Summer Transition

Getting back into full-time ministry was one major reason we moved back to Tulsa to work with the Garnett Church of Christ. We’re also able to be closer to our families than we were in Nashville–not that Uganda was close, but I’m reminded as we spend time with our childrens’ grandparents that I was raised just a couple pastures over from my father’s parents and a few pastures away from my mother’s mother.

This was a formative experience for me that I perhaps didn’t adequately appreciate until I left and slowly realized that this extended family experience is not as common in the U.S. as it has been in the past and that other cultures still value this tight interaction between generations.

My grandpa, Ross, was a cowboy’s cowboy. He wore boots and had a boot horn in the shape of a long-horn bull to pull them off at night. He wore denim and a straw Stetson for work and a felt Stetson for church and formal occasions. He was a quiet man, and grandma, Grace, was not quiet and loved to tell stories, write and read poetry and talk on the phone and check on neighbors and shut-ins and would recycle greeting cards and add her own poetry and cute quips to the cards. Folks in the community called them, affectionately, “Amazing Grace and Old Rugged Ross.”

Well Old Rugged Ross had a stroke when I was in 7th grade and while doctors were removing plaque from an artery he suffered a stroke on the operating table. The stroke left him without speech and use of his right hand. His mind and memory was sharp, but he could not express what he wanted to say, nor could he write. Next to his chair for the next eight years were papers and marker boards with scrawled out letters, the evidence of his desire to learn to write again.

Grandpa did not stop working, however, and I and my brothers and sisters would help around the house and barn. My brother, Toby, and I fed the cows and horses and more than once forgot to close the gate–despite grandpa’s exhortations to close it or the horses would get out. The horses got out one day, and grandpa and a neighbor had to round them up, while I stood watching pensively. Grandpa just said something like, “Close the gate” and that was it. He didn’t have to keep talking–I got the message. He was a man of few but important words.

In the garden with a rake or in the pasture hitting golf balls, I followed grandpa around. He’d try to hold a rake or club in his right hand, in which he had no feeling. He’d repeatedly drop what he was carrying, and I’d pick it up and put it in his left hand, then he’d switch to the right and drop it again, and I’d pick it up again.

Grandpa died 17 years ago. Grandma died nearly 12 years ago. My brother, Brent, is publishing a book of essays by children and grandchildren of Amazing Grace and Old Rugged Ross. It also includes some of grandma’s poems. The title is, The Road Leads Home: Poems and Essays in Honor of a Quiet Man and a Poetic Woman. I’ll let you know when it’s out.