Lessons My Grandfather Taught Me

Title: Lessons My Grandfather Taught Me
Category: Story
Subject: Gambling; Chance; Faith

Just before World War II my father bought his first small farm seven miles west of Sledge, Mississippi. Sledge is in Quitman County and we lived just across the line in Tunica County. My father was drafted and our lives were turned up-side down for some time. I was in the first grade when we moved from that farm and I had finished the third grade when I moved back. I attended several schools during those two years. I cannot complain because my father came home. Many didn’t.

In order to get the farm operation where my parents wanted it we had to put in some long hours. I must have been around ten or eleven years old when my father and my maternal grandfather built a new barn. When they had it framed out they went down into the woods and cut a cypress tree and “snaked” sections up under those great old oak shade trees all around the house and barn. They would cut off blocks and my father would split shingles from the those blocks. He could stand there all day and swing an axe and hit the imaginary line that gave him the right thickness for the shingle. I tried that many times and never could master it.

I watched my father file his own cross-cut saws, make a watering trough from a hollow cypress log, wire a house for electricity, repair a neighbor’s radio, clock, automobile, and later on repair his own televison, work on tractors, cotton pickers, and combines. Before he got his first tractor I watched him lay off straight rows in the cotton field. I never did learn very much about those things. But there was one lesson I learned from my grandfather. What I did not learn was how he gave my parents a signal that he was about to teach me a lesson. I didn’t think about it at the time, but later on it dawned on me that my parents never said a word when he began setting the stage for an object lesson for me.

I would never forget the lesson I was to learn from my grandfather that day. Mother called us and told us dinner was ready, dinner being the noon meal on every farm in the area. Supper was the evening meal. Later on, I discovered that some town folks got that mixed up and ate dinner at night!

We left the log where my father stopped the mule, not far from the new barn. While we were eating our meal, my father asked about a log chain we had not used when he snaked the log into the yard. I immediately said, “It’s on that big stump by the path.”

Granddaddy, in an almost disinterested manner, said, “I don’t believe it is there.”
Little Johnny was about to learn a valuable lesson. Remember that all little bad boys and all little dumb boys are named “Little Johnny” in the jokes. I assured my parents and grandfather, “It’s there. I saw it when I was walking home.”

My grandfather, whose timing was absolutely perfect when it came to one of these lessons, or one of the jokes he pulled on us, and later on other kids who were choppin’ cotton on the farm. We would all practically beg him for more information. “When are you going to take us to New Orleans to meet the banana boat? Will you really buy us a whole stalk of bananas?” Once again, in response to my eager assurance that he chain was on the oak stump, in his hint of an old south drawl he said,
“I don’t’ believe it is there.”
Little Johnny: “I know it is! I just saw it.”

Once again, Granddaddy seemed in no hurry, which led me to conclude that I was about to win an argument. It never dawned on me at the moment that if I had been too argumentive, I would have had to answer to my parents. Their silence actually encouraged me to force the argument. I was waiting for him to agree that I knew where the chain was. When he did speak I was sure he was about to concede. Instead, he said, “I still don’t believe it is there.”
We went back an forth for a few more rounds. Finally, Granddaddy said, “I’ll tell you what we will do. We will go out there and look for the chain. If it is not on the stump you owe me a half a day’s work, but if it is on the stump I will give you a dollar.”

I agreed readily and enthusiastically. “I know it’s there! I walked right by it when I was coming in from the woods.” There was never a doubt in my mind. I had seen it with my own eyes. What better proof could anyone have than that? A dollar?! A dollar would buy all sorts of candy and cokes, at a nickel a pop. The dollar was as good as mine.
Granddaddy said, “I came right along behind you and picked it up and brought it back to the barn.”

Little Johnny felt like the victim of a cruel twist of fate. The bad end of a bad joke. My grandfather never mentioned the half day’s work, but then when you are working all day every day, except Sunday, it is hard to tell when I left off working for my father and began working for my grandfather.

For some time, I assumed the lesson was about gambling. Betting, if you will. Now, I am sure the main lesson had to do with my attitude. I was not only too sure of my self, I arrogantly arguing with my grandfather. And, I was getting away with it, or so it seemed. When I was twelve years old I mocked my grandfather one day and before I knew what was happening my father caught me by my arm and marched me out into the yard. I knew I was in trouble, but had no idea how much. When Daddy pulled his belt off, the end popped coming through each belt loop on his pants. I can still hear it, or so it seems. He folded it and began applying some education to the seat of my understanding. I kept clinging to one hope: there is no way he will keep going. He did.

And I learned another lesson that day.

I am sure my grandfather wanted to teach me a lesson about gambling, but I know he wanted to teach the value of humility and the importance of listening to the other person. I still don’t know why they let me talk back to him and still wonder if there was some signal I missed. Or was it that I was not as smart as I thought? I never argued with my grandfather like that again.
And I did learn a lesson about betting on anything. For those Christians who see nothing wrong with gambling, let me respond to that. The Bible says that “the just shall live by faith.” It does not say the just shall live by chance.