Grandpa’s Favorite Grandson
Sitting on Grandpa’s shelf above his desk was a book I borrowed from him and read one time. It had a strange title, Cheaper by the Dozen. The book, written by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, is the story of the family of Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Senior, and his wife, Lillian Moller Gilbreth. Theirs was a family with twelve children and all the challenges that come from having a full house. Most of us have seen one of the many movies based on the book. Naturally the Gilbreth’s story resonated with Homer and Lettie Miller who had a dozen children of their own. The Miller count was actually 13, but little Robert was called home early. Isn’t this a good looking bunch?
I have heard stories about what it was like living in the Miller home with 12 kids and a mom and dad sharing space. Meal preparation, serving, and cleanup had to be a challenge. Laundry day was a significant effort with a lot of elbow grease expended to get the job done. Every family member had chores and responsibilities and all hands were needed to make life happen. I read an interview once where a parent of a large family was asked how to divide love in equal shares between all the children and that wise parent responded, “You don’t divide. You multiply!” Homer and Lettie understood that truth.
Picking favorites is a dangerous choice for a parent. Go back to the Old Testament and read Joseph’s story with his coat of many colors and see how his 10 older brothers felt about the state of things in Jacob’s home. The record starts in Genesis 37 if you need the reference. First chance they got, the older brothers sold Joseph to a traveling merchant. So much for Dad’s favorite. Being a parent was easy when I had one child. Amanda was my favorite. Then along came Michelle a few years later and suddenly, I had 2 favorites. I adore them both and always will. I am going to leave it to Homer’s sons and daughters to debate and decide if he had a favorite among them. This story is about Homer’s favorite grandson.
The dozen Miller children gave Homer and Lettie 30 grandchildren. I have watched many grandparents with their grandkids and that seems to be a whole different relationship than parent to child. I think for the grandparent the parental pressure to produce perfect offspring is replaced by the sheer joy of watching and enjoying the smartest and most gifted children on earth do whatever.
I have a memory of my daughter Michelle, age 4, with muddy pants and muddy shoes standing in the middle of my Mom’s couch jumping up and down to look out the window. I sprang into damage control mode to scoop Michelle up and get her back outside before Mom saw her … and terminated her. Mom heard the disturbance, took in the situation with a glance and said something I am still analyzing years later, “You leave that baby alone. She’s not hurting a thing!” My brother Jeff and I stared at each other with disbelieving looks and recalled all the times we had to strip to our underwear on the back porch because Mary did not like mud in her house. We wondered what happened to our Mom and why suddenly mud on a kid inside the house and jumping on the couch were both ok. I think what happened was Mary was promoted from mother to grandmother.
Sometimes in geographically dispersed families, one son or daughter is able to return home with their children more often than their siblings. A natural result of these frequent visits is Grandpa and Grandma will know more about those grandkids than ones they do not see as often. It does not mean there is less love spread among the other grandkids. When I was a pre-teen it seemed we visited Grandpa’s house quite often. The adventurous readers who have made it this far in these accounts will recall how the lives of Homer and my brother Jeff intertwined. Here is Jeff standing between my Dad and Grandpa. Jeff was usually right in Grandpa’s shadow.
Homer and Jeff were two peas in a pod. Both loved to observe and enjoy nature around them. Hills, creeks, animals, trees, birds – it did not matter as long as they were outside in the fresh air enjoying the views. Wood carving came easily to these two. Homer’s specialty was tool handles of all sizes while Jeff carved animals. I think carving gave their fingers and hands something to do while their minds pondered a problem or thought about an issue. Both men loved to hunt, to talk about hunting, or even to talk about planning to go hunting. They never tired of that subject.
Homer Miller was opinionated, to put it mildly. He had his views which he was sure were the correct ones and he did not mind sharing with others. Jeff was the same. I don’t remember many times changing Jeff’s mind about something once he formed an opinion. It would seem two such people would generate friction when they sat together and traded words but Homer and Jeff found another area of common ground where they could talk together for hours. The subject was the Bible and their faith in God.
People get old and wear out eventually and even a superman like Homer was no exception. With that age comes a lot of looking back and remembering, perhaps even some wondering if he made any difference at all. Grandpa was encouraged as he talked with Jeff and realized true faith in God had been transferred across generations. Mom and Dad saw to it we were in church, Sunday School, and youth group. That investment did bring results and Homer could see the fruit in Jeff’s life.
May 4, 1988 was a sad day for the Miller family. It was Homer’s last with us. Family and friends gathered to pay their respects. Jeff Nichols shouldered the responsibility of preaching his Grandpa’s funeral. He wanted to have a part in comforting the family and honoring Grandpa. What a legacy, to have a grandson step into that very heavy role on behalf of the family! Recently, as I was carefully looking through Grandpa’s photo albums, I discovered Mom had Jeff’s notes from that day, tucked into one of those albums. These are Jeff’s words:
“Throughout his long life Homer trusted God to supply his needs. Now all of Homer’s needs are met and he is finally at home in Glory.”
“He was a fine man, who would lend a helping hand to a friend as well as a stranger. He was the kind of man who would give you the shirt off of his back.”
“He loved his family, and provided for them through some of the hardest times this country has ever seen.”
“I’m glad my Grandfather was an example that I could follow because he lived the life that he talked about.”
“He always encouraged me to use my abilities to the fullest. Not only with regard to working with my hands, but in dealing with situations in life. I’m sure he tried to instill this in all of his family.”
“Out of all the things that I heard or saw from Homer Miller I will most remember his love for God.”
“At our family reunion last July, my grandfather told me that he wished everyone knew how to know for sure that they would go to heaven. He proceeded to tell me how when he was thirty years old he trusted Christ for salvation. He said in all of his years his only regret was that he waited that long.”
“Homer was a good man but being good is not enough.”
Galatians 2:16 – “… by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”
“Homer had to be a saved man.”
John 14:6 – “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
“We can find comfort today knowing that because of his faith in Christ Jesus, Homer Miller is at home in Heaven.”
“Homer’s faith was in Christ. What is your faith in?”
Jeff’s sermon on that May morning was a tribute to honor Homer Miller, the man who shaped so many lives. It was Jeff’s way of giving back … to the Giving Grandpa.