by Ryan Mark Richardson
My grandfather on my mother’s side is a man among men. He’s weathered and in his 70’s, but he still stands like one of those old castles or Roman buildings that dot the European countryside. Strong, resolute and every mark bearing a story that you wish you knew – I mean that, I wish I knew more of his story. I only know part, the parts that come in the stories he tells about his life… they are sadly too few. He is a man of few words, preferring to take the wisdom in Proverbs to listen and let the words he does use bear a certain gravity, meaning, and emotion behind them.
His presence doesn’t ask your respect, it demands it. He is physically imposing, even as he has aged. He used to play football under Paul “Bear” Bryant at Texas A&M… his group would go on to be renowned as the Junction Boys. He stands a little shorter than me, but I always feel like I am looking up at him; he has a healthy girth on him that tell of his younger days and still leave you feeling a little awed. He takes a nap most afternoons now (a fairly recent development), but for the most part, he stays on the go – mowing, working around the house, etc.
Not only that, but he is intelligent in a league of his own. Fully armed with a PhD on plant diseases, he worked in administration for Texas A&M (Assistant Dean of Agriculture and Director of Ag Extentions) and the University of Kentucky (Dean of Agriculture). Even in times that I can remember, he has always been travelling either around the states to deal with county agents and 4H programs, or around the world to give seminars on crops and how countries (mainly South America, I believe) could keep their crops from getting various diseases and be able to provide enough food for the country. I learned this past week that he has a particular fascination and fondness for rice and wanted to work with it because it is the major food crop for the world… I wish I knew more things like that about him. He is an avid reader, mostly military and political intrigue. He’s been reading for as long as I can remember and it just adds to his presence. He’ll try to pass some of it off and tell you that his memory is dulling in his old age. I don’t believe it, he seems as sharp now as he has ever been.
He’d be the last person to tell you about that though, unless you asked. Mostly, when he does talk, he talks fondly about my grandmother and how much support she’s given him over the years. He talks about church and how that is going – he leads a Sunday school group out of a church that his father-in-law built with his own two hands. He likes talking about Texas A&M football and the University of Kentucky basketball. Though beyond that, he really is a man of few words.
I’ve gathered a little bit from stories from him and my mom and dad, but his history has come to me fairly piecemeal. His parents immigrated to New York City from Poland. I don’t know much about them. From what I understand, my great-grandfather was a successful builder in New York. I never knew him. While not being insanely rich, I suppose they had their fair share of money. My great-grandmother was alive during my lifetime, though I only ever met her maybe once or twice. I understand that she was manipulative and tried to buy people’s affections and loyalties with that money. My grandfather decided he’d had enough of that manipulation at the end of high school, and wanted to make his own way through life. He found himself in Texas and married my grandmother. Afterwards, he worked his way through college (I think he worked as a ranch hand or something along those lines), and started his professional career and became the man described. After he retired from the University of Kentucky, he moved back to Texas and Texas A&M asked him if he would like to be chairman of the university. He declined saying that he’d had his fun and he wanted to rest now and enjoy his time with his wife and family. On their 50th anniversary he and my grandmother renewed their vows in a church because they were only married by a justice of the peace originally and my grandfather wanted to say their vows before a God, a pastor, and their church community.
Isaac Newton popularized a phrase my dad is fond of using, “standing on the shoulders of giants.” In short, meaning that we must remember and build upon the work of great men who have gone before us. Ironic, considering he would end up being one of those giants. But I look at my grandfather and I can’t help but feel a little bit of that weight of responsibility. God’s call might be different (ie, I don’t foresee myself curing or preventing plant diseases in Argentina), but in some way I hope to make a similar sort impact on people for the Gospel. It feels ephemeral, but I know that as I have looked at him and his life, I see a man who loves Jesus and has used his life to display that to people, and I have been inspired by that. And I want to be faithful in the same way to lead whatever people I am around, with my words and actions in pursuit of the Gospel.