Grandpa Took The High Road
When you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will. ~ David Swift*
My great-grandfather, Jacob Cover, had a reputation for always finding something good to say about everyone. Like all of us, he could have found and pointed out numerous faults in anyone he met, but he chose to take the high road. His choice to find the good wasn’t always easy. There are times when finding something good to say about an individual is only possible if it involves seriously altering truth, but Jacob was also committed to honoring God by being honest.
Some of his acquaintances enjoyed trying to orchestrate Jacob’s downfall. Their plan was to ask his opinion about someone who was so despicable that Jacob would be forced to choose between making a critical remark or stretching the truth in an attempt to say something good. For some it was just a “good-ole-boy” game, but for others, “Mr. Goody Two Shoes” needed to be taken down a peg or two. One man in particular was quite persistent in his efforts to knock Jacob off his pedestal. Jacob, a humble man, knew of no such pedestal, imaginary or otherwise. He just wanted to please God through his words and deeds.
One day, this man (we’ll call him Ernie) thought he had found the perfect set-up. Jacob was in town, and Ernie just happened to be talking to him, when they both looked up and saw the meanest man in the county headed their way. The man had a vulgar mouth, a quick and mean-spirited temper, a fondness for excessive alcohol consumption, an abhorrence for personal hygiene, a perpetual scowl, and a constant stream of nasty, brown tobacco juice dribbling from the side of his mouth. He must have enjoyed some success selling his garden vegetables that day because he whistled a jaunty tune as he wobbled drunkenly down the road. **
Gotcha, Ernie thought as he turned toward my great grandfather. “Well, Jacob, there walks the meanest man in this county. He stinks. He doesn’t pay his bills. He’s too lazy to take care of his family. Rumor has it that he beats his wife and kicks his dog, and that’s just scratching the surface. I’ll bet you can’t think of one good thing to say about that one!”
As Jacob watched the man stumbling on down the road, he took off his hat, slapped it against his pant leg to remove the dust, and ran his handkerchief over his forehead. After he had also run the handkerchief around the inside rim of his hat, he returned the hat to his head and the kerchief to his pocket in one smooth, well-practiced maneuver. He paused briefly, and then reaching down, he pulled a reed of grass, stuck it is his mouth, and stuck his hands in his overall pockets. Finally, while looking up and studying the clouds, he cleared his throat and spoke , “Well….”
This is it, Ernie thought, gleefully certain that success was finally within his grasp. I’m finally going to see Jacob Cover act like the rest of us human beings. “You might as well admit it, Jacob! That man has no redeeming qualities. You’ll not find a single good thing to say about him!”
Jacob looked down at his boots and saw that they were dusty. Picking up one booted foot at time, he carefully cleaned each boot on the back of its opposite pant leg. Once he was satisfied the boots were as clean as he could get them, he cleared his throat once more. “Well,” he softly – almost apologetically – drawled again, “I don’t know. He’s a pretty good whistler!”
*Interesting fact: This quotation has been mistakenly attributed to Abraham Lincoln. It was actually written by David Swift for use as the quotation in Pollyanna’s locket in the Disney movie, Pollyanna. For the storyline, Swift attributed the words to Abraham Lincoln, but in truth, they were written by Swift himself. Unaware of this, Roy Disney loved the “Abraham Lincoln” quote so much that he had it inscribed in thousands of lockets to sell in Disney gift shops. While shopping in a store abroad, David Swift happened to spot one of the lockers. He immediately called Roy and explained that he, not Abraham Lincoln, was responsible for the quote. He had merely used it as a theatrical device in the film. Roy Disney quickly recalled all of the lockets.
**Confession: In my ongoing effort to emulate the integrity of my grandfather, I am compelled to confess that I might have, in the interest of creative characterization, elaborated – to the point of embellishment – upon the whistler’s negative qualities, but the family stories do emphasize an unfortunate dearth of redeeming qualities.