“Point to the grandpa,” my son, then a toddler was told during an evaluation. The tester held up a card of an elderly man and another card of a chicken.
Nick pointed to the chicken.
I cringed as I watched through a 2-way mirror. They were testing his language comprehension. He didn’t know what a grandpa was because he didn’t have one – not because he lacked language. After the fact, I explained to the testers why he missed that word.
Then we made sure he knew what a grandpa was. The lesson stuck more than I realized. Two years later, as I was teaching a Sunday School class and the topic of absentee parents came up, I addressed it with the kids. I grew up without a dad and wanted to make sure these kindergarteners knew God loves us all. My son told the kids around him, “I don’t have a grandpa. One is in heaven. The other is in hell or in jail, and I don’t know which.”
He had gleaned more about my father than I had intended to tell him. But I hated the fact my kids missed out on having a grandpa – I had 2 good ones who were always there for me, especially when my own dad wasn’t.
God put good men into our world and our community to fill that gap. Yesterday, two of those men died.
One was a priest, Father Deig. The other was a grandpa and 4-H Leader, Les Lantaff.
Father Deig was sometimes known as a priest’s priest. He was a brilliant, tall man who gave great sermons. Though he could understand the most difficult theologians, he put things into simple terms. One of my favorite lines which he often used was, “People sometimes say they are too busy for church. If your life is too busy for God, then you are just TOO BUSY.” I was thankful my son first served with Father Deig, who always made a point to be kind to his servers.
Father Deig was a frugal, simple man who saved money and budgeted carefully. A former school principal, one summer he asked to see what schoolbooks I used with my children – I was homeschooling them. So I took a big stack of books in to show him. Talk about being nervous. A week later, he gave them back to me and told me I was doing a good job. That Sunday, in his sermon, he mentioned that parents are the first teachers of their children, and that is one of the most important jobs in the world.
As Father Deig grew older and more frail, he was determined to go down with his boots on. I remember the Sunday he had an episode at church and needed to go to the hospital. He refused to go and refused to let anyone call 911. Finally, he agreed, and they called an ambulance. When the gurney was wheeled in, he looked at it and said, “I will not use that.” They told him he had to. So he sat straight up on the gurney. They told him to lie down, and he told them no – he was perfectly capable of sitting up. So they wheeled him out of the church, sitting straight up in the gurney.
For the past several years, Father Deig lived and faithfully served at Little Sisters of the Poor.
We first met Les at St. John’s in Daylight, where Father Deig was the priest. Les was active in the parish and was the grandpa of other members of our 4-H Club. In addition, he was a 4-H Leader. So as my kids got more involved with 4-H and St. John’s, we got to know Les. Les was a larger than life character who would help anyone, tell you what he thought, and make you laugh.
I’m a cook, and I cook not just for my family but for fundraisers. So Les’s standing joke for me was that he only saw me when there was food. So when he saw me, he would call out, “Mary, where’s the food?” There are so many colorful Les stories. I wish I could find the video of his giving a demonstration of how to fry an egg. We were making breakfast at the fair as a fundraiser, and my daughter brought in a warm egg, fresh from one of the hens she was showing. Les told me he would give a demonstration on how to properly fry an egg. He put on a total show.
Then there’s the time we made breakfast for the Classic Iron Show, and I served up my first plate of biscuits and gravy to Les. He told me, “Mary, you have to understand how a farmer eats biscuits and gravy. The biscuits are a boat. Then you pour enough gravy on top so those biscuits are floating. Don’t serve this like a city person with a little dab of gravy on each.”
Les was a retired meat inspector. As 4-H Leaders, we sometimes carve a hog with a hog roast fundraiser for our 4-H Center. Les taught me how to carve a hog and what the different parts of meat are. The first time he taught me, he cut a large piece of the crackly skin (with fat on the other side) and handed it to my daughter to dispose of. Her eyes grew big and after she threw it away, she washed her hands and whispered to me, “I touched…FAT.” This picture was taken the second time Les showed us how to carve a hog and what the meat cuts were. This time, he got my daughter right in there with him.
Les was a great 4-H Leader who would help any kid who needed it and encourage them. He helped my son many times with shooting sports.
After my heart attack, and as Les battled heart issues, we joked about healthier eating. He would point and tell me, “Look at that. I am eating my vegetables.”
Last spring, as I recovered from my heart attack, Les was working in his garden. He raised his own plants from seed and had more plants than he needed. So I went to his home, and he loaded up my car with tomatoes and peppers and gave me a lesson on all the varieties he had raised and what he liked best about each one.
Both Father Deig and Les had battled illness with the same tenacity with which they lived their lives.
They, and other good men, were an answer to my prayer when my children were young. They didn’t have grandpas. But God put many other good men into our world to stand in that gap, just as he put good men into my own world to stand in the Dad Gap. They were role grandfathers, not just to my own kids to but many others.
In a world where there are so many shades of grey, where some skirt the law and push boundaries so far they go over the cliff of dishonesty, there are good people. Both Father Deig and Les were the kind of good men who stand as examples. There are still honest people who do good things and live good lives.
And we can use their good examples to resolve to do the same with our own lives.