Until We Meet Again

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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My grandfather on my mother's side was a pious man, though you had to know him well to see it. He was a Maine farmer with little to say about God, and normally he wouldn't have liked the subject brought up. He went to church, but I never heard him discuss the sermon. Surely he was no candidate to be a deacon. Still, if by piety we mean what the dictionary says—not just talking about God and going to church, but an attitude toward life in which home, family, tradition, and God are all bound up in a complex form of reverence—then he had piety aplenty and deep.

He came from a family that in ten generations had never strayed more than thirty miles from the saltwater farm they settled in the 1630s. His own inland farm—a hardscrabble place if there ever was one (and only about thirty miles from where I am writing this)—had belonged to ancestors for a hundred years before he was born there in 1872. He loved that place with its rocks and gullies and swamps, just as he loved the people who had made it and my grandmother and my mother and all my aunts and uncles and cousins. And me too.

A river ran through it, and my grandfather used to take me across to visit the family graves behind an iron fence on a hill. We would read the inscriptions aloud, mostly names and dates, but some had sayings at the bottom, half hidden by the grass. "Until we meet again," said one, which always made my grandfather say "That's true" in the same tone that he might have said, "That scythe wants sharpening." Some of the stones had carvings on them. He especially liked one of clasped hands. His own hands were as gnarled as the roots of an old oak.

To watch him make a swath through the early hay was to get an idea of what a man could do. More than once I looked out at dawn and saw him already there, swinging down a dewy lane of his own making, leaning into the stroke and following through with the blade flat to the earth until the pick-up at the end. He laid the grass the way he had been taught, the way it had been done in the swales by the shore since three hundred years before. He taught me how to do it and how to turn the rows to dry and how to build a wagon load so the hay wouldn't slide.

He taught me how to coax all the milk out of a cow and leave nothing in her bag to sour, which was the right way, he told me, since Adam first milked. Then he would lead me into the house for a breakfast of boiled bullbeef such as farmers had always liked. Maybe my grandmother was upset about something when we came in. He would stand me at the window to gaze into the orchard while on the other side of the stove he talked to her softly until she began to laugh. Although I listened carefully, I never could hear what he said to her, but in the end we had a happy breakfast.

After my grandmother died and joined the others across the river, my grandfather's heart began to pain him. Sometimes he had to stop scything and sit down or drop the cow's teats and press his head into her side. About a week before he died, he stopped working altogether, which I knew meant that the pain had grown worse than most people would bear without crying. He lay in the bed with the maple headboard that four generations and my grandmother had died in, and he talked as calmly as he had ever talked to everyone who came in—to my mother and father, to my uncles and aunts, to my cousins and me.

A few minutes before he died, he groaned. It was a dark afternoon in late December, and in spite of the fire the room was cold. My mother said she wished she could do something to help him, but he told her there was nothing she could do. "God will send death when He is ready," he said. It was the only time I had heard him mention God, and it surprised me. Then he clasped his hands and said, "Until we meet again," as simply as if he were saying "That load is high enough. Take it to the barn." That seemed to me as true and pious as anything I had ever heard. "Until we meet again." I believed him then, and I believe him now.