Friday, September 17, 2010
A man wearing brown pants with beige dress shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, stocked the cracker shelves as I swerved around the corner with my grocery cart headed for the saltines.
“Hi, how are you today?” I said, sweeping past him.
“Good, how ‘bout you?” he countered with southern drawl while shoving a box of Ritz into an available spot. An overhead light beamed off the baseball-sized bald spot on the top of his head.
“Oh, fine, just fine.” I said, torn between scanning the shelves for my selection and exchanging cordialities.
Chattering on as if he hadn’t talked to anyone all day, he spoke of everything from the weather to his first grandchild due the end of October.
A bell sounded in my head. This was a topic near and dear to my heart, for my husband and I now had five grandchildren, the latest born in our home only weeks earlier, and the sixth on his way the beginning of October.
The man’s glasses slid down his nose as he reached to unpack another box. His wiry, sandy-colored hair stuck out over his forehead like a visor. Somewhat stocky, his belly loped over his belt when he squatted to straighten the cracker boxes on the bottom shelf. His daughter, only nineteen, would give birth to a son, he told me, lining up a row of Ritz like new army recruits.
“I was just getting used to the empty nest, and now this—I can hardly believe I’m going to be a grandfather.”
I had been where he was four years ago. With two weddings in one year and two babies the next, I was still gulping for air.
“I know what you mean,” I assured, lamely glancing at him one second and squinting at the saltines the next.
“But you have to let them go. You do the best you can raising them, then you just have to let them go,” he said, forcibly brushing his hands together to illustrate his words.
I inched my cart down the aisle, but paused out of politeness when he continued talking.
“I wonder, though, young people today probably won’t discipline their kids the way I was brought up. It was a trip to the woodshed for me. Yep, I learned a thing or two with the strap.”
Nodding, I assessed whether to stick around and humor this stock boy—well, man—with more of my presence or make my getaway.
Was this a divine appointment the Lord had placed in my way on this sunny September morn?
As we conversed more about the need for discipline in our culture, a story popped into my head.
“You know, you’re right, discipline is so important for children. I remember a speaker I listened to once share how he decided to teach his children a significant lesson after they had misbehaved one day.”
The man’s eyes flitted to my face as he reached for yet another large cardboard box full of crackers.
“The father told his two children to come into the bedroom. Once there, he pulled his shirt off, handed them each a leather belt, leaned over the mattress, and told them to whip his back with the belts.”
A whisper of a frown passed over the man’s face as he cocked his head to listen.
“Well, as you might expect, the children were totally confused. ‘Daddy,’ they said in unison, ‘why do you want us to spank you? We’re the ones who did wrong.’”
“‘Yes, you did wrong,’ the father stated, “’but I want you to whip me. I will take your punishment.’”
“’No, Daddy, we can’t let you do that!’”
“By now big crocodile tears were inching their way down the children’s cheeks.
“’Please, Daddy, we can’t do this!’
“The father insisted, and the children struck him with the belts, over and over again at his command. His back, layered with red stripes, pulsed with pain. His children dropped to the floor weeping uncontrollably.
“The father turned, stooped and stretched his arms around his broken children. ‘That, my children, is what Jesus did for us. He took the punishment that we deserve when He died on the cross.’
“The children never forgot their father’s lesson, nor did they ever require a spanking again.”
With eyebrows arched like Howdy-Dowdy, the man stood frozen for a second, “Yep, that’s a powerful lesson, all right.” Shaking his head, he retrieved more cracker boxes and resumed shelving.
“Well, you have a good day now; nice talking with you,” I said, gripping the cart handle.
“Yeah, you too. Have a good one.” He waved a hand, signaling the end of the conversation. Yet, something in his eyes indicated he would be thinking on our visit for some time to come.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
While riding in the car the other day, granddaughter Kylie said, "Tell me a story about when you were little, Grandma." A frequent request by my grandchildren.
I proceeded to tell her the "sledding story."
One winter when the ground was covered with mounds of milky white snow, my neighbor, William, urged me to go sledding on Reservoir Hill with his buddy, Tommy. I agreed, and off the three of us trudged, William pulling a wooden sled behind him.
After we climbed the steep hill bordered on the left by barbwire fencing to keep the cattle on the other side from crossing, William looked at me with a gleam in his eye. An expression I had come to know as dangerous.
"Hey, I have an idea!" he said, flashing his pearly whites. "Since we only have one sled, how about all three of us go down on the sled together?"
It was more of a demand than a question, really. He was a take-charge kinda guy, and although I had definite reservations, his winsome way made it hard to refuse.
"Tell you what," he continued. "I'll get on the bottom; Tommy, you lie down in the middle; and Eileen, you stretch out on the top." We had played together for so long he knew I was ambivalent. "It'll be fun," he insisted with a nudge of his shoulder, hands in his pants pockets. "And, Eileen, you won't get hurt, 'cause you'll be on the top!"
I sucked in a breath of icy air, chewed on the corner of my lip, and finally agreed. What was the worst that could happen, after all?
I was about to find out. As we flew down the hill, William frantically clutched the rudder to maintain control while pieces of snow plastered our faces and hair. I opened my eyes long enough to see us inches away from the barbwire fence. Just as I squeezed my eyes shut again, William swerved the sled to the left, spilling me off the top and into a patch of melting snow mixed with mud.
As I stumbled to my feet, wiping my gloved hands over my brand new brown tweed Christmas coat, I glared at William. Sheepish, he shrugged, "I'm so sorry. Really sorry. Are you all right?"
"Yeah, sure, I'm all right." Technically, that was true. No scrapes. No bruises. No broken bones. No barbwire marks anywhere on my anatomy.
My outer body was secure, but my spirit was considerably rumbled, for my brand new coat was a muddy mess! And it was my only coat. I could hear my mother now.
"What in the world have you done? Look at this mess! Why, I'll never get this clean!"
A gash somewhere on my body would have been better than a dirty coat. This was bad, and I prepared myself for the tongue-lashing I would receive when I got home.
At snail speed I crept to my house, gingerly stepped onto the breezeway, and reached for the kitchen doorknob. The door flew open and there on the other side stood my mother.
I swallowed past the lump in my throat, fully expecting a maternal tirade followed by a paternal spanking that would warm my cold backside.
Instead, she gently nudged me inside the toasty, ginger cookie kitchen and helped me shrug off my brown tweed coat with the velvet collar.
She stepped back, turned her head from side to side, and frowned. "Hmm . . ."
Here it comes, I thought.
"I think we can take care of this. Why, I'll wash this up and it'll be good as new."
I believed her, 'cause mama had a knack at repairing, fixing, cleaning up, mending-- you name it, she could do it!
Next thing I knew, the brown tweed Christmas coat with the collar soft as puppy ears was hanging alone on the clothes line against the crisp snow, good as new.
When I finished the story, granddaughter Kylie piped up from the backseat. "Ya know, Grandma, your mommy sounds like Jesus."
I had never thought about that before. "Ya know, Kylie, you're right, she does."
And once again, a little child shall teach them.