Mind the gap.
In Loving Memory: P.G. Adams (1928-2014)
Pritchard Gibson (P.G.) Adams, Jr. (March 1, 1928 — March 15, 2014), my grandfather, was born the year before the great stock market crash of 1929 to a family from the one-horse town of Faison, North Carolina. Raised during the Great Depression and World War II, he knew hardship at an early age, but his father never let him entertain self-pity, dragging him out of bed before dawn in wintertime to split wood for the fireplace. For his first job, he drove the Duplin County school bus, learning the art of patching tires several times over due to wartime rubber rationing. His father’s reputation as a man whose word was his bond got him the job—and meant that he never sat for the driver’s license exam.
"Son, Mr. Adams told me you’re ready to drive," the examiner said to him, "and if Mr. Adams says you’re ready, you’re ready.” For the rest of his life, he would never get so much as a speeding ticket.
Granddad completed high school in 1945, just as the Germans were surrendering and World War II was winding down. As a result, he just missed being drafted, but he went to the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina upon graduation and joined the Army anyway. After four years in Charleston, the Army deployed him to Korea, where he was wounded in action and sent to Japan to convalesce. Due to a clerical error, he was never awarded the Purple Heart. Out of modesty, he never pursued the matter any further.
After his tour in Korea, he was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he met Lucy Andrews, the fiery, red-haired Virginian who would become his wife. They were married in the summer of 1952 in her hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia, before they were re-assigned to Europe, where both of their children would be born — my aunt Mary in Trieste, Italy, in 1953 and my father, Pritchard III, in Berlin in 1955. Returning Stateside in 1956, the list of states they had lived in — Kansas, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Virginia, and Georgia — grew as fast as the children did. In 1968, Granddad was deployed to the escalating crisis in Vietnam toward the end of the Tet Offensive. He would command a battalion in combat along the Cambodian border and later worked as Assistant Division Commander of the First Cavalry Division, second-in-command to over 20,000 men in combat. When the Command and Control Helicopter he was aboard took enemy fire and began to spin the opposite way of the main rotor blade, he nearly became a casualty of that war. In a moment of crisis, he cried out to God and his life was spared as the pilot managed to crash-land the aircraft without any casualties. The war would leave its mark in other ways, however. His experience on the battlefield would remain a closely guarded secret for the rest of his life.
During the 1970s, Granddad did stints as the J-5 of SOUTHCOM in the Panama Canal Zone and as the U.S. military attaché behind the Iron Curtain in Hungary, a position that involved intelligence gathering on the location and movements of Soviet troops. (His story about the time his car broke down as he and a partner spied on Soviet satellite installations was riveting.) By that point, with both of his children in college and nearly 30 years in the Army under his belt, Granddad began to think about retirement. And that is the point of the story at which Jesus entered the picture.
After returning from Hungary, my grandparents, who were members of the Episcopal Church, though not having been to church in years, suddenly felt the need to go again. When they went to their local Episcopal parish, however, they found the doors shut and locked. Shortly afterward, an Amway saleswoman came to their house. In the middle of the presentation, she plopped a big Bible on the table and had the gumption to ask my grandmother whether or not she was “saved.” My grandmother didn’t even know what that meant. The lady then explained to her from the Bible what it meant to be born again. My grandparents started going with her to Bible study and they started praying for their son (my dad), who was involved in a New Age group in Greenville, North Carolina. By 1978, their whole family had been born again into a new life in Jesus Christ.
After retiring from the Army as a colonel in 1979, my grandfather made it his personal mission to share the Gospel with everyone he knew, starting in his hometown of Faison. One of the first men he witnessed to was on his deathbed and became a Christian shortly before passing away. ”I became a roving ambassador for Christ,” he would later say, and he stayed true to that diplomatic assignment for the rest of his life. Everywhere he went — the gym, the doctor, the supermarket, or the airport lounge on the way to my college graduation — he shared the Gospel with others. Occasionally, people responded negatively to his enthusiasm, but they didn’t realize that Granddad’s primary way of showing love was to share what he treasured. To him, Jesus was the greatest treasure he had to offer.
His profound generosity carried over into other areas of life, too. In 1984, when my parents (who by then had moved to Haiti as missionaries) were dropped by their sending church due to a ministerial failure, my grandparents picked up the financial slack, contributing at least $500 (later $1,000) per month to my parents’ ministry from that time until now. Furthermore, when he and my grandmother built their retirement home in Fayetteville in 1994, they invited us to stay with them every summer so that we could have a free vacation. Over the years, they helped me go to college, travel to Europe, buy a car, and return to Haiti as a Bible-school teacher. They were generous in small ways, too — I wouldn’t even be able to count how many times Granddad took me out to eat or bought me gas.
Toward the end of his life, Granddad settled into a life of set routines. He walked a mile each day (he won a brand-new pair of sneakers by out-walking every one else at his gym one summer). He drove to the gas station every day and bought a newspaper. He attended the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship faithfully every Saturday morning. Every Sunday after church, he ate at the Rainbow Restaurant. He always sat in the corner booth and every week, without fail, he would ask the waitress to meet him at the cashier’s station so he could tip her generously. Every day for years, he began and ended the day by praying and reading the Bible with my Grandmom, a routine that was interrupted over the last year or so by her deteriorating health.
Last April, Grandmom’s lungs began filling up with fluid and her heart grew weak. As she came in and out of the hospital, Granddad altered his routines in small ways: refusing to let her drive alone, ironing his own shirts, eating out more so she wouldn’t have to cook, and shaking her awake whenever she fell asleep on the couch. During this time, he was so focused on her that no one ever questioned whether his health might be failing, too. While he occasionally complained of a sore knee (acquired from a bad landing during a parachute jump in 1957), his driving became more erratic, and his memory was slipping noticeably, he still seemed relatively healthy. Needless to say, the news on Saturday morning that Granddad had been the first to go came as a shock to everyone. My grandmother was the first to find him. After sleeping in that morning, she walked into the bathroom and found him washed and dressed for Full Gospel. His Bible was still sitting on the bathroom counter. He was gone.
Two weeks ago, on his 86th birthday, I sent him an e-mail that ended with the words, “you are dearly loved.” He had responded with his typical exuberance, my mother wrote to say, printing it out and reading it to Grandmom, gushing about “what a fine writer” his grandson was. How glad I am that those were my last words to him! As his body gave way and his spirit made its ascent back to God, he was loved and he knew it.
I wrote this a year ago today. I thought it was worth reposting.
I have only been in love once. Since the dissolution of that relationship was documented, for the most part, via e-mail, I can still access its cindered remains by typing in a simple keyword search. Now and then, I go back to relive the feeling of being so sincere yet so insecure, so very tender before the teeth of rejection. When the words in those e-mails were written, the shore was still in sight. I have been adrift at sea now for quite some time. At the end of my twenties, I crane my neck and strain my eyes at every rumor of land. Rachel, when I finally find you at the well, will I weep? I shook the dust of my father’s house off my feet a long, long time ago.
In the aftermath of Winter Storm Pax, my mother and I ventured out today to survey the neighborhood. There was no damage done — no fallen tree branches or downed power lines to report — just a lot of ice and snow. We walked a couple of miles and came home with our socks soaking wet. I did a snow angel on the front lawn and got my backside wet, too, before coming back inside.
This afternoon, my Dad and I bought tickets back to Haiti. We’ll fly out Sunday and arrive in Cap-Haitien on Monday morning. For the first in thirty years, my Mom will not be going back with my Dad. She’s staying here so that she can be with my sister when she gives birth in early April. My Dad already looks sad. He depends on her quite heavily.
Tonight, my grandmother made lasagna and the five of us sat around the dining room table and shared a meal and conversation, something we hadn’t done in ages. My grandmother has been in poor health of late. It was nice to see her on her feet and in good spirits tonight.
After dinner tonight, I decided to come clean with someone. I got convicted last night when an old acquaintance (rightly) called me out for leading her on a couple of years ago. I apologized, and then wrote a note of apology to someone else to whom I had done the same thing more recently. It felt good to clear things up and state myself plainly, for once.
I also started a piece on male self-image tonight that was prompted by my own experiences of being passed up several times by women in favor of someone who better fit the model of the “Ideal Man.” I don’t know if it will go anywhere, but it helps me feel better to write, and I understand myself better when I do. We’ll see where it goes.
Today was a snow day. The snow actually started yesterday, but today it came down harder and started sticking to the pavement, causing a whiteout. In the afternoon, the snow turned to sleet and icicles formed on eaves of the house.
The DOT was advising people to stay home, but my parents and grandparents decided to go out for lunch around 3:00. They were originally going to go to Golden Corral, but it was closed and the only thing they could find that was open was a Japanese steakhouse. They came home laughing about the cook’s antics as he grilled up their food.
After lunch, my granddad, who is notoriously stubborn, insisted against everyone else in the car on stopping to get a newspaper. After driving around for a while looking for a vending machine, he finally found one in an icy Hardee’s parking lot, got out of the car, and promptly slid and fell on his back. He never got a newspaper, but everyone (but him) came back to the house laughing.
As for me, I spent the afternoon watching “Derek” and finishing up “The Narnian,” a biography of C.S. Lewis, for the second time. It was just as good as the first time I read it—in England, five years ago.
My Dad and are going to try to get back to Haiti this weekend so I can start teaching Revelation on Tuesday. Hopefully, the weather doesn’t impede our plans.
Jack had arrived at Oxford in March 1917 to take a series of tests called Responsions… he had to take this preliminary examination in order to demonstrate that he had basic competence in the academic skills necessary for success at university. Unfortunately for Jack, one of these academic skills was mathematics, in which he was thoroughly, even flamboyantly, incompetent. (All his life he would struggle even to make change in shops.) In the exam he was, as he later put it, “handsomely ploughed”—that is, he simply flunked. He would spend the latter part of March and early April cramming for a retake. In the end he never managed to pass Responsions and, if he had not been exempted from it as a returning serviceman, would perhaps have been unable to attend a university at all.
— The Narnian, Alan Jacobs, p. 66.
In Sickness and in Health
There’s a picture of my friend George and his wife, Patty, slow-dancing in their old age that hangs next to Patty’s bed. I did not realize until today how sick Patty was. George, who cares for her nearly constantly now, told me the story today of how they met in the late 1960s. At that time, Patty was a part-time secretary at the N.C. Forest Service and a young widow with two small children recovering from her previous husband’s tragic death. (His truck had plunged off a bridge in Michigan into a river in the middle of January.) George, having narrowly avoided a trip to Vietnam after being drafted, had taken the first job he could find and was a stranger in a strange town. He says Patty “conned” him into their first date, loudly exclaiming her disappointment over the office phone that her friends had backed out of their bowling night at a time when he was sure to be listening. He took the bait and asked her out, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Patty no longer recognizes George and could not respond to him even if she did. He talks to her plenty anyway, feeding, bathing, and caring for her every single day. His love for her is clear—he always refers to her as “my wife,” as in “Excuse me, I’m going to go into the other room real quick and turn my wife onto her other side.”
"People ask me occasionally whether I wouldn’t enjoy a day off," he says, grinning. "Wouldn’t I rather someone else took care of her for a while? That just ain’t me. I want to be near her as long as I can." There’s a joy in his voice as he says it, the same joy evident in his eyes in that picture of better days that hangs next to his wife’s bed. With the benefit of retrospect, I know that the love in that picture was genuine, for it has not faded, even though she cannot return his gaze, even though she no longer remembers his name.
New Year’s Resolutions
Self-Control. I want to wake up early, exercise regularly, and eat well.
Kindness. I want to be consciously invested in the lives of those around me to a greater degree, and I want to be less moody this year.
Writing. I want to spend twice as much time writing as I do on Facebook or Twitter.
What are your resolutions for the new year?
I heard the Gospel call of the Jaguar snarl.
I walked to the altar of my mind and knelt at the railing,
received the sacrament of rock ‘n’ roll
and accepted Kurt Cobain as my Lord and Savior.
Music would elevate me out of the misery of the mundane;
my body might be shackled, but my spirit would be free.
Freedom isn’t what I would call those days now—
whimpering, late at night, pleading to be found,
pulled out of the miasma of feeling
everything and nothing at the same time.
In the darkest days I’ve known, I knelt and tasted
the brine of my tears and renounced my faith,
gave up all hope of being saved by the jangling discord
of distorted guitars, of being justified by superimposing
the tortured narrative arc of a generational icon
onto my own despair.