Joy is my maternal grandfather’s name. He came from Northeastern Iowa, born into a farming family in the late 19th century. He became the County Clerk and walked to work and church down the block from their bungalow type clapboard house with a swing on the front porch.
I only saw him three times. The first was when they visited our home in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin in the 1950s. This bedroom community off of Lake Michigan had side-by-side single-family homes with small yards. Ours had a single apple tree in the back. My grandfather took me there when I was perhaps seven to show me how to peel and core an apple. The photo with this essay is of his father in his own apple orchard in England many decades earlier. Our own small apple orchard now reminds me of this simple and fruit-filled time. He also taught me to play cribbage, a card game I hope to teach my own grandchildren when I see them soon in their Oregon home surrounded by the vast orchards of Harry and David.
The next visit was to their Iowa home in Estherville. That time, my grandmother Elsie, baked donuts and cookies with the black walnuts from the family farm they showed us. On this same farm we hunted pheasants that day. I must have been about 12, but I still vividly recall sitting on a red anthill that taught me another kind of lesson. I would not return to Iowa until graduate school for healthcare administration many years later.
Our final visit was for their 50th wedding anniversary when Joy and Elsie came to see us again in our new home on Lake Michigan. I recall their love of the flower gardens my own mother cherished to cultivate. The summer sun brought a bright memory to the cutting of their cake in the porch beside our sizable apple orchard. Joy found great memories in picking apples with me for the last time. By then his whispy red hair barely covered his balding head. It is from my maternal grandfather that I have received the same hairline.
It seems that it is the simple and common moments that I remember most. They bring a warm joy to me now as I write of these short-lived times. As I close this story I also recall with fond memory when I visited my own mother for the last time in her closed memory unit for dementia. For some reason known to God, I had carried my Iowa grandmother’s Bible with me. As I opened the Words and shared them with my own testimony of salvation, God opened her now Alzheimer’s closed mind and mouth as she spoke for the first time in two years. My mother asked to find this same joy in redemptive faith that I had. And so I read the words of the “Roman Road” to salvation with her and she repeated them as she received Jesus into her heart as Savior. These were to be the last words I would hear from her, as she died two days later with a peaceful smile on her face the nurses tell me. So I can say like the Apostle Paul of these times.
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5).