I first published “Eating Apples” on October 25, 2015, the 50th anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s death. It remains one of my favorite posts because it’s about one of my favorite people. I’ve made several edits and added some scripture references, but the heart of the story – my grandfather’s legacy of faith and love – remains. Today I’m posting this revision in honor of the 132nd anniversary of his birth.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
I don’t have many distinct memories of my grandfather since I was in first grade when he passed away. However, I cherish the recollections I do have. Details provided by my mom as she spoke lovingly of her father over the years complete my mental portrait of this kind and gentle man.
Born July 31, 1890, James Alton Phillips was a short fellow, about
5’ 3”, who weighed 125 pounds, give or take a few. No doubt genetics played a part in his slight build, but a lifetime of hard work farming his land undoubtedly contributed to his wiry physique. My mom was the baby of her family, the youngest of eight siblings, and her father’s darling. He called her “Babe” and warmed her clothes by the fire for her before she went off to school on cold mornings.
Occasionally my grandmother, sterner in her demeanor, would delegate the task of disciplining a wayward child to my grandfather. He would take the offending party outside beyond her view and tell the child to cry out while he used the switch on some inanimate object instead of their legs.
As for me, I recall walking hand in hand with him to the small general store, stopping by the post office to check Box 73 for mail, and waiting for the train to come by so we could wave to the conductor and count the cars. But my favorite activity was eating apples with him. “PaPa,” as I called him, would sit me on his lap, produce an apple in one hand and a small knife in the other. He’d cut a slice for me, then a slice for himself. Back and forth the ritual would continue until we finished the tasty fruit. For as long as I can remember, I’ve eaten an apple almost every day. And when I do, I always think of my grandfather.
A Godly Man
“Mr. Jim,” as the people around town knew him, was a man of faith, a deacon in the tiny country church where he worshiped. He embodied the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). When he suffered a heart attack a few months before he died, the doctor told him he had to limit his physical activities. The doctor’s order was like a death sentence for a man who loved his garden and was used to being outside. He’d sit in the kitchen of the home he shared with my grandmother, his wife of 55 years, turn his gaze toward the little church, and comment he’d rather be in the cemetery than just sitting around.
Nearly 57 years ago, on October 25, 1965, God called PaPa Home. He had gone outside to check on some work a neighbor was doing for him, work he would much rather have done himself. In a fitting end to his earthly life, he died in his garden. I can still hear my mother’s anguished cry, “No, not Daddy!,” when she received the phone call telling her of his passing.
Although our relationship was brief in terms of time, and nearly six decades have passed since we last shared an apple, PaPa’s love impacts me to this day. Years after his death, the large corporation I worked for sent me to a training course, one of many I attended during my career. But that one, a self-awareness workshop, was different. A team of psychologists facilitated it, and it was intense. One of our first exercises involved closing our eyes and imagining a safe place. I immediately envisioned myself in my grandfather’s lap, sharing an apple with him. The physical nourishment we’d partaken of paled when compared to the bonds of unconditional love and acceptance formed during our time together.
Today I’m privileged to be “Grammie” to three precious grandchildren. Sharing snacks, especially apples, is one of my favorite things to do with them. It connects me to them and them to my grandfather, who they’ve come to know by my loving accounts of my short yet precious time with him.
A Promised Reunion
I don’t get to visit the small graveyard where my grandparents and many other maternal relatives are laid to rest as often as I’d like. My husband Ray is resting there, too, near my sister, Mary Jeannette, who died in infancy. Last spring, Mom took her place between them, leaving a space for me.
When I worked, my job frequently took me to that area of North Carolina, and I’d visit the cemetery as often as possible. I would gaze at the tombstones, each representing someone I love and long to see again, pondering how glorious it will be when we all rise to new life, a life that will never end (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). For the love we share now is but a shadow of the Love that awaits when the Everlasting Arms reach out to embrace us and welcome us Home (1 Corinthians 13:4-13).
Until then, I’ll remain thankful for little rituals and rock-solid faith, lovingly shared, that can reach across the decades, blessing one generation after another.
O Lord, how great are the gifts of familial love and a heritage of faith! Please help us to be resolute in telling those coming along behind us about Your great love and faithfulness that they too may know the joy of belonging to Your family.