We sit down at the small kitchen table with soup and a chicken salad sandwich. He chooses chicken noodle; we take tomato. He declines a drink. The small meal is fine, he says. I haven’t worked today so I don’t need much to eat.
We talk of slaughtering a cow and eating fresh beef. Of bees and honey collecting. Of raising and eating hogs. Of his granddaughter’s childhood memories. Of his mom and the meals she cooked for him.
What is your favorite meal, Grandpa?
I’d have to say beef with some potatoes and carrots. Maybe some mashed potatoes. Other vegetables.
They continue talking of yummy meals. He is smiling. She is smiling.
I am listening intently to granddaughter and grandfather reminiscing. I have no desire to interrupt or interject. It’s good for my heart to simply listen.
You know, the last time I had my dad’s smoked ham was when I was stationed in New Jersey. I had an uncle who lived up there and my dad had given him some ham. I visited one evening, and he prepared it for me.
There’s a pause in the conversation…I can hear the sigh of his wife’s oxygen machine and the whispered conversation of those in the living room. Then he begins again…
In 1942 I was stationed under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I worked on a switchboard there. We’d see ships coming back from Hawaii with artillery holes in them. They were painting the bridge at that time. It’s miles long. They were hand painting with a brush, a big job. Course now they have better ways to do that.
I was also stationed in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and New Jersey. I was sent from Kentucky to New Jersey with three other guys. Just four of us. We had to do all our work at the base. It was secret work. We couldn’t take any work home. It was then that I saw my first television in New York City. It would only transmit from one room to the next. Can you imagine? Think about what we have now.
He pauses, removes his glasses, and wipes his eyes with his handkerchief. The moisture gathering around his eyes barely visible.
They dropped the bomb on Japan and that was it. The army just let me go.
Were you drafted, grandpa?
Yes, I would’ve have enlisted…
He wipes his eyes…again…
But I was drafted.
I love history, so as he talks my head is filling in blanks…World War II. Pearl Harbor. The Manhattan Project. The Atomic Bomb. Hiroshima. And on and on.
One of the most pivotal times in America’s history. One of the most pivotal times in world history. And, he played a part. He knew things from working “in secret” in New Jersey that we’d never know. He knew of the world when women began entering the work force in droves because men were away at war.
World War II changed the face of America – from her workforce to atomic bombs. Things we’d never known became reality.
And, he lived through it. Served. Wow.
Well, I was 25 by then, and I’d spent some important years in the army, missing some things. I didn’t go college. I didn’t know how back then to go to college. I didn’t have the resources either. So I just did the best I could as a young man. I got into the construction business…I helped build bridges in Zanesville…
And on he goes about structures he had built. Bridges. Power plants. He describes working from heights and stuff dropping from above his head. Scary, hard work.
He finishes his soup and returns to his wife’s bedside. She’s moving toward eternity. He sits by her side, not knowing in just about seven hours she’d be gone, taking her last breath in her earthly body and her first in the heavenly realms.
This conversation…this day…was a gift. I was like a “fly on the wall” as a grandfather, who was watching his wife of 66 years fade from this life, shared precious memories with his granddaughter – my friend. I’d come to bring dinner, but I’d left with a treasure that will forever live in my heart.
As I drove home, I was reminded of a few things…
One. Listen to one another. I often talk first and listen later. God reminded me of James’ directive to believers in James 1: 19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…
Quick to listen and slow to speak. Just think of what I would have missed if I’d been quick to speak and slow to listen.
Two. Those who have lived longer than us have much to share if we’ll simply take time to stop and ask…listen. In this crazy, busy world we rarely stop to have conversation beyond will you pick up the kids? And, what’s for dinner? We seldom sit for a few hours and just listen to others’ stories. Sad, huh?
As I study the story of Gideon, I am reminded that we must always be looking for the ones who are older – those who can shepherd and mentor us well. And looking for the ones who are younger – those whom we can shepherd and mentor well.
Continually learning from and loving one another.
We ALL need a listening ear – young and old. When someone listens to us, it says to our hearts: You matter. Your story, your life, your experiences, your thoughts, your opinions, your everything matters to me. So I listen.
Are you listening today? What might you be missing by talking and not hearing? Who needs your attention? Who’s heart do you need to hear? I mean, really hear?
I pray you listen. I don’t want you to miss the gift.
Sarah and the WOP Team