The summer after I finished high school I got my first car – a very used and very ugly Ford Pinto. It was not a chick magnet but it brought freedom I had never known. One of my big trips that summer was a solo drive to see Grandpa before I left for college. I can still see him and Grandma standing up on the front porch to see who was coming up their dirt road. I can still hear Grandma calling out, “Well, it’s Johnny!” It does not matter how old you are or how grown up you feel. Grandparents tag you with a name when you’re young and it stays with you for life. All four of my grandparents called me Johnny. Always.
I did not stay long that day as Grandma was reaching the age where short visits were more to her liking. But I did sit on the front porch with Grandpa and get some man to man advice. Grandpa knew I was heading to college in a few weeks so we talked about education. And Grandpa shared with me the story of his schooling. I was all ears as one of the smartest men I had ever met was about to tell me how he learned what he knew.
Grandpa’s school career was exactly 2 days long. The first day he stayed until the end but the second day, his father showed up around lunch and took him home. There was hay to put up and that was that. Grandpa taught himself to read and write. He educated himself through a few basic sources: listening and paying attention, reading the Bible, and devouring the newspaper at every chance. People today love to make excuses and point fingers at others to explain personal failures – “I had a bad home life”, “I went to a poor school”, “I lived in a rotten neighborhood”, or “Our income was very low”. Homer Miller took responsibility, stood up, manned up, and made something of himself.
I remember the newspaper was usually beside his rocking chair on the porch or his big overstuffed chair in the living room. The morning paper, the Charleston Gazette, was Grandpa’s choice because it offered substantial reporting that lined up with and supported his political views. The afternoon paper was the Charleston Daily Mail and it leaned a different way politically, making it unfit for lining a cat box. And I had no clue back then why it mattered and didn’t get a clue until my wife and I grew tired of the one choice for newspaper here in Raleigh, the News and Observer, with its extremely left leaning bias. We cancelled our subscription and now surf the web for our news.
Grandpa told me to get all the education I could and that a man with an education would have it easier in the world than a man who missed out. Some of the wisest men I have known never finished high school much less college. And I have met college graduates who were absolutely useless when it came to using their minds. (Of course I have worked with some brilliant college educated people, too!) What lesson was Grandpa teaching? I have learned education does not make the man. Education simply enhances what God placed in that man in the first place. Education provides a tool collection we can draw on for problem solving, communicating, creating, sharing, and expressing ourselves.
I recently found an article from an unspecified newspaper and the subject was Grandpa and Grandma Miller. I will give credit for the article to the Clay County Free Press but that is only a guess. It was written on the occasion of the Miller’s 37th anniversary in 1957 and at that time 10 of their 12 children had graduated from Clay County High School. Son Larry was still a student at Clay High and son Billy, at age 14, had not started high school. Grandma was quoted in that article, “It’s a job to put that many kids through school. Often we had to do without things ourselves to make it possible … but we’re certainly proud to have been able to give our children a high school education.” And she added insight into her personal goals for the future, “I plan to just sit down and quit … I have children now who’ll take care of me.” You know I don’t remember Grandma doing much but sitting! And I always saw her daughters and daughters-in-law taking care of her.
All 12 children graduated from Clay County High School though I have been told by an unnamed source there were a couple who took a while to get it done. Grandpa believed in education and as he shared his wisdom with me that day on the porch, I knew he would be watching and waiting for news on how things were going for me at college. I also knew he was proud that I was going to school and there was no way I would let my Grandpa down. I had to get it done. I had to make good on my chance for an education.
I was leafing through a scrap book and found a good example of Grandpa’s handwriting and his writing style. It was a letter written to my brother Jeff after Grandpa was no longer able to go hunting with him. Look at the creativity and the insight.
What did I learn about life from watching Grandpa?
1. It is more blessed to give than to receive. I will never regret sharing what I have with someone else who is in need.
2. Being a good neighbor and looking out for others is important. I know there’s a parable in Luke chapter 10 about a Good Samaritan who was a good neighbor so I looked in Grandpa’s Bible and sure enough. Two places on that page he wrote, “Who is my neighbor?”
3. Treat others the way I want to be treated myself. We call that one the Golden Rule.
4. It is OK to form an opinion and take a stand for what I believe to be right.
5. Personal standards for governing my life will carry me through some hard times and guide me around some big temptations.
6. I need to get my work done first. Then I can play.
7. Family has to remain my #1 priority.
8. I will answer to a Higher Power one day.
9. Jell-O is not something humans should eat. He hated that stuff, I guess because it wiggled so much.
Homer Miller an uneducated man? Not hardly. He knew more about life than most.