Loy Grile passed away this past weekend. He and his wife, Minnie, had been married 70 years in July. Just months after I became his pastor, he was hospitalized for Shingles and I thought we’d be burying him then. But he was tougher than he looked and went on to live another 7 years.
I went to visit Loy & Minnie from time to time. The visits were always fun and just a little odd. It was commonly understood that Loy couldn’t hear a thing. Not a word. But somehow we always communicated. I would ask him a question and he would just…answer! I did of course make sure he could see my mouth move in case he needed to read my lips. But sometimes, he even got in on conversations I was having with Minnie, when I wasn’t facing him. When I spoke to Loy, Minnie always reminded me that he couldn’t hear. But right after she did that, he answered me. Every time.
One of the discouraging things about being a pastor was that a few folks at Faith made it a habit to keep lists about me. They kept track of things I did of which they disapproved. They made lists of things they thought I should do differently. They made sure to tell me if they perceived I had been careless or that my theology was flawed. It got to me sometimes, the endless criticism.
But since I did respect Loy and his wife, Minnie, I went to them once and asked, “how do you think I’m doing as your pastor, Loy? I really want your advice. What ought I do differently?” I explained that several folks were upset with a whole bunch of things I was doing and I didn’t know where to begin to change.
He thought about it a good long while. It seemed like we sat in silence 5 – 10 minutes. Finally, he said, “I don’t think you should change a damn thing!” Minnie smiled and nodded as if he had answered a trivia question correctly. I said, “Really…?”
“Nope,” he said. “I think you’re doing a great job and you should keep on doing things exactly the way you’re doing them.”
Maybe he really believed that. Or maybe he just knew that what I needed most of all was a shot of confidence. But his answer kept me centered through a lot of conflict with my critics for years after that.
One time I went to visit them and Loy showed me a collection of balsa wood models he had made. He was at least 89 at the time and each model had 100 tiny pieces or more. He had numbered eace piece with a pencil. After showing me a boat, a plane, a castle, and a whole farm worth of animal models, he told me he had made one especially for ME.
Minnie and I talked while he went into the other room to get my model. I could hear him moving things around and sort of chuckling to himself.
When he came back, he was carrying a model of a Harley Davidson. He presented it proudly and told me it was the perfect one…just for me.
Loy never painted his models. It was enough to assemble them he said. He did it to keep his mind sharp and his hands busy.
Since it was marked up anyway with penciled-in-numbers, I asked him to please sign it. At first he didn’t want to. But I pressed him saying, “Loy, ya’ gotta sign it! It’s your art. And I love it. And I want to always remember you when I look at it and see your name.”
Finally he explained, self-consciously, “I can’t do it. My hands shake too much.”
Over a hundred pieces in that model, some the size of a baby’s fingernail, and he was embarrassed to write his name lest his writing be shaky.
In the end, he did sign it. He wrote Minnie on one fender, and Loy on the other.
I don’t have the whole model anymore. It got tore up in my moves and I never wanted him to know it had broken, so I didn’t ask him to fix it. But before I let it go, I tore off the fenders. I still keep them in my memory jar, which is filled with little treasures that remind me of people I’ve loved and places I’ve been. I’m pretty sure I’ll have them forever.
There are plenty of people willing to give unsolicited advice, but there are very few, that, when they ARE solicited, no matter what you have done, will reply with all sincerity, that they love you just the way you are.
Loy lived to be 92. He was one of the wisest young men I’ve ever known. God love him. I know I did.