© Copyright 1998 by Roi Allen

Chapter 1: Irish Influences

That was his grandpa’s name, too, and that pleased him. He had always felt a closeness to Grandpa Sullivan. He was ever ready to go to Ohio, where they were today, whenever Lila decided to go see Grandma and some of the aunts.

If it was nice weather, as today, they usually stopped at Swamp College Cemetery to pay respects to the two family graves there, that of Grandpa and that of Uncle John, who had been killed in Germany during the War. Usually, Lila and her two sisters kept the graves looking as good as they could, considering the cheap headstones that had been put in place many years ago. Grandpa’s, in particular, was weathering badly; it was of cheap granite, and the polished surface was hardly readable any more.

Robert had been to that cemetery many times over the years and remembered how the markers had looked; at least, he remembered Grandpa’s. A cluster of grapes beside a plain cross was the design of the carving that Grandma Sullivan chose back in 1947. It was now hardly discernible on the old, cheap slant marker which had three lines of wording carved on it”

1879 – 1947

Although his grandparents had been quite poor for most of their lives, Robert felt proud to be among their offspring. The Sullivan name, itself, brought a sense of being somebody. Robert figured that, somewhere in the last 100 years or so, someone had decided to drop the “O” from “O’Sullivan”, just to try to remove any stigma of being Irish. Yet, to Robert, the Irishness was a major part of the pride - - along with the solid Christian character of much of the old family. Besides his own observations, Robert had learned a lot about the family’s Christian heritage through stories Lila, his mother, repeated over the first nineteen years of his life.

There were a few scandalous events, skeletons in the closet, so to speak, but they were skillfully explained to Robert’s satisfaction. Generally, he was quite pleased to be a part of this Sullivan experience.

“Robert, are you listening, Son?” It was the voice of Lila. Clearly, she had been trying to talk to him for the last few seconds but was getting no response.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” he finally responded. Chuckling, he added, “I guess I was just remembering things and so much involved in my thoughts that I didn’t hear you. What were you asking me?”

Joining her son in chuckling, Lila went on, “I was about to ask if you really remember Grandpa Sullivan. He’s been gone now for about eight years. You must have been around eleven or so when he died. What do you remember about him?”

“Yeah, I remember some stuff, like Christmas. You remember how we always had to go to Grandpa and Grandma Sullivan’s on Christmas Day every year.”

Lila nodded agreement. “I always wanted to see my family at Christmas. Chauncey never seemed to care about seeing his side of the family, but it was really important to me. So, what do you remember most about Christmas at Montezuma?” (Montezuma was the little town where the older Sullivans had settled in a small house to be near several of their children.”

“I never liked to come here to Ohio for Christmas, to be honest about it,” Robert answered. “None of us boys did.”

Confused, Lila chose the obvious question, “But, why?”

“Well, you and Dad always gave us a great Christmas, lots of toys and good stuff. We hated to leave it all behind for the day, when we had just seen it for a few minutes. Then, too, we knew Grandma didn’t have much money and couldn’t get us much of anything. So, we spent the whole day here with nothing great to do. Some years, Grandma Sullivan gave us a hanky apiece, with maybe the Three Little Pigs on it or something like that.” After a pause, Robert continued, “Of course, Grandma Lewis never gave us anything, not for any special days.” he explained. “I guess we were selfish, a little.”

“Not really, Son,” countered Lila. “Maybe I was the selfish one, dragging you boys out every time I wanted to make the long trip from St. Leon to here.”

“You didn’t get to come here often, Mom,” Robert didn’t want his mother to feel any guilt for seeing her family only three or four times a year. “Are we about ready to head back, now? I still have to do the milking and things before too late.”

“I’ve been wondering how to tell something to you and to your brothers and Chauncey,” Lila confessed. “I think I’ll be back here again next week to take Grandma back to live with us.” She looked troubled, deep in thought about something, aware that this unscheduled act would put a lot of strain on a less-than-ideal marriage. “You heard what Ruth said, didn’t you? You know a little about Grandma’s condition after what Ruth told us. I just have to do something to help Grandma.”

This was quite a surprise, but Robert tried to not show undo alarm, either in his facial expression or in his voice as he asked, “Can you really swing it? I mean, Dad will... err, where would you put her, and who would take care of her; I mean, you and Dad both work second shift.” He paused to do some more thinking, then went on, “Mom, if there’s no one else in the family to take her in, I guess I can try to be a help somehow, if there’s something I can do. Still, I don’t know what it would be, at least, not right at the moment.”

“You’ve got your life to live, Robert. I can’t expect any of you boys to take care of my mother. I have to talk to Chauncey and try to work out a plan.” Lila tried to smile and toss off any appearance of worrying. Walking toward the car, she suggested, “We’d better go back to Ruth’s and say good-bye and be on our way. You’ve got the milking to do, and probably a date with Sandra again tonight, right?”

Blushing a bit, Robert stammered out some news, “Mom, you told me a few days ago that maybe God was trying to tell me that I shouldn’t be seeing her anymore; remember the tight chest and the breathing problems I was having?” After Lila gave a slight nod while walking to the car, he went on, “Sandra is not interested in God or church. I don’t want to talk about it, but she’s wanting to carry on in ways that I don’t think the Lord approves. My pastor sometimes mentions the problem of going to places that I’ve sometimes gone with her. I don’t feel good about it.”

“So, it’s off?” Some relief showed on Lila’s face, but she said no more about it or about the earlier discussion they had had.

“It’s off. I’m sure God has a better choice for me. And it’s OK. I do like Sandra, but I love God and don’t want my life to displease Him.” After a pause, Robert asked, reaching out his hand for the keys, “Want me to drive?”

On the way from Ruth’s home to St. Leon, Robert and Lila had a lot of time to talk. Part of the talk centered on some possibilities for dealing with Grandma Sullivan’s move to their home; some was about general family concerns; some was about memories of the grandparents, especially the catfish heads which Grandpa nailed to the tool shed wall when he caught a really big one. Although Lila was not attending church, and hadn’t for most of her married life, she talked to her oldest son about church and her Christian life during her teen years and the early months of her marriage to Chauncey Lewis, Robert’s father.

During the two and a half hour trip home, Robert began telling his mother of how a book he had recently read had been influencing his life. “It’s called Have We No Right?. It’s really supposed to be a missionary book, but it deals with the day-to-day life of any Christian. This book got me to thinking, you know? I started out a little over a year ago to be a Christian. Some of the people at the Friends Church looked at me sort of funny, or at least I felt they did, when I went up to the altar that Sunday morning. They treat me OK, but I think some of them think I’m going off on the deep end, that I’m too Christian. I hope they don’t feel that way, but I think a couple of them do.”

“Who, Robert?” asked Lila with surprise obvious. “I didn’t think anyone felt that way. Who are they?”

“No, if I’m wrong, I wouldn’t want to have you feeling bad about someone, and for sure, I wouldn’t want them to even know I have these doubts.” He reached over and patted Lila’s shoulder as he drove northward to Michigan. “That’s not what I was wanting to say anyhow. This book suggests that we have no rights as Christians, that is, no rights to make big money or to get married or lots of other things. It’s only if God chooses for us to have these things that we may have them. Miss Kuhn, the writer of the book, feels that when we take up our cross daily to follow Him, like the Bible says, we are satisfied with what He chooses for our lives. That sounds good to me.”

As she occasionally did, Lila began losing her ability to be calmly rational. “Does this mean you’re not ever going to get married, Robert?”

“Not at all, Mom, he countered. “Probably God has someone for me, but I’m only nineteen, you know. What’s the hurry? But if not, I believe He will make me happy with whatever my life holds. Quit worrying. Besides, I’ve got better choices available than Sandra, you know. Remember the three girls at Buckingham Church I told you about? And, then too, when I went to Lester Chapel last Thursday night, I saw a girl who seems really nice, not that I’m looking that desperately, but my eyes are open.”

They decided to find other topics of discussion for the remainder of the trip to St. Leon, including how Robert’s college classes were coming.

Finally they pulled the red and white station wagon into the drive. Home at last.

As expected, Chauncey did not receive Lila’s request with great understanding, at least. not at first. As he usually did, he had to swear a few times, taking off the billed cap to expose his very bald, darkly tanned pate. Lila knew him well, though, and suspected that, after his tirade, he would become more rational. She was right, too. Although they had had enough conflict in their twenty-one years of marriage, they had some good foundations on which to build agreements. Neither of them felt their parents should ever be put into a nursing home if any of the children were able to take them in.

As Robert headed out to do the milking, he felt confident that his parents would work out some way to take in Grandma Sullivan. They cared about each other’s relatives, and despite any amount of swearing Robert heard, he knew they were concerned about caring for their people. Sometimes, Robert felt that his parents enjoyed bickering and acting angry with each other.

Because of the trip to Ohio, Robert had not got home early enough to get his daily chores done and still get to the Thursday night prayer service at a neighboring church. He decided that he would to go to the little country church on First Night service, Sunday night. He was torn between that church and Buckingham, which is his usual Sunday night choice.

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