the answer. “Well, what do you think of our president?”
“Never met him. Can’t really know a man ‘less ya spend time with him. Won’t go off what I read or hear.”
“Hm, okay.” I decided to eliminate questions about politics and world events.
For the next two hours, there was a steady stream of customers. I got the feeling most weren’t interested in groceries, but had questions or needed advice. I noted that most of his responses started with, “I’m not an expert.”
People questioned him regarding a variety of issues from babies to rebellious teens, a broken mower, sermon topics, engine troubles, toothaches, blisters, weeds, relationships, recipes and so many things, I lost track. Only a couple times he answered with, “I’m not sure ‘bout that.” If that was his response, he usually referred them to a book or a professional.
When there was a lull, I asked, “Are you the town guru?”
That chuckle again. “Guru? Naw! I reckon folks think a man shoulda picked up a thing or two if he lived a hundred years. Now people – I do know about people. We’re not such complicated beings. We laugh, we cry, we love and hate, we get hurt and hurt others. Mostly if you heal the heart and head, other stuff just works out. Most things about life is just common sense. That mama with the colicky baby, she’s exhausted and stressed. That baby senses it.”
Later, I was reluctant to see the day end. The next day proved as interesting. I realized when Abe started with, “I’m not an expert,” it usually was expert information. It wasn’t so much his advice people sought. He genuinely listened and cared. It was the comfort of his love they appreciated.
As our time was ending, I ventured, “How’ve you lived this long, Abe?”
“Don’t rightly know. Most days I tell God I’m ready, yet here I am.”
Choking back tears, I mumbled, “I’m having problems at home. Can I talk to you, ask some advice?”
Nodding, he grasped my hand.
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