My dad grew up in an Irish Catholic home. Irish are not known for their soft spoken words and genteel manners. The home he grew up in was no exception and was full of yelling and tense words. Grandpa and Grandma fought nearly all the time. I dare say that very few kind words came from Grandpa to my dad in his growing up years. My dad doesn’t like to talk about it much. I can only imagine it was a tough way to grow up.
I remember around the fourth grade that Grandpa Collins was so excited about retiring from the phone company. A telephone pension, a gold watch, a Lazy-Boy recliner, a Magnavox TV and a new Cadillac were waiting for him after 30 years on the job.
But one month into retirement, he had a stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body. Overnight, he became confined to his Lazy-Boy recliner, unable to enjoy his gold watch, or new Cadillac. All he could really do now was watch TV and yell at Grandma.
Strokes do nasty things to person’s brain. Most often, they paralyze a part of you. Sometimes a stroke will compromise your ability to control your emotions. If you held your temper well before a stroke, after a stroke you might find yourself just letting go and yelling at people for any or no reason at all. Such was the case of my Grandpa.
For five years or so, Grandma Collins took care of Grandpa at their home. But after years of verbal abuse and the lifting and moving a man much bigger than her, she simply couldn’t do it any longer and began to show signs of an emotional breakdown.
Throughout this whole ordeal, my dad and mom would take myself and my four brothers over to visit Grandpa and comfort Grandma. It was always tense once there which makes such times not much fun, but then again, strokes rarely are.
After five agonizing years, Grandma had to move Grandpa to a nursing home. The nursing home just happened to be about a mile from our home in SE Portland. This gave us the opportunity to go and visit Grandpa nearly every Sunday after church. The first several visits were stressful as Grandpa was very angry for taking him away from his home and placing him in a skilled nursing environment. As a result, he yelled a lot more than usual. After a couple of visits, my dad happened to come upon an idea, “How about if we take him a piece of pie. I know that he loves pie.”
The next Sunday, my mom made a banana cream pie. We cut out a large slice and headed over after church to the nursing home. As we entered Grandpa’s room, he caught our eyes and began his usual glare. His face tightened and words were ready to fly from across the room, when all of a sudden he caught a glimpse of the pie.
“Pie? Did you bring me pie?” A radiant look of softness came over his face. His eyes brightened and he looked as happy as I had ever seen him. We went from people he was angry at, to people he was glad to see over a simple piece of banana cream pie.
My dad and mom and all my brothers walked around to the side of the bed and watched in delight as he ate the dessert. Life was pleasant as long as there was pie. After the pie was gone, his memory quickly faded. The peace offering we had brought would become replaced with a look of frustration and renewed anger.
“Well, gotta go dad” was my dad’s response when he saw his old dad coming back to life. No need to wait around for the verbal barrage about to be unleashed. We would repeat this ritual most Sunday afternoons for about a year.
Then the end came. The nurses called my dad because it appeared to them that Grandpa was not going to live much longer. If we wanted to see him one last time, we would need to come right away.
Who else could they call? Grandma had gone up to Seattle to wait out the news that Grandpa had passed. Years of fighting and yelling had caught up with her and she was in the midst of a full blown nervous breakdown. Seattle was where my dad’s sister and her husband lived. They decided to stay put as well until Grandpa passed away. The only family left to be with Grandpa was my dad if he came at all. And come he did.
I remember that last Sunday afternoon when we expected Grandpa Collins to pass away. I had asked if I or any of my brothers could go one last time. My dad said, “No son, this visit is just for your mother and I.”
Then I saw my mom wrapping up one last piece of chocolate cake to take to Grandpa, his favorite. Soon they headed off to visit Grandpa for what would be the last time they would see him. Dad told me that as long as the cake was there, he was happy. When the cake was gone, it was time to say good-bye one last time.
Shortly thereafter, Grandpa did quietly pass away. To this day I am so proud of my dad and his tenacity to find ways to honor his dad when no one else would or could. Grandpa did not deserve it and as far as I know, hardly a kind word ever came from Grandpa to my dad. Yet in spite of it all, my dad found a creative way to honor his dad, by bringing him one more piece of chocolate cake.
So here’s my encouragement to you, “What is the piece of chocolate cake that God is wanting you to give to your parents?” Honoring is the biblical command, cake is the art form.
To the husbands, I would ask, “What is the piece of chocolate cake that God is asking you to give to your wife?” To love and cherish is the biblical command, cake is the art form.
To the fathers, I would ask, “What is the piece of chocolate cake that God is expecting you to give to your kids?” Not exasperating is the biblical command, cake is the art form.
If we ask God for the strength to honor our parents, cherish our wives and raise up our kids, we reflect less of our selfish natures and instead concentrate more of our energies on being the men that God desires us to “BE.” The fruit or outcome of people living in community together and acting out these three simple activities is that chaos will go down and order and harmony will go up and maybe a slice or two of chocolate cake.
If you are struggling with how to apply some of these ideas, I give you someone who has struggled in a similar manner. In the absence of affirmation as a child growing up, he found the courage as an adult to overcome and honor his father with one last piece of chocolate cake when no one else could or would. At this time, I am proud to introduce to you, my dad, Dennis Charles Collins. Love you dad.
Written by: D. Mike Collins
Photos by: D. Mike Collins & Commons Wikimedia