The Back Forty
On June 29, 1968, a big party was held for my grandfather, R. L. Cox. In attendance were his children, grandchildren, and friends from far and wide. The occasion was his eightieth birthday and we celebrated it on Saturday, two days after his birthday. We had a grand party complete with fried chicken, country ham, fresh vegetables, cake, ice cream, and best of all, chilled, but not ice-cold, watermelons. The party was held on the cypress picnic table between my parents’ and my grandfather’s homes under the spreading branches of a huge old pecan tree. I clearly remember that it was a mild summer day with the breeze just strong enough to keep the flies from alighting. It was as if the fine weather was a divine gift to my grandfather for a life spent toiling in the Lord’s vineyard.
At the end of the day, when the trash was collected, the food put away, the dishes washed, and the party guests dispersed, it was just my grandfather and me sitting alone in his den.
With all the wisdom possessed by a thirteen-year-old boy, I asked my grandfather which he had enjoyed the most, the first forty or the second forty years. He just smiled and laughed. He first told me that only someone under forty would ask that question.
He then explained how he spent the first forty years of his life worrying about his job, his marriage, his children, world peace, and just about everything. He added that during the second forty years of his life, he had come to appreciate how little control he had over all the things that he had spent the first forty years of his life worrying about. He concluded by assuring me that the second forty years were far more enjoyable than the first forty because he had learned to enjoy life without worrying about those things which he could not control.
In his own way, my grandfather was a living example of St Francis’ sublime prayer, “God grant me the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept those I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.”