It was the summer of 1966 and Maggie and Henry Vineyard were trying to find the perfect gift for their son’s first wedding anniversary. Their only son, Jack, had married Jane Weaver the previous September in Knoxville, Tennessee and they had moved to Merritt Island, Florida, where Jack was now working in communications at the Kennedy Space Center during America’s race to the moon.
Their son had far exceeded their expectations. With an itch to see the world, Jack had joined the Air Force and served a tour in Germany while the Berlin Wall was being built. Maggie and Henry had never left the United States, let alone Tennessee, yet their son had traveled to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Greece, France, Italy and Switzerland.
Now he was married and would soon start a family. But what could they give Jack and their only daughter-in-law? They wanted it to be a lasting gift, something the newlyweds would never forget. So they decided upon a family Bible, the heavy kind that set on coffee tables across the country in those days. The kind families used to circle around and read together.
The Bible was an integral part of the Vineyard household. Henry only finished the fourth grade before his father pulled him out of school to help on the family farm. Henry excelled at mathematics, but either he never learned how to read, or he forgot everything he learned after being taken away from books and ushered into a man’s working world as a young boy. So Henry relied upon Maggie to read the Bible to him. And she did. Every day.
But how would they pay for it? Their tobacco farm income fluctuated from one year to the next, depending primarily on the weather. Henry had taken a job at the Tennessee Fish and Game Commission to bring in more money, but a family Bible was simply not in the budget. So the Vineyards did what they’d always done. They sacrificed. They sold one of their cows and purchased the Bible that for decades has set upon our family coffee table.
That Bible was the most sacred book in our home. It held the family record of marriages, births and deaths. People would save special things in their family Bibles ~ cards, pressed flowers, newspaper articles or important letters. Ours was no different. Between those old pages is a yellowed newspaper clipping of Billy Graham’s column. There’s a memorial record of my Mom’s close friend, Glenna who at the age of 32 died tragically of breast cancer leaving a husband and two young children. And there’s a letter from Congressman Lou Frey dated April 1969, thanking my Mother for her encouraging words to him to restore prayer to Florida public schools.
For years that Bible rested on our coffee table until at some point it was moved to a bookshelf in my parents’ bedroom, not because it had lost its importance in our family, but to preserve and protect it from little hands. In that same bedroom is a bed alarm that we attach to my Father’s shirt sleeve every night and a baby monitor that pumps that beeping alarm into my bedroom downstairs. There are bedrails to keep Dad from falling in the middle of the night and a picture of my parents feeding each other wedding cake on their special day.
After 55 years of marriage, my Father’s vocabulary has largely disappeared. Gone are the days when he would fill our ears with stories of farm boy antics, how much he’d learned from his father or his adventures in the Air Force. Since he’s in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s, he struggles to articulate his thoughts and desires. At times we can decipher his words but other times we’re left to guess. And then there are times when he speaks boldly from a place so deep inside that it resonates with us long after the words are spoken. This happened a few months ago. He’d consumed his nightly cocktail of crushed medicine and applesauce, brushed his teeth and used the restroom. He sat on the edge of the bed and we prayed before I tucked him under the covers. But on this particular night, he sat upright in bed and said, “Bible!” looking straight at the bookshelf that held the family Bible. He said it twice.
My Father would not rest until he heard the Word of God. It’s been years since he could pick up a Bible and read whatever he wanted. Now he’s dependent on us to read it to him. Perhaps we hadn’t read it to him that day. Or perhaps he wanted to hear it again. Whatever the reason, that night we heard him loud and clear.
Now every night, I’ll read him a couple of chapters from the Psalms before I turn out the lights. And even though his eyes are closed and he’s drifting off to sleep, he follows every word I say. Sometimes he’ll say it with me. Sometimes he’ll nod his head in agreement and say, ‘Amen’ or ‘Yes’. It brings him comfort and fulfills a longing in his soul to hear the words of God that have lasted long before he was born and will last long after he dies. He knows that. He knows those words are powerful, having read them for decades and leaned upon them in the hardest of times.
He learned that from his parents. They read the Bible when the crops were plentiful, and they read it when torrential storms washed their livelihood away. They read it when life was good, and they read it when life was hard. Which was most days. How ironic that one of the last of my Father’s possessions that he remembers came from his mother, who died after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s. Maggie also loved to hear the Word read to her, long after she lost the ability to speak. And when she heard it, she would smile from ear to ear.
It seems to me that my grandparents accomplished exactly what they set out to do. They gave my parents the perfect, lasting gift.