The local mailman decided to enter the cabin when he heard the old tick hound, Queenie, howling.
He found Gramps Creekside dead in his bed.
Now, “Gramps” was not his given baptism name. His bank signature read “Benjamin Donnelly.” But everybody in town called him Gramps because he seemed to be more aged than anyone else they knew–and “Creekside” because many years before he built a small cabin by a creek about three miles outside of town.
Gramps had the legendary blending of cantankerous, kindly and wise. He always seemed to have a good word when it was needed and a little piece of sass when the world became too complacent.
It’s safe to say that everybody in the town, at least once a year, made a pilgrimage out to the little cabin to visit with the old man as he sat and mused over life, spitting tobacco in his ‘toon.
Meningsbee had made such a journey just three days earlier. Feeling the need to be around someone as old as the hills, with the possibility of receiving irreverent counsel, he headed out and sat in the old man’s only extra chair.
As always, Meningsbee tried to start out nice, but Gramps just didn’t like preachers.
His contention was that ministers didn’t have enough work to keep them busy, which caused them to get nosy about other people’s business. Gramps had only attended the church one time, on no particularly special Sunday, and walked out giving Meningsbee the sideways compliment, “You’re better than most.”
So when the news came to town that Gramps was dead, there was a shudder of grief and a reluctance to accept the reality. Deep in their hearts, people knew they would get over his departure, but the absence of his freewheeling style of observation would certainly deplete their world.
The pastor was asked to conduct the memorial service on Sunday afternoon. The church was filled with those who had been graced by the touch and the gruffness of the aging philosopher.
On Saturday, Meningsbee went out to the cabin and walked around, looking for hints as to what to say at the memorial service. There wasn’t much there. Apparently, the old man had savored tobacco and beef jerky.
Gramps had a Bible on his nightstand, what appeared to be a year’s supply of black coffee, three dozen fresh hen’s eggs in the ice box and many cans of Vienna sausages.
Meningsbee picked up the Bible, opened it, and a little slip of paper fell onto the floor. He retrieved it up and read the brief paragraph with a smile. He had found his subject for the service.
When Sunday afternoon rolled around and everyone had tearfully finished their tributes to Gramps Creekside, the Reverend stood to his feet and said:
“Searching through the limited belongings of Benjamin Donnelly, who we lovingly know as Gramps Creekside, I quickly realized that this was not a man who was laying up treasures on Earth.”
The audience laughed.
“Matter of fact, in the whole cabin I could not locate a second pair of shoes, though he granted himself the luxury of three pair of underwear.”
“What I did find was a Bible–a Good Book which had the strokings of many a finger-passing. In that Bible was a note, handwritten by Gramps himself. It read: ‘Am I starting? Am I done? Don’t rightly know. Guess I’ll go on.'”
Reverend Meningsbee paused for a second to allow the words to sink in, and then continued. “Just like you, at first I was perplexed by the meaning, but then it was so much like Gramps that it was like he was whispering in my ear. You see, here’s a man who wasn’t sure how much time he had or whether it was time to leave. But because he didn’t know, he thought the smartest way to live was to keep going full speed until something stopped him. When I read the words, they convicted my heart. I thought about all the things that have stopped me recently, just because they challenged my ego. I thought about all the matters I worry about, which don’t amount to more than dust on a country road. And I realized that Gramps sat out there, not totally convinced that anybody cared, but always prepared to receive a visitor and encourage a heart. We are too busy being busy to really be busy. That’s the truth of the matter. Let me tell ya’–we’ve taken the last few months and allowed the world around us to come in and dissect us like a bunch of frogs. They’ve looked at our insides and concluded that we’re pretty messed up. Well, so be it. Truth is, everybody sitting in this room could tell a nice story about Gramps–and a bad story about him. He wasn’t very bigoted but he was impatient with children. I once heard him tell a mother of a fussy child at the grocery store, ‘Why don’t you leave that little brat home so the rest of us can enjoy squeezin’ our favorite loaf of bread?’ She was offended. But I will tell you–she is in this room today. Because less than six months later, when her husband died, Gramps was out in her driveway, shoveling snow so she could get to work. You see, it’s not about being right. It’s sure not about being wrong. As Gramps said in his note, it’s about keepin’ the thing going until it’s over. He did not lay down for a nap on Thursday thinking he was going to die. Never crossed his mind. That’s the way it should be.”
The service concluded and the folks trailed off to the cemetery to lay the old man to rest. It was decided by the city council to leave the cabin as it was for a while, so people could go out to visit and reminisce.
For the next two months there was a sweet spirit of revival that swept across Garsonville. Not a “Holy Ghost shouting” kind, but a gentle reflection, where everybody asked themselves, “Am I starting? Am I done? Don’t rightly know. Guess I’ll go on.”