My father-in-law was a farmer. He clearly understood this circle of life with seasons yielding plentiful harvests and others leaving you with drought – continually praying for rain so that something – anything – would shoot up from the parched soil.
Through seasons of plenty and seasons of loss, he loved farming. It was in his blood – growing up with 8 siblings on the very farm that he continued to work with his wife and some of his own children throughout his adulthood.
There were cattle and crops and vegetable gardens – gardens that seemed to grow even larger each year after he retired from farming.
And he loved sharing the fruits of his labor with everyone.
Buckets full of fresh squash, okra, eggplant, watermelon, corn…
and more – any and everything that came out of that garden.
He would fill those buckets, load them in the back of his red truck, drive all over town or out in the nearby areas and leave them with friends and family members. On one occasion, he could not track down the intended recipient of his gift of fresh produce, so he drove into another neighborhood and just gave it away to a random person on the sidewalk saying, “Here you go ma’am. I have more than enough. I hope you like my vegetables.” 🙂 To say he was a generous man would be a huge understatement. He shared, and shared, and shared…over and over again.
Not only did he love farming, but he also loved farmland. He would come over to our house just to sit in one of the wicker rocking chairs on the back porch and admire the beauty of the field next door. He’d jokingly tell us that he was going to be our next door neighbor one day when he built a house over there. 🙂
And when he and his wife would travel in the North Georgia mountains, it wasn’t the high mountain peaks that he wanted to see. No sirree. It was the rolling valleys sometimes dotted with Black Angus cattle between those mountains that he loved.
He loved farming, farmland, and he loved food – not just the food that he grew. Although he and I did frequently debate whether his Silver Queen or Ambrosia was the best variety of corn. (I still think Silver Queen is. 🙂 )
His wife’s cooking is wonderful, so it was very easy for him to love food, and he had a major sweet tooth that never saw a chocolate dish he didn’t like. This became more than evident when we were preparing food for his 90th birthday party last January. 🙂
Chocolate cake, German Chocolate Cake, Oreos, Raisinets, Snickers…
And he was always my biggest fan whenever I baked an Orange Marmalade cake.
It goes without saying that some of his favorite places to go were restaurants…
Like Len Berg’s in Macon Georgia.
(We were both very sad when it closed. 🙁 )
When his family would make their annual trip to Fernandina Beach, Florida, he would enjoy the seafood at the Sandbar restaurant – located by the inter-coastal waterway there in a building made from two old log cabins. The Sandbar is long gone, and sadly there has been nothing that has equaled its fried shrimp since then.
But that didn’t stop him from enjoying other foods. Buckner’s, an all you-can-eat family style restaurant at I-75’s Exit 201 near Jackson, Georgia was at the top of his list for their fried chicken, roast beef, and peach cobbler. Even when his health was taking him into this final season of life, he made the hour long trip up the road just so he could eat there…once with my husband and me, and another time or two with his daughter and her family.
Due to his health, my father-in-law was not able to make it to our daughter’s college graduation ceremony last May, but he did make it to her celebration dinner at Daphne Lodge that night. Devouring their blackened catfish, (and everything else they served him!) he said it was the best meal he had ever eaten. So Daphne’s was also at the top of his restaurant list. 🙂
Oh, and let’s not forget Troy’s – the little hole-in-the-wall hamburger and chicken joint in the tiny town of Montezuma, Georgia where he would frequently eat a slaw dog or a couple of burgers with his buddies and grandchildren. (I like their fries and little burgers but not nearly as much as he did. I think it must be a “guy thing.” LOL)
Besides farming and food, my father-in-law loved his friends. His great athletic ability when he was in the spring of his life allowed him to be on teams with his best buddies, and then later in life he played a zillion rounds of golf with many of those same life long friends – and new ones he made along life’s journey. There was Julian, and Lori, and Harvey, and Lewis, and Seabie, and Otis, and many others. The number of people who showed up for his 90th birthday party was a testament to how many friends he was blessed with in this life.
Years ago, he and his friends would meet up each morning for coffee and camaraderie at the local Coffee Cup, and when it went out of business they moved their group to Cracker Barrel (with maybe a time at Burger King in between – not sure about that.) I am sure the waitresses at those restaurants got an ear full! You see, my father-in-law also loved fun. It was visible in his joy for life, and he was notorious for singing little folk songs, and telling jokes and riddles. In fact, the first time I met him, he started the conversation with a darn riddle that I could not solve! 🙂 He was still cutting up even at his 90th birthday party…
and at his granddaughter’s graduation party!
But more than his love for all of these, he loved his family – his wife who chased him for years before they married – even though he told her she was “too young,” 🙂 and he adored his four children.
They learned the value of generosity, hard work, honesty, and a sense of humor from him. And then came a whole bunch of grandkids and great grandkids that loved and learned from their Papa (or their Pawpaw) as he was affectionately called.
He taught them songs and rhymes that he had learned from his mother.
My father-in-law was a big man in many ways, but I know he would not have been able to accomplish much of what he did in this life had it not been for his wife. They say behind every great man is a great woman. Well I say, beside every great man is a great woman, and in my father-in-law’s case this was so very true. My mother-in-law was there every single step of the way with him from his young days when he was a “spring chicken” through all the days that preceded his passage into the next life – even to his last breath. No one could have been more devoted with such a servant’s heart, and that little lady has set a mighty high bar for the rest of us.
And finally, over and above all of this, my father-in-law had a love for and a faith in God….something that surely a farmer must be grounded in to be able to endure the seasons of drought. The seeds of faith he and his wife have nurtured are now seen in their children and grandchildren and even already in their great grandchildren. What a powerful legacy to leave behind.
For many many decades, Saturday night meant grilled steaks at my in-law’s house (one of the benefits of raising your own beef. 🙂 ) Grace would be said around that big oak table where family members and a number of friends would gather. There were times when they took in teenagers and foreign exchange students to live with them for weeks or even months, and they too would enjoy those steaks. Over the past two years, my father-in-law’s health began to fail, and those Saturday nights were all too frequently spent in a hospital room. He went back into the hospital one last time on August 2nd. After numerous tests, the doctors reported on August 11th there was nothing more they could do for him, and a decision was made that he would go home with Hospice care. During the following days, he drifted into a peaceful and painless sleep, and visitors came in to say their final good-byes to him.
Last Saturday my husband, daughter, and I were on our way to lunch, and I asked my husband if he would call his mom and tell her we would grill some steaks and bring them over for her and John, the unbelievably devoted home health nurse who was staying with my father-in-law. It just seemed the right thing to do on a Saturday night to me. So my husband called her, and she spoke with John about steaks while standing in the back bedroom beside her sleeping husband. They decided steaks would be good on that Saturday night and to bring them on over around 6:00. They hung up. Two minutes later, John texted for my husband to call his mom back. His dad had just taken his last breath and peacefully slipped from this world into the next. I can’t help but believe that somehow his dad was finally at peace knowing that life would go on, and his wife would be well cared for – complete with the Saturday night steak tradition he had started so many years ago. 🙂
We didn’t get to do those steaks that night, but we will soon. A chaplain, a Hospice nurse, our pastor, a funeral director, family members and others arrived, and everyone pitched in to do what needed to be done. Fried chicken arrived before we could start steaks. More food than I have ever seen came in over those next few days, and there seemed to be a constant stream of visitors at my mother-in-law’s door – all examples of how well loved they are in this community.
I am so thankful to have known my father-in-law as part of this family – a family I wanted to belong to long before I married my husband. I am also thankful that we were all able to celebrate his life with him this past January on the occasion of his 90th birthday and let him know how much he has meant to everyone. One of my husband’s brothers spoke at the funeral and read some of the sweet comments from the cards everyone wrote at the party. It was very fitting. I know he was surely listening up in Heaven – where there is no drought, and he is farming and tending God’s garden in every season. 🙂