January 3rd…“WHAT’S THE CUTEST WAY YOU’VE OBSERVED SOMEONE HANDLING FEAR?”
His very thick, “Coke bottle bottom” glasses hung heavy upon the bridge of his geriatric nose, yet they only magnified the gentility of the soul within this dear man our family honored with the loving title of “Grandpa”. He was not connected in bloodline to our family heritage, yet he was intertwined with us in the sweetness of just who he was……someone who savored and relished the absolute simple joys of life. I sometimes have pondered on the origins of his family’s Danish heritage. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he might have even had ties to the profoundly talented Danish author of children’s fairy tales…..Hans Christian Andersen. Why, you ask? Well, maybe it’s because my sister and I adored “Grandpa” John P. Madsen and, like the famous Danish storyteller, we hung on anything John had to say and share out of his kind heart and wisdom.
In our Bible’s New Testament book of Philippians Chapter 4 and Verse 11, it speaks perfectly to the tenets of how John Madsen lived out his life. And, when you muse upon some of his challenges that he had to face in life, you’d have to agree that John had “learned to be content” in his circumstances. For instance, over the years, John had lost every tooth in his mouth. Now some folk could afford expensive dentures so that they could continue to look good, when they smiled, and easily chew food. Not John. Over time, John’s gum-line receded into sharp ridges, where his teeth used to be, and yet he could masticate almost any food our mother put on that dinner table……..it just took him a bit longer, that’s all. John’s eyesight, over many years, had deteriorated to the point of wearing super thick glasses just to be able to see and get around in his daily life. Did he complain about “Woe is me, I can’t see!!????”……..never.
Some of us have fancy homes with three-car garages, a pool and acreage. John? He had no home, per se, yet was happy as a clam to at least have a room to live in at the Minnesota Old Soldier’s Home near the Minnehaha Falls area of Minneapolis. He practiced that contentment and spent the remaining years of his life there until his passing in 1978. John was the quintessence of how we all should live….with a grateful heart for the myriad of blessings we all take for granted each and every day; like hot and cold running water, electric lights, a roof over our heads with a bed to sleep in, etc.. And, even though our family were as poor as a church mouse, John would often exclaim, “Yah, them Noorluns, they’ve got everything!” To John, we were rich! 😉
On any given Summer’s morning, there on our farm near Kiester, Minnesota, the heavenly fragrance of lilacs floated through the open window of “Grandpa” John’s bedroom as he’d swing those long, lanky legs across Mom’s chenille bedspread to stand up and start a new day with us. His World War I Army training surfaced once again as he began his routine of calisthenics there next to his bed. Those long arms would swing round and round like a Ferris Wheel, followed by torso twists and then he finished calisthenics as he made the cursory efforts to touch his toes. With his grateful tummy full from one of our Mom’s excellent farm breakfasts, “Grandpa” John (along with myself and little sis, Candi) stepped outside the back porch pantry door. Once outside, John would swing open his arms, draw in a healthy lung-full of fresh air and loudly exclaim, “GOOD MORNING!!!” It was as if he was greeting God, Himself, for there was no one else in the vicinity but Candi and me. What a happy, happy heart.
Fast-forward now with me to the late 1960’s. Our family now lived in southwest Washington State and “Grandpa” John came to visit us in our new home. Of course, we wanted to show our dear family friend the sights of our new area, so all of us jumped into the car and headed high up into the mountains near us. It was on this excursion that we witnessed how this gentle, kind soul of a man handled the emotion of fear. As our father, Russell, climbed higher and higher upon the small logging roads, we began to see drop-offs of a thousand feet and more right alongside our car windows. The forested view was magnificent, but a little too much for “Grandpa” John. With urging in my voice, I exclaimed, “Heyyyy, Grandpa John!!! Look wayyyy down there!!!” With his eyes glued straight ahead on the road in front of us, our flatland friend responded………….“No, I think I’ll come back and see that tomorrow!!!” His timid response caused all in the car to giggle, including this Norwegian Farmer’s Son. 😉