Lois’s grandmother was married for a few years to a man named Jess Curtis. He was a kind man who lived in a lovely remote “holler” in Kentucky miles from the tiny remote town of Campton. It was a simple and winsome place.
Like any self-respecting Kentucky mountain home it had a wooden porch that stretched across the whole front of the house. It was a house of only four rooms, but it was tidy and comfortable. The living room was arranged around a wood-burning stove, the only source of heat. The floors where clean, painted hardwood.
Mr. Curtis showed me around his farm. He said he was born there and would probably die there. I thought that it seemed like a good place to spend your life. I imagined he had stories to tell. Everything about the place was common and simple, just a plain, ordinary, homestead set among the hills.
Jess was simple. He loved simple conversation. He loved the company of Lois’s grandmother Carley, and I think he especially loved her cooking. In fact, I know he did. They were a good pair. She had no respect for a man with a puny appetite. She would willingly overlook other glaring flaws but had no regard for a man who would not eat heartily when she cooked. And she cooked. Her breakfasts were feasts. She would rise early and fix an egg for herself, sit and eat it with a cup of coffee, then take a big breath and fry iron skillets full of eggs over-easy swimming in fat, fragrant bacon, and platters full of biscuits for everyone else in the house. She made wonderful stack cake which her grandchildren loved. She served salty country ham which they didn’t love. She raised the hog in a pen the backyard. She knew how to kill a chicken and turn him into a mouthwatering Sunday dinner. This made Jess a very happy man, a very happy man. And that made her happy, too.
This may have led to his blissful death a few years later. She woke me from a sound sleep one night to tell me he had passed suddenly. It was his heart. I immediately thought of how much he enjoyed her company and her cooking. He lived out his last days with good food to eat and the love and respect of a good woman. And she fed him so well his old heart just gave out one night. He didn’t languish alone in an old-folks-home without his senses. He died happy, well-loved and well-fed.
One afternoon he took me for a walk on his place. We followed a faint path into the woods below his house. In the woods you could hear the music of a brook. We followed the path toward the sound.
“Watch your step,” He said holding out his hand, and we were standing on a smooth slab of rock where a small stream of clear water ran over a waterfall into a pool about twenty feet below. The pool was formed in solid rock. The water was the color of emerald-green that only occurs when the water is still and very deep. I was shocked to see such a stunning display of natural beauty hidden away on his humble tobacco farm.
He smiled in proud amusement. He had done this before.
“It’s deep,” I said, “and beautiful.”
We stood for a while looking silently over the falls watching the pool and listening to the soothing trickle of the water.
“When I was a young man we would dive in here after we made hay all afternoon,” he told me in the slow mountain talk. “It is very cold. Me and my brothers were strong swimmers but we never found the bottom of that pool.”
I’ve discovered that people are a lot like Jess’s homestead. The plainest, most ordinary person you know has a fascinating story to tell if you are willing to explore a little. A few thoughtful questions, some well-placed quietness, unhurried listening, sincere attention and interest, and the story begins to come out.
Every one you know is custom-made by God. God has carefully orchestrated the events of each life. People are seriously and fatally fallen and flawed by sin but they have potential for glory and greatness if they yield to the work of Christ and of the Spirit in their life.
It’s easy to overlook the potential of people. The effects of years of sin and hurt often mask their potential beauty to an uninformed observer. God wants us to see beyond their brokenness and it is a noble work of faith to do so. He wants us to explore their potential. You might be shocked at what you find in people if you will look through the eyes of their Heavenly Father. You might have some beautiful surprises along the path.
Riverfront Character Inn
November 8, 2004