Talking on the phone to Joyce and rejoicing
The Column: 06.29.22
We sat in the sun and played Scrabble Monday and a few minutes later a vulgar four-letter profanity appeared on my letter rack that I could’ve played for 47 points and did not. I just wasn’t in the mood. I’d spoken on the phone that day with Joyce, a preacher and a favorite cousin of mine. Our grandfathers were brothers, and a long-ago rift between them separated our families for decades and I didn’t meet Joyce until I was an old man. This strange story of two stubborn Scots keeping their distance draws me even closer to her. She’s a student of family history and when we talk Jesus comes easily into the conversation with no change of tone of voice, same as you’d mention your brother or father. He is not in a separate universe.
I’ve tried to say the four-letter word several times and I can’t get it to sound natural, not like my two friends who use it often to bold-face what they’re saying. I don’t object. They’re neighbors and Jesus said to love them so I do, mostly, though the word sounds alarming to me like breaking glass. There’s no kindness about it.
Joyce’s grandfather was in the Navy and mine worked for the railroad and they must’ve heard plenty of profanity but never took up the habit. My grandpa, however, was capable of silent anger of an enduring nature, which his children knew and dreaded. My mother as a girl once sat down in the kitchen window and didn’t notice the fresh blueberry pie on the sill and knocked it out on the lawn and she was terrified her dad would berate her for it. He once got angry at her for being too friendly with boys at school and sent her to transfer to a school where she knew nobody. She forgave him and a few years later she had to confess to him that she was pregnant by the boy who would become my father though they hadn’t said their vows yet.
It was 1936, he was still needed on the farm, his father having died three years before, and she was in nurse’s training. They’d been in love for five years and had no money and one day, driving a double team of horses, he almost broke his neck when the horses bolted and the wagon crashed in the ditch, and he was so elated by his survival he wrote her a long letter describing the mishap — the only sustained narrative I ever knew to come out of my father — and he borrowed his brother’s Model A and drove to the city and a few months later she was pregnant. They lied to Grandpa, said they had eloped, and both families were upset but the storm passed. Grandpa’s anger might have exiled her to a home for unwed mothers and my brother Philip would’ve been adopted and I would not have come into existence. But they were forgiven and the story was kept secret by my 21 aunts and uncles and I never found out until my parents were gone and I was an 70-year-old orphan.
Righteous indignation is the easy part of the Christian faith and the hard part is forgiveness. Our country is caught up in ferocious indignation but there is a more merciful culture among us. We know that our country is a haven for the hopeful. We grieve for the migrant workers who died of the heat in the semitrailer that hauled them up from Mexico. We grieve for the pregnant women trapped in an impossible dilemma. The children in room 112 are still on our minds.
What Grandpa never told my mother was that her mother was pregnant for three months before he married her and the indignation of his family was one thing that drove him to leave Scotland and come to America. This is why Joyce and I are keen about family history. Each of us owes our life to a marvelous combination of circumstances, and mercy and kindness and forgiveness are entwined with it.
The righteously indignant are missing out on comedy, which is at the heart of America and which is about forgiveness. Jews don’t recognize Jesus as Messiah, Protestants don’t recognize the pope, and Baptists don’t recognize each other in the liquor store. I heard that joke from a Baptist when I was a kid and I still love it. Jesus broke bread with sinners and Republicans and we should do likewise.
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And what an ensemble! Joining Garrison: three-time CMA Musician of the Year Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush (recipient of an Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist), guitarist and songwriter extraordinaire Pat Donohue, bass wiz Gary Raynor, Grammy award-winning songwriter and singer Aoife O’Donovan, Heather Masse (jazz singer who is known as one-third of The Wailin’ Jennys), and Joe Newberry (old-time banjoist, singer, and so much more).
Richard Dworsky will lead the band, and sound effects ace Fred Newman and Tim Russell (the man of a thousand voices) round out the troupe.
GK, you are next level kindness and understanding. I have much to think about as a result of this latest chronicle from your brilliant mind and generous heart. Thank you! In the spirit of your example, I forgive Henry Truer for his recent post and not “forgive” in the way the lovely Andie MacDowell once explained to me what Southerners really mean when they say “I’m gonna pray for you!” I forgive Henry and will truly pray for him. Jesus can break bread with sinners & Republicans, I should follow that lead. Hear!, hear! Amen.
Thanks for this article! My parents and grandparents also went to Heaven with their secrets; I found out a few years ago at 65 that my paternal step-grandpa was really my dad and like yourself, found a branch of the family that also brings up Jesus in normal conversation. It seems odd that the younger generation retained their parents' faith but not their obstinacy. However, I am thankful for it and for your post. Deano in Cincinnati