Sunday, January 22, 2012

Goodbye Granddaddy: In memory of Joe R. Dixon March 1, 1922-January 21, 2012

     Yesterday my grandfather died and although I am sad because I will no longer hear his voice again or be able to spend time with him, I am grateful for every moment that we shared and all of the lessons he taught me. I have written previously about the role he played in my life, but there are not enough words to express what he meant to me. Although grandfathers are important, he was much more than that to me. From my birth, he was my father figure. He provided for me, loved me unconditionally, taught me right from wrong, and lay the foundation for my belief in Christ.

    When he was alive, he liked to tell the story of the time he stopped by my new pre-school to make sure I was getting along okay in this foreign environment. The story goes that I was kicking dirt on the playground  until I saw him standing at the fence looking at me. I immediately began crying and throwing a temper tantrum until he had to sign me out of school and take me with him. What's funny about this story is that he wanted to take me with him and secretly hoped that I wouldn't be happy there. The story continues that for the rest of the day Granddaddy and I went to the mall and ate soft serve ice cream and people watched (as we often did) until it was time to go home for dinner.

     I guess the reason this story is so special for me is because I've always known that he was standing "over there" watching me live my life, but the minute I needed him he would be there to make things right again. There's also another story that doesn't involve me directly, but involves my aunt who is just a few years older than I am. She had been bused to an all white elementary school and on the first day of class she recalls looking out the window at my granddaddy who was following closely behind the school bus in his pick-up truck. Only later did we learn that my grandfather had a shot gun on the seat next to him and he had been ready to use and suffer the consequences  had anyone tried to cause harm to one of his baby girls.

     That was my grandfather, the protector and the provider. He made sure that his family had food and shelter and plenty of love. His generosity extended beyond his immediate family as well. If he knew or even suspected that you had a need, he would take care of it without expecting anything in return.

     Not only did my grandfather give material things, but he also shared the most important gift of all. A gift that would last for all of eternity. There was not one conversation that I can recall ever having with my grandfather where he did not share Jesus. Regardless of the topic of conversation, Granddaddy would find a way to share the message of Jesus's love, grace, and mercy. Once when he was here in Florida and had to be hospitalized, he shared a room with an elderly white man who was a retired college administrator. After my grandfather was released, I received a phone call from this man to find out how my grandfather was doing. Before the man hung up the phone, he told me that my grandfather had reminded him about Jesus and what eternity with Him would be like. I don't know if this man knew Jesus before or if he is even living now, but I do know that my grandfather made an impact on him and could possibly have changed the rest of his life. These men were from two walks of life and they easily could have ignored each other as they lay in their hospital beds. They were both born during a Jim Crow America, one was highly educated while the other was not. One used his brain to provide for his family and the other his back, but they used love and Jesus as a common denominator to build a friendship.

     My grandfather knew no strangers and he loved everyone he met.

     He loved his country and served during World War II. He fought for a country that did not regard him as a man. He held his shoulders back and his chin up and demanded not to be any body's "boy" or "nigger." He was not political, but he followed current events and could weigh in on what was happening around the world. On election day when Barrack Obama's name was on the ballot, my grandfather stood up from his wheel chair and marked his ballot. When he was asked why he didn't want to be in the chair, he said "I want to stand as a black man to cast my vote for another black man."

     My grandfather was my hero. Yes, he had clay feet and he made mistakes in life, as we all do, but he taught me about God's grace and mercy and my grandfather always did right by me. I will miss my grandfather for the rest of my life here on earth, but I know that he is in the next life waiting for me with a soft serve ice cream cone in hand.

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