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Putting Poppa in Perspective

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (Eph. 6:1-3).

Dear Reader: Perhaps you can relate to me—a “Slow Learner,” unpossessing of great intellect or sagacity. Throughout my life I have often misperceived and misinterpreted the events I have experienced. Of course, this has lead to many mistakes and misunderstandings.

It is my humble prayer that the accompanying narrative will help you put your earthly Poppa in proper perspective. And more importantly to aid in opening the eyes of your understanding to an accurate and appreciative perspective of your Heavenly Father who always desires and provides His best for you. Ephesians 6:1,2 enjoins us to obey our father and mother in the Lord and to give them honor. Swift exercise of these entreaties is the ideal. Even so, delayed appreciation is much preferred over its deficit. Pray for understanding and He will give it to you (Psa.119:125 cf. Eph. 1:15-19). Take it from a “Slow Learner.”

Memories are unique things. Some are vivid and realistic, while some are hazy and ephemeral. Some are accurate, while some are skewed. Some are enjoyable, and some are far from pleasant. But all were generated from our personal perspective at the time the real event occurred.

Sometimes these memories seem to be indelible, and we can’t seem to shake them. Yes, some unpleasant memories we’d prefer to forget! For example:

In 1956 when I was 13 years old, my perspective was that every 13-year-old boy in Webb City had a motor scooter or motorbike. Everyone, that is, except me! Jim Steele had a white Cushman named Rhoid-III. Bobby Foster had a brand-spanking-new Cushman Eagle, the top of the line; Gary Goswick had a Harley Hummer; Larry Weston had a beautiful black B.S.A. Others had Simplexes, Indians and even Nortons.

But me, I only had a pedal-powered 26-inch Schwin with four baskets on it, so I could deliver all my Joplin Globes, Webb City Sentinels and Wise Buyers. If ever there was a true need for motorized transport, I was the poster boy!

But try as I might with all the persuasive arguments I could muster, Poppa was immovable in his objection. In fact, he was downright unreasonable, a regular veto despot, spoilsport, kill-joy, an evil ogre of obstinacy. His answer was always “No. No. No. And I don’t want to hear anymore about it. Not one word!”

How could I reason with such unreasonability, if I couldn’t even bring up the subject?

Time for Plan B—Wordless, yet subtle, subliminal, psychological influence. I wrote off for every motor scooter, motorbike, motorcycle brochure known to man. Soon the postman was staggering up our porch steps laden with heaps of literature beyond the capacity of our mailbox.

Plan C—Scatter them throughout the house. Motorcycles everywhere: on the coffee table, under the coffee table, same for the bedside tables, beside the commode, beside the bathtub, on the bed, under the bed, anywhere there was a flat surface.

Brochures “inadvertently” got in Poppa’s truck, even in his tool boxes. Somehow, he managed to ignore them all!

Time for Plan D—Each time we visited Sears, “Monkey” Wards, OTASCO or Western Auto, I would gravitate to the motor scooter, motorcycle department, as if drawn by some invisible magnet. There I’d be mesmerized by motors of 5, 10, even 15 horsepower. Hypnotized by the curvaceous sleekness of an Italian Vespa…only to be brought out of my trance by Poppa’s finger-snapping instructions. “Let’s go, Dave, time to get home for supper.” Poppa seemed oblivious to my heartfelt yearnings.

Time for Plan E—A plan no truly loving parent could possibly resist. That night, after Mom tucked me in bed and shut the door, Plan E was put in motion. Knowing full well that Poppa always checked on each of us boys before he went to bed, I began to set the stage. First I carefully positioned open motorcycle brochures across my stomach and chest, uppermost being my favorite, a B.S.A. like Larry Weston’s. It bore my personal inscription, “The best gift a father could give.” Propped up with two pillows, I staged the pièce de résistance. Fake teardrops from the water glass strewn across that particular page. Purposely leaving on my reading light, I drifted off to dreamland riding my new B.S.A., careful not to disturb the heart-tugging scene.

When I awoke, all my brochures were neatly stacked under my bed. At breakfast, there was no mention of anything even remotely connected to motorcycles or motor scooters. Nor did one magically appear on my birthday nor at Christmas. In point of fact I never did get one, just like I never got a horse when we lived on the farm at “Look Over Lodge.” Poppa was made of sterner stuff than I and immune to my entreaties. At least so I thought at the time from my biased and limited perspective at age 13.

Over the years, as I aged quickly but matured slowly, I expanded my perspective and with greater depth of understanding interpreted the entire motorcycle episode from a more accurate angle. It has become a “Numbers Game” I play each year on my birthday. Here’s how it works:

Take the age you are on your birthday and extrapolate back to the year your father (or mother) was the same age. You should know what is going on in your life on your current birthday. But go a step farther and using pen and paper recreate what was going on in your parents life when they were the same age.

For instance in 1980, I was 37 years old, named “Salesman of the Year” for the second consecutive year for the Grand Lakes region. I’d been married 16 years and had another two years to go before our first and only child, Amanda, would be born.

It was 1956 when Poppa turned 37. He was self employed out of necessity in a stagnant home-building era. He’d run up a $5,000 tab for supplies at Russell Belden’s Electrical Supply in Joplin. He’d tried to keep it secret, but Mom found out. She went back to work as a grocery checker at Herrod’s Meat Market for the first time since I was born in 1943. To Poppa’s embarrassment she made more than he.

In 1956, Poppa had three mouths to feed—Bob, age 3; Tom, age 9, and me, age 13—while I was reminding him relentlessly with multitudes of brochures of a $475 B.S.A. motorcycle he could not afford to buy. In the five years since receiving Grandpa Ed’s inheritance, the money which Poppa thought would last a lifetime, hadn’t! He had to sell his dream, “Look Over Lodge,” and move back to town. Born in 1919 with sight in only one eye and later crippled by polio, no employer would hire him. They only saw the liability of his impairments, not his determination and quality work.

Many years later, I learned from Mom that he had tried to get me a B.S.A. in layaway with $50 down. It was Mom that cancelled it out and applied the $50 to Poppa’s electrical supply bill. It took her five years, but she paid all $5,000 off in 1961, the year I graduated from Webb City High School.

Each birthday when I play this game, the result is always the same. I am constantly amazed at how much Poppa and Momma accomplished despite trying circumstances and how consistently they provided their best to me and my brothers. It gives me a whole new perspective of past events. One that is accurate, not biased. A true perspective that always deepens my gratitude for their loving self-sacrifice.

Play the “Numbers Game” yourself. It will give you a fresh interpretation of many bygone misconceptions and an increased appreciation for both your parents. Then if they are still with you, do not hesitate to laud them with the love and appreciation they deserve. For, as they say here in Texas: “The well is seldom truly appreciated till it’s gone dry!”