Wednesday, June 15, 2005
As I was looking through my books for a Bible that included the Apocrypha a while back, I found the Bible my Maternal Grandparents gave me when I was 7 years old. While I flipped through its pages an old white index card fell out along with a couple of Xeroxed sheets of paper. And I remembered.
I was sitting in a hospital room with my wheelchair bound Grandfather, who I called Papa. Papa was always my Papa. He took care of me when I was very little because both of my parents worked. I always assumed that everybody had a Papa. He fed me and dressed me, held my hand when I crossed the street, carried me when I was tired. Now I was watching him watch his wife of 15 years die of the same cancer that had claimed my natural grandmother 20 years before. Mama had left us there for a while so that she and Daddy could go and get some sleep. Polly had a fast moving cancer that had started in her liver and moved to her brain. She had not been conscious and lucid for several days. Everyone said that it was a relief because she had been in so much pain, but I sat in the presence of pain that night. People had come and visited and Papa wrote their names down on a little index card that he kept in his pocket. I knew later that night when we got home it would join several of its brothers on Papa’s dresser. I watched him hold Polly’s hand as her breathing became rougher and slower. I watched him as he stroked her hair. Her face was as gray as her hair. We all knew that it was just a matter of time.
Papa rolled his gray wheelchair back to the other side of the room to get his Bible. I watched as he laboriously picked it up in his gnarled hands. He had rheumatoid arthritis for so long that I couldn’t remember when his hands had been flexible and strong and young. He thumbed through the pages and started to read. I smiled at myself because he was holding the Bible upside down.
“Papa, what 'cha doing?”
“Oh, I’m reading Hebrews. I am getting so many blessings out of it!”
“Oh, yeah?”, I said in my sarcastic teenaged way.
“Just listen ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. God having provided some better thing for us......some better thing.’”
I was quiet. Papa sat quietly with his worn red Bible in his hands, upside down. He wept. He didn’t cry or sob. He wept. I watched the tears course down his face like rivers in reverse, the tributaries of tears divided by his wrinkles again and again until his entire face was wet and the collar of his shirt was damp. His shirt was an old red plaid shirt that she had washed a thousand times. I could still see the shiny marks her iron had made on the points of his collar. I looked at Papa and for the first time in a very long time I saw him. I saw his faded brown driving cap. The stitching that said “Kangaroo” was coming unraveled in the back. He always wore a cap to keep his bald head warm. I remember polishing that perfectly bald head with baby oil and dusting it with baby powder. I remember patting his feathery little white fringe with my baby hands. I remember marveling at its smooth warmness. I saw his white tee shirt peeking out from under his shirt. I saw his bony wrists as he held his Bible. I saw his baggy pants that had the knees worn out by many hours of kneeling in his garden and kneeling in prayer. I saw the black and white running shoes that would never run. I saw love watching his Love die.
After a while he took out his index card and his red “teacher” pen. I watched him write words on that card that looked as if they were written in blood. Eventually his head nodded forward and he dozed. His Bible slipped on the floor, but he held onto that little card. Curious I went over to see what he had written. It said:
Mrs. Cora from Epworth
Then he had drawn a line and written.
You Polly and Theron Sr will in HEAVEN be
some day where there is no pain no sickness
For Polly and me will be in heaven.
When I was looking at the card, he woke up and saw me. He pressed the card into my hands and said, “Now Teeda Bug, you keep this card. You keep it and remember.”
I took it home and put it in my Bible at Hebrews 11 along with the words of “Faith of my Fathers.”
“Faith of my Fathers, Holy Faith.
We will be true to thee till death.”
That card had been in my Bible for several years now. Years of stress and pain, joy and wonder. It was there until just a little while back when I picked that old Bible again and the card fell out.
And I remembered.