In my thirteenth year I was awakened in the night by someone crying. I strained to hear the words.
“How could he leave me? What will I do now?” the wailing voice asked.
I realized it was my grandmother who lived next door on the farm. My mother soothed her, “We are here, we’ll take care of you,” she said gently.
“Grandpa has died,” I thought. He hadn’t been well the last weeks. “I’ll have to get up and milk the cows in the morning,” I thought. I looked at the luminous dial of my Timex alarm clock; it was 3 am. I set the clock for 5:30 and tried to get some sleep before it went off.
My father found me in the barn, sitting between the cows, directing strong, even squirts of milk into the pail. The seven cows, the only ones left from Grandpa’s large herd of Guernsey cattle, stood patiently waiting, chewing their cuds and listening to the radio.
“Here you are,” said Dad. “How did you know to come and get started on chores?”
“I heard Grandma crying in the night and figured out what had happened. Someone had to milk the cows, and so I came.”
Dad smiled wanly; the sudden shock of his father’s unexpected death was clear on his face. Within a few days his hair would turn from deep brown to pale gray.
“Ok, I’ll milk a couple of them for you,” he said. We each sat silently beside a cow, listening to the streams of milk pinging on the sides of the pails, drawing comfort from the familiar.
After my grandfather died, I took his place in running the farm. This meant that along with doing the milking, I now also had to do the mowing, raking and baling of hay in the summer. I’d never mowed before, but had watched Dad and Grandpa do it, so I just followed their example, and it went well.
The mowing machine had a cutter bar that stuck out six feet beyond the tractor tire. When mowing along the edge of the field or around rocks and fence posts, I had to judge how far things were from the end of the bar, not an easy task even for someone with normal sight–and more so for me with one blind eye.
However, with practice, I developed a better sense of depth perception than a person with two good eyes. If the bar were going to hit an obstacle, I would get a feeling in the pit of my stomach and could avoid the object. One friend called this my “navel intelligence.”
This new method of compensating for my lack of depth perception served me well in all the driving I did, and made parallel parking a snap. This was another preparation from God. He knew that I would later live in crowded cities and have to daily maneuver into tight parking spots.
In my fourteenth year there was another series of special meetings at church. The evangelist spoke convincingly, calling people forward to commit their lives to Christ. I hesitated, thinking of my prayer when I was nine. Wasn’t that enough? Suppose it wasn’t?
I struggled with the uncertainty of my spiritual condition and the fear of what people would think about me if I went forward.
Then in a surge of resolve fueled by my uncertainty, I got up and went down to the front. I prayed again and asked Jesus to come into my heart and save me.
I hoped that this time I’d done it right. And it seemed to have an effect, as this decision led to a stronger motive to live for Christ, praying more and struggling more whole-heartedly to have clean thoughts. I wanted to be as good a believer as I could.
I was happier being wholehearted, but there were always those dark shadows in the prison of my soul, areas where I couldn’t control myself, where evil and scary thoughts would rise to the surface, where uncontrollable anger lurked.
I tried to push these shadows down and out of my mind, but they just slipped below the surface, like sinister serpents waiting for the next opportunity to come up and coil about me.
Picture: About 1959. Front row: Marcia, Sam, Les; back row, Steve and Andrea.