Some years ago I met one of the few living witnesses, other than family, to the life and memory of my Grandpa Ferrell. Standing at an impressive 6’6” he easily towered over everything and yet the warmth of his smile and joyous presence elevated all surrounding. Donning a nicely pressed dress shirt under a pair of overalls, his attire was to be truly befitting of his personality. Brought up in a seemingly bygone age where there was both respect and appreciation for women, I had become his honored guest. And still, rather than displaced gestures of formality I was most graciously welcomed into his small room within the nursing care facility in which he lived.
I had not expected to be there that day, truly a tag along on vacation, I had no idea what God had lay in store. Since my Aunt’s passing, my Uncle Bob had found comfort in the ministry of visitation to the sick, home bound and elderly. Having reached his own rock bottom of loneliness and grief without the love of his life he had sought better meaning and purpose for this idle time. These visits had become the bright spots in his week and one could not help but notice the great care he would take to be presentable and on time.
Having served in this ministry with my husband, I too knew the immeasurable joy that comes from the very small gift of time spent. So, when he announced that he was departing our Sunday family meal to go out on ministry, I could not remain either. The Holy Spirit was tugging on me, telling me that there was somewhere else I was meant to be. “Wait up, can I join you?”, I called out. “Yes… you want to come? Well, we need to hurry; I hate to keep them waiting”.
Part of me felt like a kid again riding someplace fun with my Uncle Bob, a man who always made me laugh and had cared for me like a father. However, this was uniquely different. For, I wasn’t a child but an adult and I was choosing to spend this time together in service for others not for myself. Something inside too was reminding me of the sacredness of this moment, and the fact that I might ever be given this shared opportunity again. How true this was.
Within minutes of arriving, nurses and guests alike had made their way to saying hello to us, who all were very familiar with his visits. Clearly there was an extra spring in both our steps as we walked those halls, and stepped inside the home of each resident. Here, in the exchange of banter, stories and prayers, we were no longer considered as visitors but brothers and sisters in Christ. When one remarked how good it was to see someone of my age want to come, I felt sadness for this missed blessing that others have not known.
So it is that we made our way to “Buster” Kennedy’s room. To this day I am still not sure why he was called Buster. Perhaps I have thought it was in reference to Buster Keaton, a vaudeville film actor and comedian from the early 20’s known for not shying away from dangerous stunts or the quick punch line. Whatever the reason, that was the only name on the door, and I was intrigued immediately.
As we stood there for a few seconds, with my Uncle Bob making introductions, I realized just how little I was in Buster’s shadow. And still, that soon all disappeared as he leaned in looking me in the eyes, adding what a pleasure it was to meet Carl Ferrell’s granddaughter. He knew me, I thought. Yes, I know I had never met him before, but in knowing my grandpa, in some sense he knew me. My grandpa, whose love of learning and knack for poetry and languages I inherited, had passed away when I was quite small. Oh, how I yearned to know more of my grandpa, who others saw him to be.
The Ferrells’ 1950’s (My mom far left)
Buster Kennedy, a combat engineer in the Army during World War II, had served in the Philippines as a young man. When he returned to the states, Buster found work as a driver for the cotton gin my grandpa managed in his summers apart from teaching. As he described my grandpa, Buster spoke of the kindness and compassion shown by my grandpa, and the honor and respect he had earned by all those who worked for him. “He was so smart, but always took the time to explain things, the reasons why.” As we talked, my heart soared and inwardly I hoped that I could be that friend to others that my grandpa was. That’s when Buster stopped, and said what I had longed to hear, “Do you know how proud of you he must be?” Filled with emotion, and holding back the tears, I managed a feeble “Thank you so much, I have always prayed he would be”.
Thank you Father, for those you place in our path that remind us who we are and whose we are. May we always seek to honor you with lives of love and compassion. Thank you God, for “Buster”.