Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Life of Generosity

It's been a little over 7 months since my Gramps died. Thomas Battice Effler. Mr. B. Daddy. Tom. Honey. Uncle B. He had many names, but he was Gramps to me. I still miss him terribly and I suppose that's never going to go away. I dream of him now and then....dreams where I can talk to him again and ask him about where I should plant a particular tree or shrub. Sometimes he's the young and vibrant man I remember from my childhood. Forearms like Popeye from years of hanging sheet rock and painting houses. Strong arms for hugging and picking me up. Making a "prison" by crossing his legs while sitting in his recliner and keeping me in it as I squealed to be let out, but not really meaning it. Sometimes he is the older man of more recent years....sick more than he was well. In those dreams he wants me to lay next to him and just be. In those dreams I know that he is dying, but I have time to say goodbye.

No matter what dreams I have about Gramps, one thing doesn't change. That unchangeable thing is my memory. I have a lifetime of memories that involve him. As was evident as I heard his eulogy at the funeral, the defining characteristic of his life was his unfailing faith in Jesus Christ and because of that faith a generosity of spirit that was unmatched. I could write a thousand stories that reveal the depths of his giving heart, but I'll stick with just a few that have special meaning to me.

I recently bought gerbils for my children. As I was standing in the pet store debating what kind of shavings to put in the bottom of the cage, I suddenly teared up. I hadn't thought of this in almost 20 years, but when I was in high school I had two white mice. I had gone home to Louisiana for a visit and when I told Gramps that I had mice, he didn't have too much to say. But later that day, he said, "Youngin', get into the truck. We're going to Teddy's" When Gramps said to get going, you got going or got left behind, so I hopped in the truck and went along with him. When we got there, he pulled out a long piece of cedar that he had gotten out of his woodworking shop. Uncle Teddy had a planer, and Gramps planed that piece of wood down to a pile of cedar shavings fit for a mouse cage. It filled a huge bag and lasted me for months. It was such a small thing, but it meant enough that I remember it still.

He and Granny never missed any big event in my life. I come from a Masonic family, and I was very active in Rainbow Girls. I was a Grand Officer (state officer) and held a position of leadership in the local assembly. They were there for all of my important ceremonies. Granny made all of the food for the reception that followed and Gramps made my wooden gavel out of black walnut wood. It sits on my shelf and I think of him every time I pick it up.

When I was 19, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. I underwent a exploratory laparotomy and splenectomy 4 days after my 20th birthday. The surgery was at a ridiculously early hour of the morning and it was still dark outside when they came to get me. As I looked beyond my parents and the nurses, I saw my Granny and Gramps walk through my hospital room door. They had driven in the night before and made it to the hospital in time to see me and pray with me before I went in. You just cannot know how that made me feel. Knowing that Granny and Gramps were there somehow made it better.

A few weeks before Gramps died, Mama had called me on a Friday night to tell me that he was in the hospital again. It wasn't really any different than all the other times that he had been admitted in recent months, but it was the first time that I had a vision of him in a nursing home. I saw him as old and frail, and it shocked me. You would think that it wouldn't considering the fact that he had been old and frail for some time, but I guess some part of my brain still saw him as that young, vibrant man of my childhood. I had a sudden feeling that I needed to see him. I felt like I was being pulled home and I had to go. I talked to Trevor about it, and made arrangements to leave the next morning.

When I arrived in Hammond, I went straight to the hospital but was told that he had been discharged so I went to Granny and Gramps' house. Maybe he wasn't so sick after all....maybe my gut feeling was nothing. I surprised Granny (I hadn't told anyone that I was coming) and after discovering that he was in fact still in the hospital, I went back over there. I finally found his room, and as I entered, I greeted him with, "Hey faker!" The smile that he gave me was enough to just melt my heart. "Youngin'!" he said in disbelief, "what are you doing here?" We sat and visited for several hours. Just everyday stuff. Sick or not, Gramps was still sharp as a tack. He was never afraid of expressing his opinion and he didn't start that Saturday as we spoke. We reminisced about memories of each other and he told me stories of boot camp and World War II in Germany. He told me about how he met Granny and how much he loved her then and loved her still after 59 years of marriage.

I left him later that day fully intending to spend most of the next morning with him before I had to head back home, but a call early Sunday morning from Trevor sent me flying home to him. We didn't know it at the time, but he had a kidney stone and didn't know the cause of his pain. There was no way for me to know when I leaned down and kissed Gramps goodbye that it would be the last time I would see him alive. I told him that I loved him and he said the same and then I was gone.

The call came in the middle of the night just a week or so later. Gramps went quickly due to a pulmonary embolism....we could not have asked for a better way for him to go. No pain, and he was lucid right up to the end. His was a life well lived for the glory of God and he left behind a legacy of love and generosity that knows no equal. I like to think when I perform a random act of kindness that I am somehow channeling Gramps a little bit. He would be horrified if he heard me say that, but I don't care.

So, I'll keep dreaming of him and telling my children stories of his exceptional love and generosity. We will tell and retell the stories of how Gramps threw us in the swimming pool to teach us how to swim, when we get together at Christmas, along with all the other familiar stories that we know by heart. I will keep seeing him in unexpected places and in my dreams, and I thank God for letting me be fortunate enough to be his granddaughter.

No comments: