If it proves to be his will that I am first to go
And somehow I’ve a feeling it will be
When it comes your time to travel likewise don’t feel lost
For I will be the first one that you’ll see.
Lyrics to The Far Banks of Jordan
A few weeks ago I went to spend the afternoon with a woman who had lost her husband of 58 years a few weeks prior.
Fifty-eight years of marriage. Can you imagine that?
We were at the simple old farmhouse where the old couple had lived together and raised six kids. We sat around the kitchen table with this woman’s son and his wife. My mother was there as well. We all just talked for at least two hours. It was probably one of the more pleasant afternoons I’ve spent in some time. It seemed that time just slowed down.
I let her talk. It broke her heart to say goodbye to that man. He might have been old and grey and in bad health when he died, but he would always be that good looking, strong, young country boy she married so many years ago to her.
Yet, she seemed to grow younger to me when she talked about him. She would glow with just the memory of all the living they had done together. Everyone would chuckle or laugh at some story she would tell on him from way back when.
I learned a lot about him in that small amount of time. I learned other things as well. I’m going to share some of what I heard so we both might go away a richer person for that afternoon.
This fellow came from strong roots.
His own father was a World War I veteran. His daddy worked in a grain mill 12 hours a day, six days a week, and ran a farm. He and his wife had 11 children and never had a vacation. He had one hand. He lost the other in a mill accident. He did all this during The Great Depression.
You know, they didn’t have a lot, but they had enough. No one ever starved, everyone had clothes on their back, and there was a roof over their heads. It was a tough life, but you didn’t hear anyone complaining about it or crying about how unfair it was.
World War II came and Uncle Sam swooped down and took this man and three of his brothers to war. Think about it. Four sons from one family going off to certain danger at the same time. He served in Battery B, 334th Field Artillery, 87th Infantry Division. It was part of General Patton’s army, and they saw some of the heaviest fighting of the war through France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and Germany.
He learned what war was all about. He knew the price of freedom was bought with blood because he had seen it first hand, and not by reading about it in some book. He knew we would remain the “land of the free” only as long as we continue to be the “home of the brave.”
This fellow also knew the joy of peace.
He came home from war and began a family and followed the example set by his father. He built houses all week and farmed the rest of the time. He put pride and great effort in all that he did. This fellow knew the value of not just his dollar, but of other people’s money. He would hand pick his lumber to make certain his customers were getting the most they could for every dollar they paid. Then he would carefully buy only what he needed. When he finished a job, you could put the scrap lumber in a wheelbarrow. The only thing that went unused was a couple of knotholes.
He learned to trust God. He and his good wife had a simple faith that is as beautiful to behold as it is rare today. It was one where they held themselves open to life. God sent them six children like stair steps in reward for their trust. This trust paid many dividends in grandchildren and great grandchildren. Their sacrifice was returned to them by God tenfold in that most precious of all treasures: love.
I could go on for pages. It was a good life that most people today would envy. It’s a love story that will never be in a book. It will never be in a movie. But it’s one that we hope we all will live. It’s one we hope our children will live as well.
Well, that’s pretty much it. Quite a lot for one afternoon.
Just one more thing.
Aunt Clarine, I know you think you’re still the luckiest woman in the world for sharing your life with Maurice. But you know what? He loved you twice as much.
But we all know death is really just the beginning, and not the end. So, like those lyrics from “The Far Banks of Jordan” that I started this column with, I’ll end it with some more.
And I’ll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan
I’ll be waiting drawing pictures in the sand
And when I see you coming I will rise up with the shout
And come running through the shallow waters reaching for your hand.