My maternal grandfather's name is Thomas Ezra Crowder. "T. E." grew up in the era when many men went by T. E. or J.C. or H.L. T. E. Crowder's time on this earth was from 1900-1998, and he might still be with us, but for some silly anesthesiologist who apparently knew little to nothing about geriatrics. Grandpa went into a local hospital for a broken hip and, while the ortho part of the surgery went well, the anesthesiologist or one of his/her staff punctured Grandpa's trachea with the trach tube and Grandpa awoke from the surgery unable to swallow. Oh, they put a feeding tube in his stomach and nurses would come in on a periodic basis and roughly suction out the unswallowable saliva that gathered in Grandpa's mouth and made him gag, but I was closer to Grandpa than any of his nine grandchildren and I knew as soon as that feeding tube went in that Grandpa would check himself out. And he did, just a few days later. The man, at ninety-eight years old, still had way too much pride, independence, and self-sufficiency to live with grey goo being pumped into his stomach to keep him "fed" and alive. No. Way. So he, like any decent shaman, willed himself to die. And off he went onto the next adventure.
But this isn't about Grandpa's untimely death at ninety-eight years old. This isn't about the fact that he was still running (okay, shuffling) every morning up and down the road in front of his house until his surgery - Grandpa believed one should get their heart pumping hard for a brief spell each and every day. This isn't about the Ford 8N tractor that he bought new in 1948 and used every summer from '48 through '98 to plow a garden. This isn't about the ginormous sweet potatoes he grew, or the juicy cantaloupes, or the golden honey from the bee hives out back on his place, behind the muscadine and grape vines. Grandpa liked fresh vegetables, and fresh fruit, and fresh honey, and a little drop of homemade wine - hence the personal vineyard. Ah, T.E., they don't make 'em like you anymore.
I absolutely adored the man. He taught me to play checkers. He taught me about float valves in water troughs and how they made sure the cattle always had water. He taught me to sit quietly on a hay bale and enjoy the beauty and harmlessness of skunks eating table scraps at dusk. He taught me the joy of blackberry-stained fingers and lips. He taught me many, many things, including algebra, and I could write a billion words and still not fully express how profoundly he impacted my life. One of the very first things Grandpa taught me was to have faith. And not just half-way faith. Not just "Sunday" faith. Grandpa had an active, working, push-it-to-the-limits faith. Grandpa's faith was so grand, He even questioned God Himself. And God always answered. Now that's FAITH.
T.E. wasn't the type to say directly, "come here, sit down, and I'm going to teach you something important." Nope. Grandpa was like Jesus; he taught in parables. Grandpa had a soft but resonant bass voice (he loved to sing) and his stories always had a melodic flow all their own. He spun a story in such a memorable way, you never forgot it, and yet, during the teaching moment, you didn't even realize school was in session.
So I'm sharing Grandpa's story on faith here, and because he was such a gifted teacher, I'll not comment but instead let Grandpa alone do the teaching . . .
A man was traveling through the desert, and he'd been walking under a hot sun for several days. His long-empty canteen bumped against his leg as he plodded along, exhausted and dehydrated, dragging his feet forward, first one, then the other. One step. Then another step. The sun baked down, hot and dry, and the man began to wonder if he would die of thirst. He fell down in the sand, too weak to stand, and consciousness began to fade.
But just as he was about to give up, the man saw a small, green tree in the desert. He knew a live tree in this vast stretch of sand meant there was water at that spot. The man began to feel a sense of renewed hope, and he found the strength to drag himself forward, inch by slow inch, until he lay at the base of that little tree.
Hidden amongst the branches, the man was surprised to find a pipe sticking out of the ground, complete with an old-fashioned pump handle. Carefully tied to the top of the water pump was a vial of water! WATER! The man was overjoyed! Quickly, he untied the vial and thought joyfully, "I am going to drink every drop of water in this vial, and then use it for a cup as I pump more water from this well, and I WILL LIVE!!!" He started to unscrew the lid on the vial, telling himself, "I will drink the vial of water and then refill it for the next poor thirsty soul who passes this way."
But as his hand touched the lid, he discovered a small note, yellowed with age, carefully wrapped around the lid. He first thought, "I am dying of thirst! I will drink the water in the vial first, and then read the note!" But his curiosity got the better of him, so he carefully set the vial of water down, and unfolded the note.
Inside it read: "I know you are weary. And you need the water in this vial to survive. But now you must make a choice. There is just enough water in this vial, if you choose to drink it, to make your body survive until you reach the end of the desert, so if you drink this water - every single drop - you will survive. But! The water in this vial is the exact amount required to wet the leather gasket that is sitting inside the top of the pump and prime the pump. IF you choose NOT to drink the water in the vial, but, instead use every single drop to pour onto the leather gasket and prime the pump, you will have abundant water to drink, and you can then refill the vial for the next weary traveler. The choice is yours."
The thirsty traveler looked longingly at the vial full of life-giving water. He was SO very thirsty! All he had to do was tip the vial to his lips and his thirst would be quenched and he would live!! "And what if the note is lying," he reasoned. "I could waste all this water by pouring it on the gasket, and the pump not work at all! And I would die, because I would have absolutely no water at all, then!"
Slowly, thoughtfully, the man picked up the vial of water . . .