At our church, there were two sections of seats with 15 rows of pews on each side. An aisle of red carpet ran right down the center. Stained glass windows told the stories of Jesus’ life from how the Angel Gabriel came to visit Mary and tell her the Good News of Jesus’ impending birth all the way to Jesus’ disciples watching him go up into heaven at the ascension. The ascension window was my favorite. I loved how Jesus had such a look of peace on his face. His arms are lifted up and all out-stretched… palms raised up to receive. Granddaddy would whisper in my ear almost every Sunday when he would notice me staring at the windows, “Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of God.” I loved that. I could tell that Jesus knew where he was about to go, and that he was relieved that he had made it through all of the hardship and suffering. He looked ready – ready to go home to His Father and the angels that would celebrate his coming. Looking at that shining window all I could do was hope that I would be that happy one day when it came my time to go. Sometimes I think about God’s house and what heaven might look like. Other people have their ideas of heaven, but none of them sounded like my idea of heaven.
People would say, “The streets are all going to be paved with gold, and everybody’s gonna wear beautiful, soft, long white robes.”
Or, “Nobody will have to work hard.
“Every body’s gonna be happy all the time.”
“No body’s gonna be sick or hungry there.”
“We’ll be able to eat whatever we want, whenever we want it.”
“Nobody will make you do anything if you don’t want to do.”
“They’ll be angels singing and beautiful music playing all the time.”
I have no idea what Heaven’s really gonna be like, but everybody else’s descriptions doesn’t sound quite right to me… I tend to agree with what Granddaddy used to say… and I heard him say it often, especially at the end. “I hope that when I get to heaven, that there will be a lot for me to do.”
Granddaddy worked hard his whole life. He built his house and his barn and his fences with the trees that he cut and milled on his own land. He did all of the labor with his own two hands, and with the help of his friends and neighbors and family. He cleared his land and tended his crops and cared for his animals. Granddaddy was the best man I ever knew. He loved God better than anything, and his family almost as much, and all of us lucky enough to call him ours knew how much we were loved. There was no doubt in my mind that Granddaddy would get to Heaven one day, and that his heaven would be someplace where his hands wouldn’t be idle. He would be up there mending fences and bailing hay, tending to his animals. He would be helping out anywhere and everywhere that he was needed because that is just who my Granddaddy was.
Thomas Bishop Shelton was my mother’s daddy…my Granddaddy. Granddaddy was from a large farming family. His Momma May’s parents had come from Germany. His Daddy Ben was English and German with some Irish and Scottish thrown in for good measure. Granddaddy had light blond hair that had turned gray by the time I was a girl, and light gray eyes that a person could get lost in and drown they were so deep. Granddaddy’s eyes remind me of the big gray rock in the middle of our swimming hole. In the summer time us kids would scamper up the sides of that rock… fingers and toes grabbing onto the slippery notches. Sometimes when we would finally get to the top, we would just lay up there and let the heat warm our skin. And then when we would get too hot to bear it another minute, we would jump off into to cold mountain water below. There were little places on that rock where the rain from a summer shower or water from our wet bodies would pool. Granddaddy’s eyes were just like the pool in that rock. His eyes could be intense…sharp and as solid as steel. Or they could be sensitive…deep and moist like an ocean or a thick evening fog… A person could fall right in… could get lost. His eyes could be so full of love and tenderness that it could break your heart.
They say that when Granddaddy was a baby, his hair was so light that it was almost white. For some reason Grandma’s father, Jeremiah Fox couldn’t stand my Granddaddy… he couldn’t stand anybody in my Granddaddy’s family. Needless to say that he didn’t know that Granddaddy was in love with Grandma. Had Jeremiah Fox known that Grandma loved Granddaddy too, there might never have been a wedding… there might never had been my momma or my brothers and sisters or me! Fortunately Jeremiah didn’t find out that Granddaddy and Grandma were a couple until nearly a year after they had said “I do” and become man and wife…and a baby was on the way. Grandma and Granddaddy left school one day and eloped up in North Carolina and came back in time to have supper at their own parent’s houses. Grandma lived in her parents house the whole rest of that year until school was over and Granddaddy had a little house built. Even Jeremiah wasn’t mean enough to kill a man who had a baby on the way.
Granddaddy had never done anything to Jeremiah to make him hate him… in fact they had never even spoken because Jeremiah wouldn’t lower himself to speak to such “rowdy, trouble-making white trash” as he considered Granddaddy‘s family to be.
“Your Great-Grandfather Jeremiah couldn’t have hated your Granddaddy’s family if he had bothered to try to know them at all. They were merry and fun-loving. But they were Democrats and Presbyterian. If you weren’t Republican and Episcopalian…or at least Methodist, Jeremiah thought you were rabble. Your Granddaddy was tall and young and good-looking” Grandma looked a little starry-eyed thinking about her young love. “But his family was not rich or well-connected enough for Jeremiah… and my daddy Jeremiah was not tall or young. But he was very good-looking. And he knew it… and expected attention for his wealth and charm and fine features. No, he demanded attention.And he got it.”
Apparently, Granddaddy didn’t have to do a single thing for Jeremiah to hate him other than be his happy, jovial self. Jeremiah didn’t think it was proper for anybody to run around with a big smile on his face. Jeremiah didn’t even know Granddaddy’s name. All he knew of Granddaddy was that he was “one of those rascal Shelton boys”. Jeremiah didn’t even care to know any of their names or anything else about any of the Shelton’s. Jeremiah wouldn’t even know Granddaddy’s name until after Granddaddy had run off and married Grandma. To his bride’s father, Granddaddy was just “that white-haired S.O.B.”
“Funny how some people change when they are old and alone,” Grandma’s laugh was mirthless and melancholy. “Jeremiah was old and alone and there was nobody else around that would put up with his ornery ways. In his last years Granddaddy was Jeremiah’s best friend, really his only true friend. Your Granddaddy and I reminisce about our courtship and our early days trying to raise a family and how hard Jeremiah made it for us. He wouldn’t even let us come over to the house to see my own Momma! It nearly broke her heart. I would sometimes sneak over there when I knew he would be gone for a while… but she couldn’t get out unless someone brought her to us. She wasn’t allowed to go any place on her own. Jeremiah’s change in his old age just goes to prove that unexpected things can happen…but sometimes it takes some work and some time to bring it about. Your sweet Granddaddy never lost his smile or his patience around Jeremiah, and eventually I believe it just wore the old man down. My mean old Father Jeremiah loved your Granddaddy more than he had ever loved anybody or anything…even his infernal walking horses. My whole childhood that man treated his horses like spoiled children and treated his children like work horses!” Grandma’s tone and narrowed eyes proved there was still pain in the memory.
“What did Granddaddy do that made Jeremiah love him so much?” I asked . I could tell that Jeremiah and the treatment of his children was a sore subject for her.
“ Well Granddaddy shaved Jeremiah’s face for him everyday when Jeremiah’s hands got to shaky to do it…and he helped him dress real nice. Jeremiah was vain until the end! And your Granddaddy hauled him around to places that Jeremiah wanted or needed to go…and your Granddaddy poured him a dram of whiskey every night…”
“But Granddaddy doesn’t believe in drinking alcohol!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“That‘s true…but Jeremiah did, and he had drunk a shot glass full every night for nearly his whole life. It’s hard to get old, honey…and it makes it even harder when you can’t do for yourself. Granddaddy was just trying to make it easier for Jeremiah… to keep things as regular as possible. Old people take great comfort in their schedule… they are kind of like babies in that way. Babies don’t know much, but they know what they like, and they know what they don‘t like. People that have been around long enough are the same. By the time you get old, if you are lucky, you have whittled away all of the parts of life that don’t make you happy…all of the nonsense. If you’re lucky, you get settled into a comfortable routine… doing the things during your last years and days that you can really enjoy. Granddaddy didn’t try and make Jeremiah do the things that Granddaddy liked, he let Jeremiah be Jeremiah…And that, my dear girl, is love. Granddaddy might not have known that he was loving Jeremiah, but Jeremiah sure did know it…and there is no greater gift that you can give somebody who is old or alone…really anybody at all… than attention and the security of love…real love…the kind that doesn’t have anything connected to it and doesn’t expect anything in return.”