By Walt Albritton
Since my wife Dean died, I have enjoyed reading again some of things she had written – talks, Sunday School lessons, testimonies, poems and stories about her family, especially her mother. Recently, I came across an insightful piece that she had written about my father.
It is not uncommon for harsh words to be uttered in heated family conversations. In the Bible, James reminds us though “praise and cursing come out of the same mouth….this should not be.” But James admits that we all “stumble,” for “anyone who is never at fault in what he says” would be “a perfect man.” And none of us are perfect.
As I reflect on my own “stumbling,” uttering hardhearted words, I wish I had embraced much sooner the wisdom of Solomon: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Most of us can recall having to apologize for words we should not have spoken. And, like many of us, my Dad was sometimes blunt and abrasive.
When Dean wrote her memories of Dad, after his death, she chose not to remember his insensitive words but only his tender and comforting words. I hope my family will be that kind to me one day. Perhaps these memories of her father-in-law’s words, written when she was 85, will bless you as they did me:
“The man we came to call ‘Papa’ was a man of few words, but when he spoke sometimes his words touched my heart. Some of his words remain etched in my memory.
“On Christmas Eve, in 1951, Walter gave me an engagement ring. I could not wait to show it to our families. When we arrived at the Albritton home, everyone was in the kitchen. I rushed in to show them my ring. Papa looked at us and said, “I hope you will always be as happy as you are tonight.” He knew we would not always be that happy, but I thought it a lovely way to welcome me into his family.
“Within three months of marriage, I knew that I was going to have a baby. I was scared and, as I got heavy with child, I felt like I didn’t look very good. One day Papa said to me, ‘Dean, you have never looked prettier than you look now. Mothers-to-be always have the most beautiful skin.” That made me feel so good that I began to believe him.
“Our son David was born during a terrible storm. It was already storming when Walter drove me to the hospital. Within an hour, tornadoes swept through Auburn and Opelika destroying many homes and businesses. Our home on Lakeview Drive in Auburn suffered severe damage. Papa and Grandmama drove through that frightening storm, eager to see their first grandchild. Papa’s words were precious: ‘It was worth the trip to see David.’
“Money was tight so we decided that I should get a job. Papa wrote few letters but in one to me he said, ‘Dean, I think it will be fine for you to work. The change in environment will be worth more than money. David will do well in nursery school and, mark my word, you will be glad that you are working.’ Even though David was a baby, he wrote David a note and told him about all the things he was doing on the farm. His words encouraged me.
“When we found out that David had leukemia, Papa said, ‘We must not give up; there is always hope.’ The doctor said David had only a short time to live, but Papa did not want to believe it. When Papa and I stood beside each other at David’s grave, I saw a man filled with grief because he had lost his only grandchild. When our second son was born, I saw that man come to life again. Years later I told that son, ‘Matt, you were loved more that you will ever know by your grandfather.’
“As the years have taken their toll on me, I understand better now what Papa went through as he aged. His hearing was gone. Walking was difficult. There was a sadness about him as he saw his life coming to an end at age 93. I wish I could tell him now that I am understanding more and more how he felt. He was a brave, strong man who didn’t always speak as kindly as he should have, but I chose not to remember those words. Instead I remember with gratitude the tender words that were a comfort to me so many times.”
The world would be a better place if more of us chose to follow Dean’s example.