80 Years Well Lived

80 Years Well Lived

posted in: Personal | 23

Today I want to break away from the world of robotics and wish Happy 80th Birthday to my Grandaddy.

Grandaddy was born on May 20, 1937 in rural northwest Alabama. He grew up in a poor time in a poor state in a family that was poor relative to other people. He spent his childhood working on a farm, plowing behind mules, bent over picking cotton, waking up early and staying up late taking care of pigs & chickens & whatever else was necessary to provide the next day’s food.

At school, during lunch, the food Grandaddy brought reflected his family’s financial status. The more affluent people could afford to purchase sliced bread, but those at the lower end of the economic spectrum would bring homemade bread or biscuits. Grandaddy brought homemade bread — perhaps there’s some connection that, years later, I remember he started making homemade bread as a hobby. He gave so many loaves of sourdough bread away to anyone who take it, never accepting payment, just happy to give and serve.

At the age of 18, he married my Granny, and over the next 10 years they welcomed the birth of 3 daughters. Early in his 20s Grandaddy decided to devote his life’s work to preaching. Within a few years he moved with Granny and his 3 young daughters to the church in Robertsdale where they settled down and where he has now served without interruption for over 50 years.

It’s perhaps ironic that I’m writing this tribute to my grandfather on a blog about robotics. Grandaddy has no interest in technology, he does not have internet access, has never purchased a home computer and he does not carry a cell phone. Readers of this blog would likely experience withdrawal symptoms if they chose to forego any items on the preceding list. But Grandaddy has served people for all these years without those electronic staples of your life and mine — and I’ve never known of anyone who has lived more fully.

While I can’t imagine a day disconnected from the internet, Grandaddy has rarely lived a day disconnected from lives of those who need someone to talk to, need someone to see, need someone who is present. He’s logged over 250,000 miles on his favorite car — a 2003 Toyota Camry — so many of those miles on seemingly unending trips to the local nursing home, to the local hospitals, to the church and to the cemetery.

I think a story will give you an idea of the kind of man my Grandaddy is. Recently a friend of my dad was diagnosed with cancer. Grandaddy did not know this man very well — he does not live in our town and he is not a member of the church where Grandaddy serves. But when Grandaddy heard of the diagnosis, he jumped in his car and drove 45 minutes across Mobile Bay to the hospital, just to spend a few minutes with the man and with his family. I only know of this story because the man’s wife called my mother and told her that Grandaddy had just visited them in the hospital — she was profoundly moved by how kind Grandaddy was, and how considerate he was to reach out to them in such a difficult moment.

If you were to meet Grandaddy, you might be surprised to find that he is genuinely interested in what you have to say, he makes eye contact, he keeps a kind and understanding countenance, and he listens. If Grandaddy were to find out that you were going through a difficult time, he will show up or he will call — whichever he thinks you would prefer. He and Granny will offer help, they’ll listen to you and pray for you. No strings attached, no sales pitch, no invasive questions. Just care. Just concern. Just love.

In a time when many of us can accurately chart the Kardashian family tree, but have no idea of our neighbors’ names, Grandaddy stands as a reminder that perhaps we need to reconsider the trajectory of our lives. I doubt Grandaddy has ever heard of the Kardashians, but he knows all of his neighbors’ names. He knows their children’s names. Over the years, as many of them have died, nearly all of their families call on Grandaddy to give the eulogy at their funeral.

Those who hold positions of leadership in a town, or a business, or a church are often unable to please everyone. But I’ve never known of anyone who was able to successfully hold a long-term grudge against Grandaddy. Years ago, Grandaddy unknowingly moved the corner post demarcating the property line between his land and his neighbor’s. Over the next several months he noticed that this neighbor would no longer wave or talk with him. Grandaddy was baffled by the neighbor’s sudden change of behavior and was puzzled by what might have happened. Finally Grandaddy asked the neighbor if something was wrong. The neighbor asked Grandaddy why he had moved the corner post — Grandaddy had no idea that the post he had moved was the property corner post. He profusely apologized and immediately asked the neighbor to tell him where the corner post should be reset, and Grandaddy had the post placed exactly where the neighbor wished. No survey needed — Grandaddy was happy for the neighbor to decide the property line if that meant winning back a friend. From that point forward the neighbor and Grandaddy were back on great terms. Years later, of course, the neighbor’s family called on Grandaddy to preach his funeral.

Grandaddy can offer a gentle rebuke better than anyone I’ve known. For instance, one time years ago I was complaining to Grandaddy about someone’s behavior, hoping he’d chime in and validate that this person was in the wrong. But, I remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday, Grandaddy smiling and kindly saying “you know, it’s a good thing that neither you nor I have any personal problems.” His tone was not sarcastic, but poignant. He was right, I didn’t have a right to criticize the person I was criticizing. To this day, I often hear those words in the back of my mind when I think about criticizing folks — too often, I don’t heed them.

Grandaddy rarely complains and always seems to find the good side of a situation. He has had back pain for decades — likely the result of years picking cotton on the farm as a kid. But, if you ask Grandaddy how his back is doing, his most common response is “I think it’s doing better!” There is a character in the Bible named Barnabas who was known as a great encourager. Grandaddy says that he wants to be someone like this — a person who encourages others. How good is that? Don’t we all need someone like that in our lives?

Little towns like Robertsdale are often only known to the Big World by our wildly successful sons like Tim Cook. But men like Grandaddy, or the middle school lunch lady who makes small talk with a kid walking through the line alone, or the teacher who stays late to work with a youngster who’s struggling with math, or the lady driving the garbage truck who blows the horn for my little sons, or the overloaded mother who hasn’t had an off day in years, or the assistant principal who reasons with the same troubled kids day after day, trying to point them to a better path — these people are the sinews of our little town.

At his age, so many of his contemporaries have been retired for 15 years, spending the week planning a haircut, complaining about politics, or critiquing the sweet tea at the country club. But day after day, for all these years, Grandaddy has happily ministered to folks in our small town, doing the Lord’s work with little acclaim — few vacations, much labor, much love.

There are people you name your son after — Grandaddy is that kind of person.
There are people you call on to officiate your wedding — Grandaddy was that person for us.

Let us now bring these ramblings of an admiring grandson to an end, and close with the words of Shakespeare:

His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, “This was a man.”

Thank you for being a man, Grandaddy.
And thank you for 80 years,
Well lived.

W (Roby)

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23 Responses

  1. This is beautiful! Thank you so much.

  2. You captured him in such an amazing way. Thank you for for taking the time to write this!!

  3. Clayton Reese

    It was an absolute pleasure reading this. Thank you so much.

    • Hi Clayton! Rumor on the street is that I’ll be seeing you guys in July — CAN’T WAIT!

  4. Roby's Dad

    Well said! He continues to be a blessing in my life, and has been for many years.

  5. Renee B

    Beautifully written and so sweet! Thank you.

  6. David and Deniese

    Wonderful, sweet tribute to a very special man. We’ve admired him for over 30 years, and we wish him many many more years to come.

  7. Well written and a man to be admired. I got a way to go but my only wish that I too can be remembered as such a man.

  8. This is an awesome tribute. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Britton Reese

    Just read this and I will say it brought me to tears. Great write for an even greater man.

    • Britton! Seeing your name makes me remember all-night Monopoly games from back in the day! Do No Pass Go — make your way to LA as soon as possible my brother!

  10. Joey Lawrence

    What an amazing, caring, selfless, uplifting, never complaining, devoted, and loving man!!! Mack and I have always admired this Godly man. He is so kind. The first time we met him, we both knew immediately that Johnny Emerson was a Christian man. It was evident that his role in life was living a Christian life, love his family, extended family, and friends. Johnny is one of our role-models…we consider it a blessing to know Johnny Emerson! We love and appreciate Johnny and his sweet wife, Sue, and his beautiful daughters. We pray, if it is God’s will, to continue to bless Johnny with good health. We also thank him for the Christian influence he has had on so many, many people.

  11. Scott Pearson

    That is very inspiring!!! Definitely a great man. Both of my granddads died years before I was born but I hope they were a lot like yours.

  12. Roby, I ran across this today and I must say you nailed it. Your granddaddy was a giant of a man – not as the world defines it, but a giant in the Kingdom. I have never known a man that exemplified servant leadership as he did. He truly sought everyday to be a man after God’s own heart by living his life in harmony with the Lord. What is important to God was important to him. There is a big hole in the community there, but there is no doubt much rejoicing in heaven as a true servant of the Lord is now at home.

  13. Loved this tribute. He was indeed a kind, gentle giant for the Lord and to everyone. He will surely be missed.

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