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I come to the garden alone . . .

In the Garden was Daddy’s favorite hymn. It was played at his funeral thirty years ago, and I still can’t sing it through without weeping. It brings tears because of what I believe it meant to Daddy personally.

My father was a very private man, not one to share his thoughts and feelings. He dealt with his concerns alone with the Lord. That’s where he sought and found strength and direction.

Daddy’s parents died of tuberculosis when he was four. His sister, the oldest of six children, died trying to keep the family together. Minnie Lee was twenty-six when she died of the same disease. Daddy was twelve. It fell to the oldest brother and his wife to keep the family intact.

When just eighteen, Daddy married my mother, who was fifteen. In those early years, Daddy worked as a sharecropper, a church custodian, and a garage mechanic. Whatever was available.

My mother’s parents took Daddy in the year before my parents married. My grandmother said people just did that then. When someone needed a home and you could provide, you took them in, you didn’t go through a formal adoption process. Mother’s parents became the only parents that Daddy remembered and he never failed to respect and honor what they did for him.

I was just six months old when Daddy enlisted in the Army. He came back an injured World War II veteran. He spent two hospitalizations in a VA hospital due to his injuries, yet would never accept the compensation due him. There were times we could have used the aid, but Daddy held his ground about not accepting money for serving his country when he was able to work. Only the Lord knows why.

As far as I know, there were only two things Daddy ever spoke about regarding the war and that was to Mother. He told her the scars around his waist were from rat bites while in a foxhole. It took her a year to get that information. The other thing was his promise to God that if He would let him come home to his family, he would spend the rest of his life taking care of others. He fulfilled that promise and it was only after his death that we knew much of what he had quietly done to help others.

Daddy was mayor of our small town for twelve years, and also a sheriff’s deputy. He had a total of thirty-five years in law enforcement. From time to time, his dedication to service brought its challenges. Someone burned a cross in our front yard once. Another person tacked up posters right before an election attacking Daddy’s integrity. When he walked me down the aisle to marry, his arm was in a cast, broken while arresting someone for domestic violence.

In my growing up years, our needs were certainly provided for, but there were no extravagances. I remember at least two store robberies. Then, due to his second VA hospitalization, he had to forfeit his small business and re-mortgage our house. Eventually, all was recovered and things improved for my parents financially. For that, I am very grateful.

When I hear In the Garden, I reflect on all the walks and talks with God Daddy must surely have had. About the pain he endured: physical, mental, emotional. The times he struggled to provide for a family of five while proudly, and I believe foolishly, refusing any help from the nation he fought for. All the times he sought guidance when he didn’t know what to do next. All the times he asked for strength to do what he believed was right. I suspect those garden walks started early when he was a little orphaned boy, frightened and confused.

Daddy, along with Mother, is buried in the cemetery at the church, where he was saved and baptized as a young man. You step out the back door of the still active country church, and there you are – in a beautifully tended garden. I can’t think of a more fitting resting place. Someday that garden will be my resting place, too.

And He walks with me and He talks with me. And He tells me I am his own . . .

The hymn, In the Garden, was written in 1912 by C. Austin Miles. Daddy was born in 1916. Perhaps he had known this song all his life, maybe the first hymn he remembered. I wish I had thought to ask.