My longtime friend David King called the other day and told me an old joke about a proud Texan who was touring the Deep South with an equally proud Mississippi man.
A cottontail rabbit raced across the road they were driving along, and Texan asked what it was. “Why, that’s a rabbit,” the Mississippian said. “A rabbit,” roared the Texan. “We have rabbits 10 times that size in Texas.”
A bit later, a deer raced across the road, and the Texan asked what it was. “That’s a deer,” the Mississippi fellow said. “You call that a deer,” the Texan replied. “We have deer twice that size in Texas.”
The Mississippi man was growing a bit tired of the “everything’s bigger in Texas” attitude when he noticed a huge snapping turtle had crawled up on the side of the road, and the Texan asked what it was.
“That’s a tick,” the Mississippian said.
David got a big laugh out of telling that joke. It turned out to be the last one he’d tell me. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack a few days later.
At his funeral, I reminded his family and friends of David’s love for westerns, and that one of his favorites was “True Grit” with John Wayne. I told them I thought that was especially fitting because David was himself a man of true grit.
I found that out hunting with him after he had retired. There was not a mountain he wouldn’t climb, no matter how steep and no matter that his hip at the time was bone-on-bone, making every step painful for him. He was a man of true grit.
As a young man, he worked construction in Ohio and Indiana. If you had been there, you would have seen a 130-pound man running a 90-pound jackhammer. He was a man of true grit.
He broke horses with Harold Auxier in Kentucky. When Dave would get bucked off an especially ornery one, Harold says, he’d climb right back on. He was a man of true grit.
He drove a truck hauling explosives to coal mines in the Appalachian region, enough explosives to launch him to the moon if something went wrong. He was a man of true grit.
He worked in underground Appalachian coal mines and was once caught in a rock fall. He was pinned for four hours until his co-workers got the rock off him. Miraculously, nothing was broken, but he was bruised and limped around for a few days. He didn’t tell his wife anything about his close call. He didn’t want her to worry. He was a man of true grit.
But, in the end, what mattered most to David’s family and friends weren’t his tough-guy jobs or his grit. What mattered to them was that he had surrendered his heart and life to Jesus, who showed the most grit of all when He gave His life on an old rugged cross so that we might have live eternally.
Roger Alford offers words of encouragement to residents of America’s heartland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.