I knew something was wrong that morning. I woke up at your house and you weren’t sitting there at your table by the fire. You were always there. Every morning and every evening. At night you were making notes on your veterinary clients of the day. At daybreak you were taking notes on God’s Word. But this morning, you weren’t there. I’d never awakened before you, so that couldn’t be it. It was light, and you were always at your table before the sun rose.
It turned out you’d been up all night with the flu. But that week has always stuck out in my memory as representative of how strongly we all relied on the familiarity of your morning ritual. The way I knew something must be terribly wrong for you not to be there where you always were, drinking coffee and reading the Bible.
After the coffee and the carefully underlined Bible verses, the notes jotted on ruled paper and the 3×5 cards you used to mark your spot and trace your lines—then came breakfast. I’d sit and play with the coffee grinder while I watched you cook. I’d crank the handle to see if there were any beans left. I’d pull out the drawer and sniff the delicious remnants that remained. I’m sure I got my love of coffee from you, even if it took years to acquire the taste.
Your first meal of the day always had lots of calories and cholesterol. Fried eggs and bacon. Eggs scrambled with sausage and lots of milk. Fried eggs covered in seasoning salt. Slabs of butter between toasted white bread and English muffins. Honey from right there by the ranch, apricot marmalade that was the staple in your fridge. On week days you made breakfast in shifts, for whoever got up whenever they got up, served on the counter, your patrons seated on bar stools. On Sundays, you prepared a feast for all in time for everyone to get ready for church. We’d all sit down and enjoy the meal together in the sun room. And you always were sure we needed one more piece of toast, one more serving of eggs.
After we’d had our breakfast, it was time for the cows to have theirs. We’d don our boots and you’d don your coveralls. We’d follow you down the driveway or out to Old Blue, the ranch pickup. Then it was down to the barn, the one with the rooster weather vane on top, and the playground of hay bales within. I loved the smell of that alfalfa hay. I loved to watch you cut the twine and separate the flakes of hay, dropping it to the cows in the feeders below. I’d laugh at the way the cows would push and fight. I’d lean too close to the edge and I’d climb too high on the hay bales. But you were always there, doing your job, caring for your herd.
Some days, we’d load hay into Old Blue and take it to another meadow, when the cows weren’t by the barn. That was the most fun. We’d ride in the back of the pickup, sitting on the wheel wells or holding onto the railing. Then there were bales to help you unload and spread around, new places to explore while you gathered the twine and counted the cows.
I’m not sure how you did it, but you were always back to the house in time to leave for work. Sometimes, Melissa and I would go to your veterinary clinic with you. We felt so official, doing schoolwork in the back office room, or sneaking goodies from back by the coffee pot. I can still hear the dogs barking in the kennel, smell the cleaner you used to mop up the floors and counters after each animal, and see the patience with which you dealt with each and every client. No matter whether it was your first appointment of the day, an emergency ranch call, or a middle of the night phone call from a little boy concerned about his puppies, you were always the epitome of patience, understanding, and gentleness.
I know Grandma thinks she married the most patient man in the world. She’s always said that, “When a husband loves his wife as he is supposed to, it makes it very easy to be a submissive wife.” I know that the secret of the patient, understanding way you live with each other is in those early mornings you spend in your Bible. And I’m more thankful than words can say for the example you’ve set for your children and grandchildren. Grandma might have married the most patient man in the world, but thank God, I married the second most patient.
I love you, Papa. Thanks for always “watching your beginnings”—of your days and in your life.