Wisdom of the Ages (and the Aged)

This was originally written as a eulogy for my grandfather, Errol Grant Myhand (1924-2011). I spent a few weeks with him on the family land in Pine Mountain, Georgia, almost every summer from age 4-21 (and plenty of other times as well), so writing this a day after his passing left it very sentimental. Years hence, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’ve heard it said that the chain of wisdom always skips a generation; that the lessons of lives long lived are instilled in grandchildren by their grandparents while their parents are working to make ends meet.

That’s not to say that our parents are not wise, rather that our ability to absorb their wisdom as children is clouded by familiarity, authority, and selfishness–we’re predisposed to doubt what they tell us until we grow up to realize they knew exactly whereof they spoke. In the time between birth and that epiphany of maturity, God interposes grandparents.

Family portrait, 1929

Family portrait, 1929. He and Aunt Edna (his twin sister) were almost 5 here.

Maybe we listen to them because they’re a curiosity–we don’t see them daily as we do our parents, gray hair and glasses make them seem softer, their habits and customs from an earlier time are both confusing and inviting. Maybe we let them teach us because they offer us love with an infinite patience bolstered by the peace and quiet of living somewhere else (without kids) most of the time.

Whatever the reasons, this cross-generational transfer of wisdom seems to be part of the design of life. Thinking of this after losing Papaw, It’s hard to look at my life and values without seeing his fingerprints everywhere.

A child of the Depression, he taught me that the pursuit of “stuff” was futile and the simple joys of life are the most enduring: growing your own vegetables, chopping your own firewood, cooking good food and eating the leftovers all week long, spending evenings with card games and conversation. These habits forged in hard times are as necessary today as ever.

Through his hobbies, he taught me that life is best enjoyed slowly: fishing from the bank with a cane pole and live bait; taking long walks to no place in particular; working crossword puzzles on the front porch.

Even though he only went through eleven grades before finishing high school, he taught me that life is an ongoing lesson. He was always reading a book or two about whatever caught his fancy. He loved to travel and find out what people were like in different parts of the country and the world by striking up conversations with total strangers (for example, during our great 2003 road trip, he asked a rather stunned coffee-shop waitress in Milo, Maine, what kind of crops they grew in that area). He consistently took an avid interest in my school work, even if my lifelong distaste for math puzzled him.

Siblings, 2004

Siblings at 80, 2004. Aunt Edna (r) passed in 2007, and Aunt Bernice (l) is 101, living in South Carolina. It’s been a treat to have her get to know our kids, bridging the generations.

By his service in the army at the end of World War II and the stories he told about that, he taught me the value of being a part of something bigger than yourself and of forging lifelong friendships with those who share a difficult experience with you. Even after a year in Japan, he came home to Pine Mountain, and more or less stayed put for the rest of his life. In that, he taught me what a community was and why it was worth putting up with the bad and the ugly to be a part of the good.

Through his daily routines he gave form to generosity and neighborliness. He shared the overflow of his garden with anybody who drove by. He took in more dogs over the years on his little country road corner than most animal shelters. He respected and shared meals with his African-American neighbors when others in town looked down on them. Nobody was worth a grudge or a feud to him. He would insist (to the point of argument) on paying for our family’s meals when we ate out together. In short, he knew that money and possessions make us happier when we use them primarily to meet needs and give good gifts to others.

By his commitment through thick and thin, choir, Sunday school, VBS, and Wednesday suppers, he taught me the vitality and value of the local church. Following Christ is not something we can do in private, and he loved his church, warts and all, for decades.

When I think about all these things and more as the memories wash over me, I recognize that most of the areas of my life that are distinctly “me” are often my subconscious attempts to be like him. The world of today is a far cry from his rural Georgia upbringing, but the person that made him is a type of man the world needs more of.

I only hope the Lord sees fit to bless me with a life long enough to pass some of these things on to my own grandchildren some day.

3 thoughts on “Wisdom of the Ages (and the Aged)

  1. Justin…This is the second time to read this and it is more relevant every day. Don’t we long for days like you spent with Papaw? We are much more stressed with our busy lives today. I hope to see more of those days in retirement. Love you!

  2. Pingback: The Spiritual Vitality of Place | Hardscrabble

  3. Pingback: The Roots of Memory | Hardscrabble

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