Sunday was a day when we were supposed to stop everything too. It was a true “Day of rest”, for the people in my family and my community. We took that seriously. Usually. All the shops and restaurants were closed down… nobody did any farm work or house work. My parents taught us that a person is supposed to give their best to God. That included stopping all the weekly business and busyness as God commanded us to do. I always wondered why the first day of the week on the calendar was Sunday… weren’t we commanded to rest and set aside the last day of the week to honor God? So, why didn’t we go to church on Saturday? Why wasn’t Saturday our “Day of Rest” if it was the last day on the calendar? I wore my Momma out asking her questions. I remember asking Momma a few times about the “real day” of rest, and she answered me in her weary of my endless questions she couldn’t answer voice, “I don’t know. It’s just not the way we do it. We do it the way we‘ve always done it. I didn‘t make the rules, I just follow them.” Or, “I don’t know. I might be old, but I wasn’t there In the Beginning, so I didn’t hear it from God first hand. I just go to church when they open the doors for services.” Or, “Go ask the preacher.”
But I didn’t ask the preacher because he didn’t strike me as the type to know the answer…he struck me as the type to make up an answer that sounded half way believable, but that‘s not the same thing as the truth. So I asked Granddaddy.
“Sweetheart, I don’t know if the world was made in six days or six billion years.. And I don’t know who the clever people were that figured out there were 365 days in a year, or who decided that a year should be divided up into twelve months, or that each month have thirty days give or take a day or two. I don’t know who decided to name an hour an hour or how long it took them to figure out that there are twenty four of them in a day… and sixty minutes in an hour… and sixty seconds in a minute. Thinkin about all those numbers makes my brain want to shut down! And I don’t know why the days have the names they do… or even if the calendar has seven days because the Bible gives us that number.
“Man is very clever, Sweetheart… we organize everything so that we can try and make sense of things. How many days there are or weeks there are or seconds… we can get all caught up in those things and ask questions about those things our whole lives and never get a good answer. None of that is the important part anyway. The important part, at least I think, is that God wants us to spend time with Him. Lots of time. And if we can’t remember to think about Him and thank him during our busy work days, then He wants to make sure we slow down at least on one day. To set it apart. To make it different than all the rest. Does it matter that we do that on Sunday? I don’t really think so… but I do think that it important that we agree, us people down here on Earth, and come together on that special, set- aside day… as a community.”
I nodded my head in agreement. So far what Granddaddy was saying rang true to me. He continued, “People can’t just be doin and doin and doin all the time… sometimes we have to think about what we are doin and maybe even ask ourselves why we are doin it. We’ve got to every now and then ask ourselves what is important… and are we livin in a way that shows others what we think is important. If we were the type of creatures who could realize when we needed to stop for a while, or if we could be grateful without having to be reminded all the time, God might not have felt the need to command us to take a whole day off. But He knows us…better than we know ourselves. He knows we get distracted and we get busy. Sweetheart, I don’t know a book answer, I just know what makes sense to me. And I believe God made us to be His family. To spend time with Him… all of us together. And if the only way that people will take the time out is for one whole day to be set aside, then that is what needs to be done. That is what we will do.”
Granddaddy’s answer was good enough for me. It made sense that it didn’t matter about the day, just so long as there was a special time for God. I didn’t get in a conversation with Granddaddy about this on that day, but there was another similar question that always kind of bothered me. And it took me a long time to get a good answer. How is it that a bunch of different people can all read the same verse from the Bible and everybody get something different from it? A difference of interpretation of the scripture seems to cause a world of problems… literally. One such problem occurred on a Sunday when I was a teenager. And it just happened to be a disagreement between me and Granddaddy. It was the only time that I can really remember Granddaddy getting truly upset with me. I always thought Granddaddy and I were on the same page when it came to the notion of breakin rules that didn’t make sense…but for Granddaddy, there were some rules that made sense to him…and regardless of whether they made sense to other people, they shouldn’t be broken, no matter what.
Granddaddy hadn’t been feelin well. His color hadn’t been good. He hadn’t been complainin, but by the pained look on his face and the way he would put his hand up to his chest, I worried that his heart felt “off.” He had been taking naps during the day, and sittin down a lot… and none of that was like him to do. But he wouldn’t stop. He kept the same schedule as he always had…up before the crack of dawn and not in bed until way after dark. He had his animals to tend, and his house and barn and fences to keep up and his crops to work. He had his vegetable and herb gardens and his flower beds and his fruit and nut trees. He didn’t know how to take it easy, except on Sundays.
One Saturday night at dinner, after Granddaddy had just not been acting like himself for several weeks, I heard Daddy and Granddaddy talking on the front porch. Granddaddy asked, “Henry, do you reckon either Tommy or Billy will be coming home for a weekend anytime soon?” My Daddy paused for a second and answered with a quizzical tone to his voice, “No, Thomas, I think they won’t be back this way for a while. Tommy is getting in the hay for his new father in law, and I believe Billy is working hard up at school. Maybe not so much on his classes, but on the little girl he is trying to impress .” Daddy waited to see if Granddaddy would elaborate on the question, but Granddaddy said no more about it. Daddy wasn’t the type to ask more about something if more wasn’t offered. Daddy pretty much never questioned people. I reckon he figured if somebody wanted to give him information they would…He didn’t think it was proper to meddle in somebody else’s business… and to some degree, I agree. But I think never asking people about themselves and not findin out what is really happenin is flawed. It’s one thing to meddle, but another thing entirely to speak up about your concerns. If the hard questions aren’t ever voiced, then sometimes the easy answer is the only one considered… and easy answers to hard problems are sometimes terribly wrong. Lookin back, I wish Daddy would have meddled in my business a little bit more…actually, a whole lot more.
Anyway, I didn’t know why Granddaddy was asking for Tommy and Billy…but I was eavesdropping on a conversation that wasn’t mine, so it really wasn’t my place to ask. I did have a notion though that Granddaddy was hopin to get some help on his farm. Granddaddy had some workers who came during the busy times. But Granddaddy wasn’t the type to ask for help…unless it was offered. Momma had always been real good about seein to it when we were growin up that Tommy and Billy help Granddaddy with anything that needed doin, whether it was asked of them or not. I knew that had been a big help over the years, and I would have happily kept up the tradition, but one teenage girl’s strength just does not equal that of two almost grown men…especially my brothers who were as freakishly strong for men as I was for a girl. I did some things around Granddaddy’s farm that needed doin, but there were always things that we couldn’t get to.
My little brother Jack was still too young to be much help, and he had really been so coddled that he didn’t much know how to do anything anyway. He was also a lot like Daddy in that they both had their own interests. When Jack was building model trains, or readin, or teachin the family dogs and cats tricks, he didn‘t think about anything or anybody else.
I had seen Granddaddy start and stop raking about ten times since all the leaves on the giant Oaks and red maples had fallen. Raking his yard in late October had never been a chore for Granddaddy. It was an event that he looked forward to all year long… almost like it was a holiday… or a Holy Day. I knew there was something bad wrong with him when he couldn’t even muster the energy to do his favorite Autumn task. I was truly afraid for him…that he couldn’t rake for more than a few minutes with out having to stop really scared me. I concluded that Granddaddy had asked Daddy about my big brothers because he was hopin that Tommy and Billy would come home soon to rake his yard. With both of them workin, it would take no time at all…a couple of hours at most. Granddaddy was a true nature lover, but he was also very particular about his yard. He like his bushes trimmed and his flowers dead headed and he liked to spread thick compost and mulch around in his rock wall lined flower beds. I knew it was makin him crazy that his yard was in such disarray.
The next morning, after I overheard his conversation with Daddy, was a Sunday morning, and I decided that I wasn’t gonna just sit around and worry. I was gonna take action. I had never ever done this before, but I decided to break a rule. I thought it was, without a doubt in my mind, a rule worth breaking. When Momma woke me, like she always did, to get ready to go to Sunday school, I told her I wasn’t feelin like going. That wasn’t a lie, after all. I wasn’t ill…but they didn’t need to know that. I just wasn’t feelin like going. So while everybody else got ready and ate breakfast, I stayed in my room. When I heard the front door shut and shut and shut again, and I heard the car start and drive away, l pulled of my night shirt and pulled on a sweater and some worn out overalls and boots.
I knew the Sunday routine by heart. Right at that moment, Daddy with everybody but me in his car, was drivin over to Grandma and Granddaddy’s house. They would honk the horn, and Granddaddy and Grandma would come outside and Jack would jump in Granddaddy’s car with them… I usually road to church with them too… not only to be with my precious grandparents, but also to get away from my sisters. Then everyone would all go to church in a two car convoy. I knew I had somewhere between 3 and 3 and a half hours until everybody got back home. Billy’s red light weight wool jacket, the one he reluctantly gave to me after my insistent pestering to have it, was a beacon to stop before I ran out the door. It was a reminder to consider the cool, damp morning. I yanked the jacket off of the coat tree and ran as fast as I could to Granddaddy’s house. For the next three hours I worked like a mad woman raking over an acre of thick, damp leaves. I didn’t even try to get the flower beds cleaned out… that would just have to wait for another day. And Granddaddy was so persnickety about the details of those beds anyway. I figured Granddaddy would probably rather do those himself , and they shouldn’t be too tiring to tend.
I was sittin on Grandma’s front porch, jacket long off and sweater sleeves pushed up as high on my arms as they would go. I was wipin my damp brow, shielding my eyes from the noontime sun, and lookin out over my handiwork…and feeling pretty smug. I was drinkin my third glass of lemonade slowly and savoring the feeling of such a grand accomplishment, when I saw the family cars driving up the road toward Granddaddy’s house.
Momma and Daddy were in the front car with Betsy and Sharon and Grandma and Granddaddy were drivin pretty far behind with Jack. Daddy’s car turned into the drive and kept a steady paced right on up to the house. But when Granddaddy turned off the main road onto his drive, his car slowed to a snail’s pace.
Momma and Daddy got out of our car and came up to where I was sittin. Momma said, “Looks like you or somebody’s been busy this mornin.”
“Yeah, while you were supposedly so sick that you couldn‘t even leave your room.” Betsy made one eyebrow go up and the opposite side of her mouth curved down and her lips poke out all at the same time. It was a trick she often did with her face when she spoke to me.
Sharon followed Betsy into Grandma’s house where, as always, the two of them would start setting the Dining Room table. That was the one thing in life I knew they were good for and good at. We always shared Sunday Dinner at Grandma‘s. Momma and Grandma and my sisters had prepare the meal on Saturday afternoon. All they had to do after church was just heat it up. After her comment about “somebody being busy,” Momma had passed by me. But she didn’t go in the house. She waited for Daddy by the door. Daddy didn’t say anything to me. He just looked up at Momma and raised his eyebrows and then patted my head as he went by. Then he opened the door for Momma and they both went inside. Then the door was quietly pushed shut behind them.
I was starting to get a funny feeling. My parent’s weren’t acting at all like themselves. And my discomfort wasn’t alleviated when Grandma and Jack got out of the car. Jack ran up the steps and smiled, oblivious as always. But when Grandma passed, she just shook her head and sighed.
What did all of this odd behavior mean was about to happen? Granddaddy had never spanked any of us, or had never even spoken a harsh word to us… or even in front of us. He never cursed and he never screamed, or even raised his voice. But I was startin to feel like I was in big trouble.
Granddaddy sat in his car for several minutes. A part of me would have liked nothin better than to jump up off that porch and run home as fast as my legs would carry me. But, somehow, I knew that wouldn’t make anything better… whatever it was that was actually wrong. My smug feeling of accomplishment was quickly being replaced with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. I hated people to be upset with me… especially people I cared what they thought of me. I think it was because we all had so much respect for how calm and fair and even tempered Granddaddy always was, that all of us kids were so well behaved around him. He expected a lot from us, and we loved him so much and respected him so much that we didn’t want to disappoint him. I had a terrible feeling that somehow I had disappointed him.
If I ran away, I would just be prolonging the inevitable. I was going to have to sit and face whatever consequences I had coming for whatever it was that I had done. The sun was reflecting off of the car windshield, so I couldn’t see Granddaddy inside the car. I had no idea if he was kiddin with me, and was just enjoyin watching me squirm and sweat… but that wasn’t like Granddaddy. I couldn’t imagine him really mad either, though. I started to hope that maybe he had just dozed off in the warm car…yes, that he was asleep for a minute. But then I thought that even though he had seemed really tired lately, fallin asleep in the car didn’t seem like Granddaddy either…So, I started to worry more for him than for myself. What if he was dead? I sure hoped I hadn‘t upset him so badly that he had a heart attack or that in tryin to be calm and quiet that some kind of pressure had exploded in his head. But then, just as I was considering calling for Daddy to go and check on him, cause I was too afraid of what I might find, Granddaddy slowly opened his car door. He walked up toward the porch steps to where I was sittin on the edge of the step. I noticed my hands were worrying a lemon rind around and around the edge of my glass.
“I’m glad to see you’re feelin better. We missed you in church this mornin. Everybody was askin about you and askin us to send you well-wishes. The preacher even said a special prayer for your quick recovery. He‘ll be glad to hear how effective his prayer was.”
“Granddaddy, I wasn’t sick.”
“Really? Are you sure?.” Granddaddy looked out over his leaf-less yard.
“I never said I was sick either, Granddaddy. I told Momma I didn’t feel like goin. I didn‘t tell a lie”
“I guess I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to go to church with us. You know how I feel about Sundays. Why would you ever think it was a good idea to skip… and stay home and work… on a Sunday?” Granddaddy shook his head and looked truly sad and even more tired that I thought possible.
“I’m so sorry Granddaddy. I didn’t do it to make anybody upset with me. I just figured it’s like this…You know how in the Bible, Jesus tells the Pharisees that if a man or one of their animals even falls into a pit that Jesus would expect a person to reach down and save it…even if it was the Sabbath…and there’s a story about a man with a shriveled up hand and Jesus had compassion for the man and healed his hand… on the Sabbath. Jesus says in the Bible that’s it’s lawful to ‘do good on the Sabbath.’ I know it says that, I read it.”
Granddaddy gave me a look that said he wasn’t convinced that my reason justified my misbehavior. So I continued on with my explanation. “I guess I could have tried to rake for you after school this week, but I was afraid that I would run out of daylight…but really I was more afraid that you would start workin tomorrow mornin after I went to school, before I had a chance to do it when I got home. And then it would be too late. Please don’t be mad at me, Granddaddy. I figured that by me workin in your yard today, it might give you a chance to get some extra rest this week and feel better.”
Granddaddy turned his head up from where he had been lookin at the white paint chippin off of the wooden tread of the step beneath where we were sitting. He slowly turned his face and looked right into my wet green eyes with his own steely gray eyes. It was like cold slate turning damp…thick rain clouds behind a dry pane of glass. It was then that I first understood that the eyes are the window to the soul is not just a saying. Granddaddy asked me, implored me to tell him “Why would you think I’m not feelin well?”
“I just have been noticin you haven‘t been actin quite like yourself. You haven‘t had much ‘pep in your step.’” I didn’t want Granddaddy to think I thought there was really anything bad wrong with him. “I just thought it might do you some good to get a little extra rest. That‘s all”
“I reckon this old body just isn’t what it used to be or what it wishes it were. It’s hard to convince a body that it’s not as young as the mind wants it to be, and still thinks that it is. You know what I think may be the problem…No, it‘s too silly. Never mind. ”
“What Granddaddy? I‘m sure it‘s not silly. Please tell me…if you want to.” I tried not to act like a little girl wanting to hear a tale. I wanted him to see me as a person who would take whatever he had to say, or not, seriously.
“It’s just that I caught my reflection in the window a few weeks ago. It was right before bed time, and I was extra tired from a long day in the fields… and I didn’t recognize myself for a minute. I looked like an old man. It was such a peculiar feeling to see and not recognize myself. Then that very night, I had a restless dream where ….no, I guess I best not tell you about that. It was upsettin to me, and I don‘t want to upset you too.” Granddaddy frowned hard and swallowed at the memory.
“No. It’s ok. Granddaddy…. If it was upsetting to you, it probably will be to me too…but maybe not in the same way. Will you let me hear it? It was just a dream, right?” I didn’t have any of my father’s qualms about asking questions. How can a person learn anything, after all, if they don’t ask about things they don’t know.
“It’s a little bit troubling… Really. I still haven’t quite gotten over it. But it was just a dream. I hope.”
“If it was just a dream, Granddaddy, it’s over now. What happened?”
“Well, in my dream I was the old man that I had seen in the reflection. It really didn’t even seem like me at all. It was like I was sittin up on the ceiling or somethin, watchin somebody else… and then the old man in my dream started fallin apart. It was awful.” He waited a minute and I was quiet… hoping and also not hoping that he would go on. “I mean he was literally fallin apart… his, I mean my, hair was comin out and my teeth were breakin off, and I was shrinking inside of my clothes.”
I must have gotten a terrible look on my face at the thought because Granddaddy quickly clarified. “When I said, ‘fallin apart’ I don’t mean that I lost any limbs or anything… but I was just watchin myself waste away… like I was becoming a skeleton right before my eyes. I knew if I kept watchin him, I mean me, I would eventually turn into nothin… my clothes would slough off and then my crumpled heap of bones and hair and teeth would just crumble into ashes on the ground. Needless to say, I woke up in a cold sweat… my heart was racin so hard I thought I might be gonna die right there in my bed… like the dream had been a horrible prophecy.” Granddaddy was quiet for a few minutes and I didn’t dare say a word until I knew he had gotten it all out.
“Funny thing is that I had woken up just the very day before feelin like me, and in just a few hours time, I was all of the sudden feelin like and old man.”
It was quiet for a minute more, and Granddaddy went on again. “You know what was the most frightenin part of the dream… that I thought when my time came, that I would be ready to die. I thought that when it was my time that I would be alright with it. But that dream made me realize I’m not ready at all. Funny, I saw clearly that I don’t want to be old… and I don’t want to die…not anytime soon. Since that dream I have felt older and closer to dyin than I ever had before. And I can’t shake that feelin. It’s got me in a bad humor. And then on top of it, for my Granddaughter to feel like she has to do my work for me… and break the Sabbath to do it…”
“No, Granddaddy. I just wanted to help. I’m sorry I broke the Sabbath. I thought I had a good reason, but maybe it wasn’t a good idea after all. If it helps for me to say it, I think you are the most handsome, youthful, spry Granddaddy I know. I sure don’t know how to calm your fears about dyin… but sometimes when I start worryin about that type of thing, I just remind myself that in the scheme of things we are all only here on Earth together for a short time anyway. And Earth is just a practice field to practice and hone our skills. We have more life to come, a different kind of life we don’t understand yet, but I know in my heart it is real. When we all get to heaven we will get to be with all the people we love and who have loved us, without problems or fears, forever. And in the meantime, we can enjoy the beauty of this world. And the people that we love that are still with us here.”
Granddaddy put his arm around my shoulder and held me close to him.
“How did you get to be so wise in your short years? Out of the mouth of babes…I love you, darlin.” And with that he gave me a tight squeeze and said with a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eyes, “You know what I feel like doin?” And before I even had a chance to answer, Granddaddy jumped up from his seat beside me on the porch and started skipping toward the climbing tree. He kept skipping and then he turned his skips into a slow jog. When he got to the tree, he turned his smiling, pink cheeked face around toward me and motioned me with his arm to follow.
I jumped up off the porch just as he had done, and galloped after him. Years before Tommy and Billy and Granddaddy had nail boards across some of the sturdier tree limbs about half way up one of the oak trees. They called it their tree fort, and “NO GIRLS!” we allowed…except me. When I got to the bottom of the tree, I scampered up the best I could considerin several of the wooden rungs that had been nailed to the trunk to make a ladder were loose, rotted, or altogether missing. Granddaddy was happily perched in his Sunday best clothes up on the widest section of our fort. When I got to the place Granddaddy was sitting, we just smiled and then both turned our faces up toward the sky. We sat up in the branches, not saying a word, but hearing the whole world alive around us. Light was shining down on us through the tree branches. The light might have been from the Sun…but I would have sworn it was more. We stayed up there in our favorite climbin tree until Grandma called us in for dinner. It might have been about twenty minutes we were up there. But it felt like only a few seconds… it also felt like an entire lifetime.