Two takes:

Not surprisingly, I'm drinking a large mugful of yerba maté. I've decided that using a traditional maté gourd may be too high maintenance on a regular basis. Instead, I'll use my Guayakí gourd for special occasions, like when another maté-loving friend drops by. However, I will use my white forest pottery mug and a bombilla as a modern gourd setup. That sounds lovely.

This morning I wondered, did my grandfather drink maté? It's a popular South American beverage, and Papaw often traveled to Brazil on mission trips. He spoke Portuguese quite well, and even a good amount of Spanish. He knew enough Español to sing to waitresses at Mexican restaurants in San Angelo, TX. He was a faithful husband, but also a big flirt. Every single waitress just smiled and beamed. He was extremely winsome.

But I really want to know if he drank maté. I bet he did when in Brazil, at least. Lately, I miss him terribly. Especially when I feel just awful. He was known to take troubled, adult grandchildren into his lap, let their heads rest on his shoulder, and cry. I remember one story about his third wife's granddaughter, very stressed out over something - isn't it always something? Joy peeked into the room. There her granddaughter sat in Papaw's lap. He didn't say much, but just hugged comfort.

He often pulled me (and my brother, and most everyone he loved) on to his lap well into my adulthood; when his tall legs were frail with 90+ years of age. He laughed and hugged me very tight, and sang, "Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes, I'll never love blue eyes again." I could smell his Aramis cologne (I still can). But I never had a life crisis when he was alive, not that I can recall. I sure wish Papaw was here now. I'd crawl into his lap in a second and weep softly (or loudly). Somehow, it would all be better.

Sometimes while I'm praying these days, if I feel bad, I'll cry a little. I rest my head on our black-leather Bible. I don't know if Papaw can hear me now, but I do know where he is. I've heard myself say aloud, "How do I do this? How did you do it?" His first wife (my Memaw) had Parkinson's. His second wife (my Nana) died unexpectedly after surgery. His whole life was rich with grace and blessing, but he struggled through a few health issues, too.

I retrieved Papaw's Spanish hymnal - Himnario Bautista - from my writing room. It's one of my prized possessions. I was happily surprised to find his handwriting all over the white pages at both the front and back. I guess I haven't look at it in awhile. In the front are phonetic Spanish pronunciations of what I'm guessing are hymns, and his addresses in both San Angelo and Bangs, TX (where he lived with Nana). At the back of the book are long lists of his favorite hymns (in English & Spanish), and he had many. I flipped through the pages and hymn numbers - "Dulce Espíritu" (sweet Spirit?), "Dios de Gracia, Dios de Gloria" (God is grace, God is glory? Johnny says it's "God of Grace and God of Glory" - one of his favorites), "Vivo por Cristo" (life in Christ?), "Cristo Me Ama" (Christ my master? OK, I used the translation widget on my desktop for "Ama"). There are even guitar chord charts in the back. Oh good, because I really want to pick up where I lazily left off several years ago.

A sheet of paper fell out of the hymnal pages - one of Papaw's songs typed out - he wrote the lyrics and music. Now I know how he did it:

"Jesus is my Saviour,
Trusting Him I cannot fall.
He is with me every day,
Blessed strength, my all in all.

.... Two more verses, then the chorus:

Constantly abiding,
In His arms I'm hiding.
Thru life's raging storms I'm riding,
Safe in Jesus' loving care

I don't officially read music, but if I hear the beginning pitch, I can usually follow the notes. I looked at Papaw's chorus, closed my eyes, recalled the many times he sang that song, heard his lovely tenor, and the melody came right out of my mouth. A sweet song.

Then I couldn't help myself. I watched a video Johnny recorded at a family reunion. Papaw was sitting on his walker, singing, and my Dad accompanied him on piano (he plays by ear). The way my Dad looked at his Dad - what love. And Papaw's voice - so strong. That rough-cut video is a gift beyond measure. [thank you, Johnny] But I couldn't get through the first song - the chorus, "No one ever cared for me like Jesus", without choking up. Papaw had a beautiful voice, but in addition, there was something in his face. Like he was saying very simply, "I trust God. No matter what life throws at me, I love Him and trust Him."

He told me once that in his red-headed, cigarette-smoking youth, he had a hot temper and was a bit cocky. It's hard for me to imagine except that don't we all change as our age increases? And when his wife was diagnosed with Parkinson's, when he couldn't share their bed because the rustle of covers gave her agonizing pain, he made a pallet on the hallway floor and prayed, "God, how are we going to do this, me and Ann? The kids?" He saw a vision - the stunning visuals of Psalm 23. That green pasture, the waters of comfort, the table, a cup full to the brim, the lovingkindness and mercy, and His Shepherd - all right in his West Texan house. I kid you not.

One of my serious goals in life is to write family memoirs (w/a creative nonfiction flair) - of Papaw, Memaw, Nana, my Mom's Mom (Nina), and Johnny's family. My grandparents are some of my true heroes. Maybe you believe the Psalm-vision, maybe you don't. And maybe I should have saved it for my supposed book (I hope), but I couldn't wait. I just had to share that today - it seemed urgent. And if you're wondering, I do believe it, in the most literal fashion.

These memories and family stories comfort me - that James Oliver Green Strother was my grandfather, I share his blood, and if he could do it, then somehow I can, too. I cling to the same Bible and hymns that he did. I trust the same God - the only God. Not to mention his children are quite the influence on me: my Dad, aunt Pat, and uncle Bobby. All three speak Scriptures, pray for me, and make me laugh. And oh, how I see J.O. & Ann in their faces and hearts.

To veer a little here, I flipped through my journal this morning and read a short entry from 3/29/08:

"I'm singing along to Once and Sandra M.. The sunlight is stretching long across the backyard, up against the garage bricks; and through the wooden slats of the old fence - in such a way that I don't want a new one. The grass is greener (much to Johnny's relief) thanks to spring. But that backyard sunlight is giving me hope. I can almost see past things that are to things that I cannot (yet) see: those ten thousand angels, our kids, my health, and so on. World without end."

Though my writer-side could edit that passage, I didn't. I left it as is. And I felt like crap on 3/29, but I remember that particular evening, the golden light, the strange hope, and the singing.

Papaw? When we meet again, I'll no longer be so damn timid or worrisome (of what others think). I'll sing with you for hours and hours, days and weeks, endless time ~ forever, for Him.

* - [for you fellow Peace Like a River readers, I just realized that the character Jeremiah Land very much reminds me of Papaw]


Christine said...

All I can say is that was beautiful. I just know your Papaw is so proud of you.

robyn a. jones said...

it brought tears to my eyes... i can't wait till you write your memoirs... it's a blessing for me to read yours, christine's, and kierstin's blogs... ya'll are all have beautiful souls and you share such beautiful words.. i wish i had that gift. you are always inspiring me and lifting my spirits over here in bottle tree land, whether you know it or not! thank you for your prayers... too. Love- Robyn

Kimberly said...

Beautiful. Your Papaw sounds like he was an incredible man.

laura said...

jenni, thank you for this beautiful post. i can understand why you love your grandpa so much. every woman should have such a loving (and God-loving) man in her life! your lmbg

jenni said...

Thanks so much, y'all.