Today is the 82nd birthday of a guy I’ve known for a large part of my life. Duke, as he is known by his family and friends, is my father-in-law. Many would say that Duke is a unique character, and with good reason. You might see him in the small Fayette County village, where he was born and raised, working in his vegetable garden where his specialties are beets, potatoes and corn or he could be found sitting on his front porch snoring with a gun magazine or a book (he’s an avid reader of a variety of subjects) in hand. Often though, he can be seen taking walks – a walking stick in his hand, a gun on his hip, a newspaper-wrapped bottle of drinking water, a package of chewing tobacco in his shirt pocket, and a metal bucket attached to a strap over his shoulder during berry season. Come rain or shine or snow, each Sunday morning Duke can be seen in his dress clothes making the short walk (which he had done for many years with his beloved Margaret) to and from the little white United Methodist Church where he worships.
It might be surprising for some to learn how much Duke and I have in common. We both enjoy stomping about in the woods and fields. We both like walking and exploring in the mountains, canning vegetables from the garden, and picking wild raspberries and blackberries. We grew up with decades between us, but both spent our childhoods berry picking. It was an activity passed on to me by my dad “Turtle.” In my youth, we picked for hours at a time during berry season, sometimes gathering berries by the gallons. Dad’s health has declined in recent years, so he no longer ventures out for berry picking. I’m thankful though that the love for berry picking was passed on to me and my husband Scott, then to our 2 sons, and now even on to our young granddaughters.
Last week, Scott and I had set a little time aside and made plans with Duke to drive to the mountains for some berry picking. Just before the time arrived to leave, Scott, whose job involves being on call, was needed to go back out to work. It’s nothing new for us, just a part of life for those in the telecommunications field. Not wanting to miss another day of gathering berries needed for making homemade jam, I decided that I would still go, even if alone. After making a quick call to Duke, I had a berry picking partner, so off we went to the mountains! Over the years, I’m sure we’ve picked berries together dozens of times. And here we were still at it, an 82 year old with his not-so-young-anymore daughter-in-law. Hours later, we emerged from the weeds and the jagger bushes with several buckets full of plump, juicy, shiny, sweet blackberries!
Our family is blessed, “berry blessed,” that today we’ll gather for Bud’s pizza and wings to celebrate another birthday together with the man all of his grandchildren call “Pap Duke.” When I open our jars of blackberry jam in the months ahead, it will be a reminder of these hot summer days spent together wiping the sweat from our brows and tramping down the weeds while filling our blackberry buckets. It will be another reminder of the blessings and the beauty of God’s marvelous creation and of His goodness to us.
HOPE NUGGET: Because he has his heart set on me,I will deliver him; I will protect him because he knows my name. When he calls out to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble. I will rescue him and give him honor. I will satisfy him with a long life and show him my salvation. [Psalm 91: 14-16]