I found an old black-and-white photo. My grandpa's sitting at a picnic table with my uncle, who's telling a story with great enthusiasm. Grandpa's quietly listening. He's wearing a white, long-sleeved shirt and his favorite hat. It's a summer's afternoon. Probably a family get-together.
I’m sitting in the front of the picture on the ground with my cousin who seems so exotic. She’s from out of state. She has a sassy ponytail that punctuates everything she does. I have two ordinary pig tails. I’m four years old.
Fast forward a couple of decades. Grandpa passes. I come home for the funeral. I see his hat hanging on the wall. I take a black-and-white photo. It’s a still life. Ironically, the image both stops time and also shows that there’s still life in Grandpa’s favorite hat.
To this day when I look at the photos, I still see life. In my uncle’s animated story. My Grandpa’s listening. My cousin’s swinging pony tail. And Grandpa’s hat hanging on the wall.
As I was thinking about all this, another still life emerged. This story about Grandpa’s hat and the lives in which my brothers and I grew up in. When summers were long and hot and seemed like they would never end. Like Grandpas and Grandmas and Moms and Dads and everyone we love. They may leave this earth, but they live on in our memories, the land where there is still life.
Grandpa’s hat hangs on the wall. Although he no longer wears it, it wears us in our memories, wrapping around us like a warm blanket, transporting us to a simpler time when grasshoppers ride our legs like cowboys intoxicated on blue ribbons and best-of-shows.
With a soft, gentle touch, purple thistle flowers burst open surrendering their sweet, lyrical nectar shining like precious jewels in gold-kissed sunlight.
Standing lower than wild prairie grass, we’re untamed, although pinchy Sunday shoes and stiff-lipped clothes attempt the illusion. Saturday’s scrubbing removes all traces of night crawlers and mud pies. Squeaky Sunday clean, we sing songs to Jesus, who plants seeds of love in our hearts.
We have not yet traveled the roads of life, but we explore our neighborhood step by step. Inch by inch. Every tree. Every mud hole. Every rock pile. Every dream we can dream in our hearts, and a few that simply appear.
We laugh at stupid jokes with wild abandon, as if life will never hold captive our humor or our peace of mind. On hot summer days we devour ice cream cones with million-dollar gratitude.
Grandpa’s hat hangs on the wall. On a dapper March day he places it on his head and the years roll off like rain on a pitched metal roof. We see the jaunty tilt as it takes up residence upon his brow.
Grandpa’s hat, like icing atop a cake, adds an extra sweetness to his step. Life’s hardness softens. The years of what-might-happen fears leave with this holy covering. A mantle of the Lord’s touch, even though Grandpa may not know it.
Grandpa’s hat hangs on the wall. And he lives among us no more.
The memory of his hat and the life that wore it well remain with us. My brothers and me. We three safe-keep the memories in our hearts. The place where seeds of faith were planted so long ago. The place where we do not judge, but take up our mantle as the Ones Who Remember. We remember Grandpa’s hat. We remember Grandpa.
May we be thankful for the yesterdays of our lives. The today's we still enjoy. And the tomorrows that lead to the One Tomorrow we all must encounter. When we each hang our earthly hat on the wall and say Good-bye to hitchhiking grasshoppers, mud pies and purple thistle flowers, and say Hello to eternity.
May we each, my brothers and me, wear the mantle of the Lord like a warm blanket as He welcomes us home. And may those seeds of faith planted so long ago in the hearts of our scrubbed lives, bloom as a planting of the Lord forever. Amen.