My grandfather Al Willingham passed away this morning. He was 104.
It is customary to say nice things about people who have recently passed away. In grandpa’s case there are ONLY good things to say about him. He was a good man. An amazing role model. He loved his family, his friends, his church and Jesus.
Grandpa lived an extraordinary life of ordinary events. He lost his mother as a teenager, lived through the depression, and had more jobs than I can count. He raised 3 sons and 1 daughter, and buried two wives. These by themselves are not unusual things. But grandpa took these many events, examined them, and found lessons from them. And then he shared those lessons with us, inspiring us to be better, too. He didn’t complain about the challenges in his life. He thanked God for his blessings, and learned from the difficulties.
Grandpa was something of an inventor. He loved to solve problems. When he was able, he would build things, repair cars and appliances, and generally troubleshoot anything. As his mobility decreased, he became the general contractor, putting others to work on his projects. He had a lot of ideas about how to make things more convenient for people like himself, struggling with seemingly simple tasks because of his age and health. Instead of giving up when life presented a challenge to him, he analyzed it and tried to figure out a solution. His apartment was filled with inventions that made his life easier, even a tiny bit.
Sometimes when poor health comes, people give up. Not grandpa. He worked hard to keep his mind and body as active as possible. Until very recently, he still did regular leg exercises in his bed, and used some stationary bike pedals to keep his joints flexible.
Grandpa Al was a gifted storyteller. He talked about his many jobs during the depression. He described reading in the newspaper that his deputy sheriff father had been shot in a jailbreak (he was okay). Sometimes he told a joke dressed up as a true story, but mostly he talked about his life. His stories were filled with humor and truth. His chicken story was legend. In the last several months, his poor hearing made conversation difficult. But he could still tell a story. And he did, painting pictures with his words of his life that were fascinating and inspiring.
Grandpa told me Saturday he thought he’d “be fishing with God” soon. I’m so grateful to him that he gave me that last gift – a beautiful vision of him that I will cherish always.
I hope he catches a big one.