Lessons from Grandpa Pete


My grandfather, my daddy’s dad, passed away a year ago next month. He was the strong, burly type of grandparent. The kind whose hugs almost crushed me. The kind who restored old cars and had grease under his fingernails all the time, even when he dressed up (which wasn’t often). The kind who paid his debts and lived in a single-wide trailer for most of my life. He was poor in material wealth, but rich in laughter and knowledge. He could build almost anything, including a device that hung from the side of his porch and evenly distributed rainwater to his tomato plants – and he didn’t need instructions to do it. He completely restored a 1930s John Deere tractor for the sheer love of making something that was once useless valuable again. He had a karaoke set in his spare bedroom, and he loved to sing. He would sit at his kitchen table, cigarette in one hand and coffee mug in the other, and tell us the history of our Scottish ancestors like he was handing over treasure. Perhaps he was. His mind was truly a work of art.

But his body was another story.

My grandfather, whom we called Grandpa Pete (although his name was John) smoked for six decades. Soda and coffee were his beverages of choice. And, eventually, it all caught up with him, ruining his lungs and circulation to the point that my beloved grandfather could hardly walk down the hall without having to stop and catch his breath. And in the months before his quiet, peaceful death, his heavy, six-foot frame became a shadow of the man I had always known.

I once interviewed Grandpa Pete for a history project in high school. He was born in 1936, so he remembered few details of the Depression, but his memory of World War II and FDR’s famous “Fireside Chats”was impressive. He was a patriot, there is no doubt, and he lived his patriotism in ways that I don’t see very often. Years ago, he was selected for jury duty and, afterwards, received a small check for his service. In an act that has since become the stuff of legend in our family, he mailed the check back with a letter that read:

May 21, 2004
Dear Sir,

I am returning this check to you, as I cannot accept it in good conscience. I have been living in Randolph County since 1990. During this time, the 911 paramedics have responded when I needed them three times; this cost me nothing. The sheriff’s department came out once and helped settle a domestic dispute; again, this cost me nothing. Because I am over 65 and poor, I have paid no property tax for the last two years. Although I only draw Social Security, I have Medicare and Medicaid insurance; this costs me nothing. I have freedom of speech, the right to vote, and the right to bear arms if needed. I have the right to face my accusers in a speedy trial in a court of law, and there I am considered innocent until proven guilty. I enjoy all the things that people in other countries can only dream of and I go to sleep at night knowing I am safe from foreign enemies. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines see to that. Being called to jury duty is an honor, and I cannot take money from a system of government that has given me so much.

John T. Barclay


Reading this letter brings me to tears, not only because I miss my sweet grandfather, but because of the spirit with which it was written. He didn’t have much, but he had more than he ever needed. He was loved and he loved in return. He was not a perfect man, but he was good. And what makes his story such a beautiful one to me, is the hope I find in the small things he left behind. The things that echo through generations and will, hopefully, find their way into my daughter’s life. And maybe yours, too.

Beloveds, the world is full of beauty and magic and wonder and mystery.

We want to look past the busyness of our days and view our lives through a lens that sees beyond what’s ordinary. But the lens we need, the view of our Creator, already sees ordinary as beautiful. Magical. Wonderful. Mysterious. That sigh of relief as you step into a hot shower and scrub off the dirt of the day? That’s beautiful. The little girl at daycare who calls you “Mommy”and runs towards you after a long commute? That’s magical. The hands of your best friend wrapped around a fresh cup of coffee as she laughs with you? That’s wonderful. The generosity of a man who had so little, but gave so much? That’s mysterious. And it’s all good. It’s so, so good.

As we gear up for the second month of 2015, I pray that you’ll find joy in your everyday the way my Grandpa Pete did. And I pray that you’ll discover the beauty and magic and wonder and mystery in the life that has been given to you.


PC: Phils Sabordo

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