My Papa was a giant of a man to me. Not in a physical sense by any means; by the time I was in high school I probably had 7 inches and 60 pounds on him. He was large man in a more real sense, which measures a man’s presence in a room, his impressions on other people.
My grandfather, Sheldon Shepler, was a Marine during WWII. He had disturbing firsthand knowledge of Iwo Jima, and rarely shared what that “hell on earth” was like from the perspective of a teenage boy from Peoria, Illinois. After his short military career his main vocation was working for the prison system teaching inmates job skills for their re-entrance into society. He was an armchair politician and a consummate debater, a hobby he enjoyed deeply as the only liberal in our family. He was a proponent of tough love, scathing humor, and calling it like he saw it. The grandkids were usually both endeared and intimidated by him. Papa could be both a lighthearted jokester and grumpy old man in the same conversation.
But that rusty old veneer had a soft spot or two.
He loved music. He taught himself the keyboard late in life and he was always the driving force behind impromptu family Christmas carol sessions. In the waning hospice days of his life, old-time hymns from Andy Griffith kept his finger whirling to the beat.
He loved animals. It’s not a stretch to say he preferred dogs over people. His two canine companions, Bucky and Nicky, were regulars at the breakfast table whether you liked it or not.
And apparently, he was also known to pen a poem or two.
Some time after the death of my grandparents my mom found a typewritten poem on faded paper entitled, “Special Care For Boys.” The subject was likely in reference to my Uncle David. Having two sons of my own now this poem resonates with me. I especially see these unencumbered boyhood attributes in my nearly three-year old, Josiah:
Special Care For Boys
I’m sure there are special Angels on earth to care for little boys,
Perhaps Cherubim and Seraphim who love their ways and noise;
Who know the thrill and pleasure of sliding down roofs and trees,
The lure of bugs, frogs and worms and mad buzz of bottled bees;
I’m sure this special Angel will bring our cowboys through,
Keep cops and robbers from sad grief they manage to get into;
Yes, I’m sure these special watchers are included in God’s great plan,
If there were no special watchers no boy would grow to be a man.