My grandparents lived in a dark green house out in the country. Walnut trees bordered the south end of the property with peach trees to the north. In the summer the garden overflowed with tomatoes, green beans, okra, crookneck squash, cucumbers for pickling, and beets. It was impressive, yes, but the corn, the corn was epic.
I have no idea how many rows of corn there were, I just know that every year was going to be the year that my grandpa wasn’t going to plant quite so much. He would try to keep up with picking ears at their peak, but eventually he’d put out a sign: “White Corn 12/$1 U pick”. It was a good price and a good plan, but inevitably a lone woman would drive up and stand anxiously in front of the endless rows. My grandpa would tell her to wait as he’d slip the strap of his picking bucket over his head and across his chest and disappear down an aisle of green. In just a few minutes his white hard hat could be seen working its way back to the start, his bucket already overflowing. He’d bag up the corn for her, throwing in 2-4 extra ears, and she’d sheepishly hand him a dollar. He’d say thank you and tell her to enjoy the corn, assuring her that it was sweet, sweet, sweet.
Over and over and over again, year after year.
My grandpa was easily the hardest working man I’ve ever known. Long-sleeve blue cotton work shirt, white hard hat, jeans, suspenders, and work boots: his everyday uniform. Every day except Sunday–at least until after church.
I can see my grandpa driving the tractor until there is not enough light left to see. I can see him climbing 12-foot wooden ladders picking peaches or cherries. I can see him on his knees in the dirt repairing some broken pipe or patching a flat tire on a piece of equipment. I can see the sweat dripping off the end of his nose as he explains to me that the long-sleeve cotton shirts keep him cooler.
My grandpa was also the most generous man I’ve ever known. Most generous person for that matter. Generous with his corn and harvests, yes, but also with his money and time. When one of his farming employees suddenly passed away on the job, my grandpa decided to take care of his widow…indefinitely. He quietly helped support her for more than 30 years.
His kindness led some people to see him as a pushover, and a few surely did take more than they deserved; but I’m sure my grandpa knew that. I don’t think that made him a pushover, though. My grandpa was a man of God; his purpose was to serve. If those that he served made poor choices afterwards, well, that was out of his hands.
When my grandpa’s age and health prevented him from getting out in the field or even outside to putter, his spirits fell quickly. For a few months he just got smaller and quieter inside his empty house (my grandma having passed away 15 years earlier).
As a final blessing, God sent my grandpa to a hospice facility. He wasn’t expected to last long, but God had a plan, as He always does. At the facility, my grandpa chatted with the amazing staff every day, telling stories, bragging about family, cracking jokes, asking questions, and, truly, simply living again. He had purpose. He was needed. He wasn’t breaking his back or dripping with sweat, but he was alive and feeling useful. He passed away after a few months rather than the few days initially anticipated. God is so good.
These days, when I drive by a big ol’ field of corn, I love imagining my grandpa in his white hard hat and blue cotton work shirt, posting his sign: “White Corn 12/$1 U pick”, then heading down the rows, filling his bucket, more than happy to help.
Happy Father’s (and Grandfather’s) Day.