It’s that beautiful time of the year when I have moved the old rocker inside next to the fireplace in the living room of the little cabin. The kids are busy in their rooms preparing for the lessons of school they will learn tomorrow. I pause in surprise at how quickly they had grown from the first day when it turned them over to the world. That first day of school, that first grade, and the first time they were not in the middle of our daily life. How the little woman wanted to stay with them that first day to assure herself that the teacher would treat them with the love and concern she had over their first five years. Necessary as it was, it was a painful let go to see them pass through the large doors into a world filled with possibilities unknown. Now Pierce is a senior, Spence a junior, and Victoria a sophomore in High school. Soon life will carry them away and the family name will carry on apart from them. I am crossed with pride and impending loneliness, a slash in two directions.

As I listen to the snapping, sparks fly up into the chimney to warm the coldness of the wind above, as the wind slithers past the non-caulked windows. Another honey-do job left undone. Sometimes one must reap what is not sown. The snow was coming down when I went off to work this day and I did not take my goulashes with me. Tomorrow I must try to master them, as I know the paths laid in the snow will turn to slush if the sun gives any warmth to the cold air. They were my father’s goulashes and he’d wear them with his pants tucked neatly inside. I have never mastered that because I could never get the metal buckles to come together. Oh, if I had only observed him on the past snowy days. Now I wear them with the buckles undone and the breeze flows into the openings of the goulashes and freezes my feet. We live and we learn but fail to be obedient to the lesson.

I left work early this day to attend the funeral of a friend’s son, Joe Rippetoe. I knew his father Carl many years ago when I was seven in the mid-’50s. At that time, he was bedridden and unable to care for himself. Mrs. Rippetoe did the best she could and I met here one day while walking around the neighborhood. She was a squatty person who carried a broad smile across her face. She always had a kind word to share and I enjoyed going to greet her as I made my rounds. One day I asked her where Mr. Rippetoe was and then fell sad when she answered. She told me that he was bedridden and was not able to get up. Later she let me know that he was not ever going to get better. I really could not understand that, except I thought he would live his life out stuck in the bed.

As time traveled on, it was beginning to bother me that Mr. Rippetoe was alone in that bed all day. One day I asked Mrs. Rippetoe if I could come in a visit him. She said, come back tomorrow and she would think about that and let me know. I did and she said yes and let me into the house. I didn’t know what I was getting into and once inside, became afraid and shy. I started thinking of excuses that would let me out without hurting any feelings. I have always been a slow thinker and no excuse came in time. Mrs. Rippetoe said to go upstairs with her, and I did.

When I was allowed into Mr. Rippetoe’s room, I found myself in an amazing place. I introduced myself and he said his name was Carl. He was in a huge bed that had buttons along the bedrails. He could push the buttons and the front of the bed would rise up or down. Another button that the whole bed would raise up or down. There was a button to make the bed vibrate and I liked sitting on the bed when it vibrated. All around the walls, there were bookcases filled with books. I looked at some of them and they had pictures. Most of the photographs were of pigs. I figured Carl liked pigs the same way I liked dogs.

It made since when Carl told me that he was a pig farmer up near Logan’s farm in Creamery. Without giving thought, I said, “When you get better, we can go see them.” Carl smiled and said he promises he will take me there as soon as he can. Carl also had some of the same books my dad had. They were Bible books and Bible storybooks and magazines that came from Grace Baptist Church in town. I asked Carl if he went to Grace Church and he said he did. I asked if he knows Johnny Crawford, but he didn’t at first. After I told Carl about my friend Johnny, he said he thought he knew of him. From then on, I would go near every day and visit Carl.

I like being with Carl in his room, which he called his world; it was filled with many exciting books to look at. He loved to hear me tell of my adventures and the stories he told me of the old days in Ballengee were astounding. The books were neat and the stories were interesting, Carl himself was a very caring person even as he was decades older than me. What I like most about visiting Carl is his room was it’s a place of peace. Because Carl was ill, he was a very quiet man and I would have to listen very intently to hear all he was saying. Every time Carl would share an adventure it would end with practical advice for my life. Carl’s place was always at peace. Carl never spoke harshly, he never glared, and his answers always satisfied. But it was even more than that as there was a peace that reminded me of being in a Church during service. There was no fear, no anxiety, and no rudeness to the way others treated each other. In Carl’s room, I wasn’t a bothersome little kid in the way of what others wanted to do. I did have to measure up to anyone except myself. It was peaceful because Carl knew who I was, even though I hadn’t yet. Carl accepted me just as I was.

For six years, I visited Carl’s Place almost every day. I was becoming a teenager and the brunt of people’s picking. Carl’s Place was where I would go to find peace. I could talk to Carl about it and he always had a story that would end in advice on how to handle the problems of growing up. Then one day in front of Carl’s Place, Pastor David Lamb’s car was parked in front. Several people were standing outside talking in low tones. I knew but I wanted to be told but I just stood there unable to speak. I wanted to cry but I didn’t know the reason and held back. Then Mrs. Rippetoe came over and told me the words I feared. She said, “Carl has gone home and you will have to wait for a while. A day will come again that you can go to Carl’s Place.” I just looked at her through misty eyes and said, “thank you.”

It has been fifty-three years since that day, and I do not remember much about the funeral of Carl Rippetoe but the verse that Pastor Lamb quoted. “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27)

Today I went to Carl’s son’s funeral. I’ve known of Joe many years, as now and then we would bump into each other. He’s a few years older than me, but we do not have much in common. If you are not a farmer or involved in the feed and seed industry or attend the Church on the Knoll, I have little chance of knowing you. As far as I know, he was a good man in the community and I never heard any different. When I heard he was ill, I went to see Joe and noticed his home was not like that of his father’s. The house was filled with confusion, noise, and arguments. The arguments were over the inheritance and they could not agree on anything. It is sad when the blessings of life become the curse. How can one praise the Lord over His blessings and argue over receiving it? There were no bookshelves filled with exciting books and no Bible or Bible storied to be read. It was the home of a businessman chasing after the American Dream. A dream if accomplished, is left behind at the exit.

Pastor Lamb gave the service, as at most funerals I attend, it passed into history like the one who has departed. But this one was special because of the verse that Pastor Lamb used in the service struck profound. I didn’t know much about Joe but from the verse, I learned much about his father Carl. The Pastor quoted this verse. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8)

As I sit here warming my body by the crackling fire and ponder the events of the day, I feel a warmth building in my heart. In those early years of a childhood filled with the real and imagined competition of growing up. Filled with being a child trying desperately to become a man. Being submissive to everyone taller than five feet and having your life judged by the manners you remembered to display. I was never a sportsman but made to play. Never a singer but made to sing. Never a leader but made to go first. I was never anything others wanted me to be. I found my peace at Carl’s Place. I always thought it was Carl, always thought it was his books, and I always thought his room was the only refuge. Now I know without a question that the peace came from the God that Carl served. God’s peace that filled his place because God was near to Carl because Carl was near to God.

Oh, how I missed it, but now I have found it. There before me in the fondest of memory is Carl. A man struck with a fatal illness. Counting down days until he will leave this darkened world and in a twinkling, find himself in the loving arms of His Lord. Carl who suffered his last years in the prison of a bed, where most people seek rest, found it there in his last days. Carl drew near to God and in faith, found his peace completed. “The LORD will give strength to His people; The LORD will bless His people with peace.” (Psalm 29:11)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

Ballengee, 01/21/2020

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