My grandfather, PawPaw, was far from a perfect man. Basically, he was good, like you and me. Yet he said things and held beliefs that were hard to accept.
He drove the most ugly and colorful mustard yellow automobile that was the cheapest one on Kitzman’s Chevrolet car lot. PawPaw had holes in the cuffs of his khaki pants, holes because he used his pants cuffs as ashtrays for his Camel cigarettes. In winter he used opened pages of the Houston Post to warm his legs in his recliner when he could’ve used a nice woolen blanket. Playing cards in the den and inconsiderately leaving cigarette butts burning in the ashtray to choke his fellow card players. After playing a game of cards, he would stand up from the table. Turn off the lights and the ceiling fan. Then, close the door and leave his guests behind him in the darkness and not say a word. That was his nice way of saying, “It is time to leave my house. The party is over. Don’t overstay your welcome.”
Although PawPaw’s family and friends had trouble accepting such behavior and imperfections, his dogs, Popeye, Smokey, and O.D. did not. None of that mattered to them. They unconditionally accepted PawPaw the way he was. They did not want or expect him to change. They fully loved him as their perfectly imperfect Master and Creature of God.
In return PawPaw loved and cared for his dogs in ways he was not able to do for his own family. PawPaw refused to give $20 to his wife, Jennie, to buy a dress at Sears. Yet, he would willingly spend $100 on a veterinarian to repair a dog’s broken leg or treat a dog’s illness. Popeye, Smokey, and O.D were family above all of PawPaw’s human family.
Every day after eating his breakfast, PawPaw would step out the back-screen door. The three dogs were waiting for him. They knew PawPaw had saved for each of them a little piece of toast. A little piece of daily bread to taste and to savor. All the dogs showed their appreciation in the wagging of tails. Popeye always went one step further.
To show his appreciation Popeye did much more every day than just vigorously wagging his tail when greeting his PawPaw. With his tail wagging behind him Popeye sauntered up to his PawPaw. Popeye always gently held a freshly fallen Live Oak Tree leaf in his mouth to present to PawPaw as if saying, “I have something to show you, PawPaw. In this simple gesture of giving you this leaf, I show you that you are highly valued and respected by me no matter what. You are mine and I am forever yours.”
In the doggie version of Driving Miss Daisy, PawPaw served as Popeye’s, Smokey’s, and O.D’s chauffeur. PawPaw always held open the car door for them to crawl into the back seat before he sat down in front behind the steering wheel. He made sure a soft wool blanket was placed on the back seat for their comfort. PawPaw treated them like royalty as he drove them everywhere in the car. That was because he knew his dogs saw him, their PawPaw, as their King, their Lord of the Manor. And because the dogs were so loyal and so in awe of him, the dogs never made a sound or complaint as to words they heard PawPaw scream in the car about those reckless and discourteous drivers on the road.
Like Sarah in the Bible, Popeye, Smokey, and O.D. went wherever PawPaw went. In the garden. In the car. Walking around the neighborhood to visit his children and grandchildren like me. They could not have loved a two-footed human being more as their owner, Master, King, or companion than any four-footed canine on Earth. Sitting in silence at PawPaw’s feet was to them the happiest place, the most sacred ground in Emmottville.
Suddenly, one morning in December 1978 I woke up. My son John, two months old, was crying uncontrollably. Something he had never done before. I looked out the window and saw my brother Gary sprinting across our front lawn running toward PawPaw’s house. I knew that something was terribly wrong. Dorothy and I immediately went over to PawPaw’s house. Popeye, Smokey, and O.D. were sitting on the back door steps of the house as if they were waiting for their usual pieces of PawPaw’s toast. The toast was not coming. I walked down the hall and looked into PawPaw’s bedroom. I saw PawPaw was laying on his right side clothed in his khaki pants and soft blue flannel shirt. A dog owner’s lifeless pose of a very old soul who had taken his last breath.
Soon the hearse from Waltrip Funeral Home pulled in the driveway. It parked by the three seated dogs and by the steps leading to the hall and to PawPaw’s bedroom. PawPaw’s body was placed on a gurney. After the gurney carefully navigated its way down the hall, out the door and down the steps, Popeye, Smokey, and O.D. witnessed PawPaw’s body being placed in it. The hearse’s rear door slammed shut. Yet, PawPaw’s loyal dogs did not flinch or move. They stood their ground in reverence for him.
As if Popeye, Smokey, and O.D. knew that this was their last time to spend with their Master and King, they needed to show their love, respect, and loyalty one last time. As the black hearse began to roll forward to leave the home, Popeye, Smokey, and O.D. stood up. Emulating what I saw when President Kennedy’s caisson carried his body to its final resting place in 1963, these three devoted dogs walked in silence and in unison with the hearse as it made its way down the driveway under the canopy of the Live Oak Trees PawPaw planted 50 years before.
As the hearse stopped before turning left on Emmott Road, the dogs stopped too and sat down. Popeye, Smokey, and O.D. knew that this was the end of following PawPaw, the one they unconditionally loved in all their dog years on Earth. The dogs watched the hearse turn left on Emmott Road. That marked the moment of final farewell, the final goodbye had truly come to them.
An hour or so later, the dogs were convinced that the hearse was gone and that their PawPaw was not going to return. Popeye, Smokey, and O.D. got up on their four paws and carried their collective grief and memories of their Master back home. Their unconditional love and loyalty for PawPaw was for them an Eternal Flame lit with grace and gratitude for him.
Many of you have dogs and know what I mean in sharing my story about Popeye, Smokey, and O.D with you. Haven’t you looked in your dog’s eyes and seen the unconditional love of God? Haven’t you seen in their wagging tails the joyous gift you are to them from God? Isn’t that what God wants us to see in our fellow men and women? In the kindness of others on Earth? In others’ acceptance of our faults, differences, and imperfections amidst the perfect spirit God has given you? How much do we need that today? In our families? At our workplaces? In our Nation? In our world?
In the Bible, God may not have directly spoken about our pet dogs. But, in Scripture God has abundantly spoken to us about unconditional love and loyalty. My favorite quote is:
1 Corinthians 13:4-5, 7
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
God, in prayer we thank You for our dogs, Your four-footed angels that bring to us Your unconditional love despite all our human faults and imperfections.
God, please help us to extend to others those qualities within our dogs- qualities of love, acceptance, and tolerance of our fellow men and women in America and around the world.
God, please help us treat others the way our beloved dogs have treated us, for in doing so we honor You and show our loyalty to You and to all Your creatures, great and small.
God, may we bring offerings of love and acceptance to all our brothers and sisters, exquisite and sweet gifts, such as the Live Oak Tree leaves held tenderly in Popeye’s mouth to present to PawPaw and all his guests in the comings and goings of daily life and even in death. Amen
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Jack H. Emmott is a Senior Counsel of Gray, Reed & McGraw, LLP, a 145-lawyer full-service firm in Houston, Dallas, and Waco, Texas, a Board-Certified Family Law and Master Credentialed Collaborative Law Professional Divorce Attorney, Mediator, Author, Entrepreneur and Inspirational Speaker. For more information about Jack or his latest book, Bending Angels: Living Messengers of God’s Love, go to the Bending Angel website.