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Johnny Jones, 10 May 2002

It's amazing how quickly we can reach back centuries. My grandfather, Pappy, was born in the 19th century; I was born in the 20th, and now we're in the 21st.

I wrote a tribute to him just after he died in 1989. This is what I said:

Pappy was born in October. This was the first year he celebrated in heaven instead of on this earth. I'm sure part of the celebration included an angel choir singing "Amazing Grace."

Because that was Pappy's song, his mainstay. When he was in pain and the nurses needed to move him, they could use "Amazing Grace" instead of drugs to ease his misery.

But that's not surprising in a way. Pappy's life was full of amazing grace.

Pappy always loved to sing. I remember as a teenager being embarrassed by his enthusiasm during church. He learned to sing by shaped notes, and his mouth seemed to imitate some of those shapes as he sang. Not only that, he would go up on his toes in his fervor, and help the singing out by moving his arms like he was leading the songs from the pew. I tried to sit as far from him as I could until I got old enough to enjoy his zeal.

Singing wasn't Pappy's only enthusiasm. He enjoyed his coffee in a way I've never heard anyone else. When Pappy was around there was always a pot of coffee on the stove perculating, and he drank it on and off all day long. He liked to start with it boiling hot from the percolator, then pour a little into his saucer. Then he would half blow, half siphon it into his mouth in the noisiest way imaginable - to call it a slurp would not do it justice. Sometimes Jo and I put our fingers into our ears and ran outside. I wonder if he knew.

But if he did, it certainly never affected the courtesy he extended to us. When he moved out of our house and up to Montgomery, Jo would take our first cousin, Linda, her roommate in college, and go see Pappy sometimes. Linda was on my mother's side of the family, and not kin to Pappy. But you'd never know it. He'd take both of them to Morrisson's cafeteria, which we considered the height of elegance with its white-coated waiters carrying trays, and then to a movie. At his funeral Linda said, "He always treated me just like one of y'all."

This courtliness must be one reason his nephews always called him "Uncle Dude." I rarely saw him go even to our country Post Office without a hat on his head. And even in those muggy Alabama summers before the days of air conditioning he wore a suit coat when he went out.

He enjoyed going downtown and walking around and talking to people. When Jo was a technical representative for IBM and passed through Montgomery weary and worm, he would offer her his place for an hour of two, then slip out and walk around town so she could have some privacy.

On one of these walks he met the radical Black Muslims, who, in the course of taking over a radio station, slashed his throat and left him almost dead. And though Pappy said, "I don't hate nobody," from that time, he was afraid of African Americans.

But God's amazing grace was at work there, too. When Pappy got a place in the nursing home near my parents, the only room available put him in with an African American roommate. Mr. Willie Jones, with his crown of snowy white hair, was just about the gentlest man I've ever known. He teased Pappy, "You not old. You not even ninety yet. You a young man!" Mr. Willie was 103.

When I went to see Pappy, Mr. Willie laughed when I suggested that we might be related. But he told me, "Sister, if you know the Lord, I claim kin with you. I was baptized forty five years ago, and my Lord's never forsaken me yet."

And He never forsook Pappy either - even at the end, when Pappy could no longer dance the chicken foot or predict the weather as he always loved to do. My parents were overwhelmed by the flowers and the number of people who drove 100 miles from Montgomery, or 200 miles from Mobile to be at Pappy's funeral.

The grace was even there at the funeral. Since everyone knew Pappy was better off with His Lord, the gathering turned into a time of family sharing. What an appropriate end to a life of amazing grace.