The measure of a man
Kimberly Noe, The Newcastle Pacer
He was the last great cowboy in that classic line.
Like Gene Autry and Will Rogers without the celebrity.
He was born and raised in Oklahoma. He had six sisters, two brothers and parents who knew only hard work.
They farmed and ranched through dust bowl and depression and never took what they had for granted.
After his mother died, he and his dad were "baching it" long before it was cool.
When he found a girl he liked, her mother didn't return the sentiment. But that didn't stop him.
He wanted to take care of her. So they set out in the dead of night and got married by headlight at the county line, where the preacher consented to meet them.
But times were hard. They moved west. He got work. They found Jesus.
He went to work for Southern Pacific Railroad in California and slowly worked his way up, bringing home enough to put food on the table and wood in the stove.
Their first house in Bakersfield was little more than a one-room shack. He added on a bedroom that let occasional snow, frost and dew in through the roof at night.
He worked hard through the years - 22 with the railroad - and raised three boys who carried on his legacy of honest hard work, sincere compassion and integrity.
But he never forgot his dream of returning to Oklahoma, the wide-open spaces of his youth, where he could raise his own cattle and crops. Where a good dog and a good horse would get a man through the hardest of times.
And that's where I met him.
To the Cranfords, Rooster and the Hortons, he was neighbor, advisor and friend.
To me, he was a playmate, a cheerleader and a champion.
He was my Grandpa.
And last week marked the seventh anniversary of his death.
He taught me to break, saddle and ride a horse. He taught me how to call and feed cattle.
He taught me that the simplest joys in life could be the most gripping if you take the time to notice them.
We spent lots of hours sitting on the porch, eating ice milk and listening to the whippoorwills. The cows occasionally mooing in the distance. The smell of horse sweat and leather on the wind.
My ordinary world didn't invade there, and now that I'm an adult, when I come back to silence, I can feel those days running through me like electric current.
I don't think of the final years. His struggle to stay strong with no farm work left to be done. I don't think of the eulogy I had to write or the rain the day of his funeral.
I go back to the sweet-smelling fields, the company of the birds and bugs chattering all around, the huge blue sky, horizon as far as I could see, and the man who showed me how a person could love it all so much.
And in the end, I guess the measure of a man is not how much money he collected or to what corporate heights he climbed.
In the end, the measure of a man is what he was able to leave behind, in the people who loved him.
That's a legacy I'm proud to carry on.
Posted on Sat, May 22, 2010