Manhattans, Decorative Swords, and a Mack Truck Ashtray

By Ross Engel

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About a week and a half before Thanksgiving my Grandma passed away. She had been preceded in death 10 years ago by my Grandpa. She was the last grandparent on my side of the family, and now her house stands empty.

Well… not quite empty…

Within the walls of Grandma’s house there is 85 years’ worth of memories. Inside, you can find everything from old books (some dating back to the 1800s), trinkets and jewelry, souvenirs from trips all over the world, furniture, photographs, tools, collectibles and so much more. So much more!

At first glance it is daunting to even consider going through all the things that are left behind. A dumpster might be the easy answer to 85 years’ worth of living, traveling, and collecting. However, a careful eye would notice that some of the items are quite valuable. Antiques, china, crystal, artwork, tools, and more all have potential resale value. But, deeper than the potential for financial gain is the simple fact that many of the items in Grandma’s house are valuable because of the memories they contain.

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My wife and I went with my Dad for a quick walk through Grandma’s house before we made the drive back home to Florida. In the half hour that we were there, our conversations were filled with storytelling. We shared memories that were connected with various items. We looked at pictures of family members long deceased. We shared laughter and joy in the midst of sadness and loss as we recalled so many great memories.  To me, the things that hold the most value are the things that solicit such strong memories.

The cocktail and rocks glasses that reminded me of how my grandparents enjoyed Manhattans when Grandpa got home from work each day. The decorative fencing swords that my cousin and I would fence with in the basement… truth be told, we probably weren’t “supposed” to use them to fight, but we had so much fun doing it, that Grandpa never got mad. The chrome Bulldog, Mack Truck ashtray that sat by the door or on Grandpa’s desk… and while I never saw my Grandpa smoke, I do recall that the tray held coins and a variety of other items.

There were dozens of items throughout the house that elicited a happy memory or a smile. The sentimental guy in me wants to keep these things, to hold them sacred if you will, to bring all these items (probably more things than my wife is willing to let me keep) and display them in my own home so that I might always remember the happy times these items represent.

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But the reality is, those things are just things. Sure they elicit a memory or two and that is worth something, but the real treasure that my Grandparents left behind was the legacy of their faith. To both of them, it was of great importance to teach their children the faith. They took the time to sing the faith into their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren’s ears. They embraced the importance of Christian education and encouraged all of us to attend Lutheran schools. They taught that on Sundays, we gather for worship so that we might receive our Lord’s gifts of forgiveness and life. The importance of prayer. And to confess Jesus with our lips and our lives.

As I helped put together my Grandma’s funeral, I learned that one of her favorite sections in Scripture is the verses that are traditionally referred to as “the Great Commission.”

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. -Matthew 28:19-20

Grandma was a Lutheran school teacher, the daughter of a Lutheran school teacher and principal; so for her, it was of the utmost importance that the faith was taught to others. She understood that disciples were created in the waters of Holy Baptism and nurtured through the teaching of God’s Holy Word and receiving the Lord’s Supper. It was important to her that Jesus’ commands and words were taught and observed. And that we always are to trust that Jesus keeps His word of promise. He truly is with us until the end of the age.

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As those verses were read at my Grandma’s funeral, I was reminded that the Greek word that Jesus uses in Matthew 28 is sometimes translated “observe” and other times it is translated “obey.” But the thrust of that verb isn’t necessarily obedience or even observance. It carries with it the intention of “holding sacred” or “guarding” and “keeping” the words and commands of Jesus.

We hold so many things sacred within our lives: possessions, treasures, reputations, and so much more. We guard them and keep them as though they are of the greatest importance. We fight over these things, we snatch them away like looters, and we may neglect or destroy to hold onto them.  But the reality is, whether those things are the possessions of another, the photographs and memories that we keep or the things that we’ve “earned” ourselves, none of them compare to the words of life and salvation that we have in Christ.

His Word. His Commands. His Preaching and Teaching. Those are things we should keep, hold sacred, and refuse to let go of! For in that Word, we find forgiveness, life, and salvation!

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As I carefully packed away some of the treasures from my Grandma’s house, I was reminded of the words of Paul to the church in Philippi. He recounts all the things that he himself held sacred and dear, all the things he treasured and struggled to keep and hold onto, and realizes their true value. They are nothing when compared to Christ.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,  and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,  that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;  in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 4:7-11

Written while enjoying a Manhattan, an Oliva Serie V Melanio Maduro cigar, and contemplating when it will be appropriate to teach my own young children how to fence with a decorative sword.

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4 thoughts on “Manhattans, Decorative Swords, and a Mack Truck Ashtray

  1. Nicely done, Ross. Our prayers extend to you and your family as you mourn the loss of your grandfather and contemplate your reunion in glory. What a wonderful story of Secondary Confirmation. Praise be to God for parents, Grandparents, and aunts and uncles who pass on the faith.

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  2. We are so sorry for your loss. She was great and faithful woman who obviously fulfilled her vocations with a glad and faithful heart. Love goes out from our family to yours.
    On another note, why’d you have to make my cry man, with such a great story today??? I didn’t see that one coming! 😢 Great writing!!!!

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    1. Joy.. when Scott told me that you cried, I first thought that he was giving me a hard time 🙂 I’m glad you appreciated these words! I found it quite helpful to write them and hope that my extended family stumbles across them!

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