This afternoon (July 2), I listened to that small voice inside which said, "This afternoon is family time." Office work would wait. Holy family time was needed.
I thought we'd go to the Houston Museum, but as we prepared to go, I remembered the kids bowl free stuff we signed up for at the beginning of summer.
"Museum or bowling?" I asked the kids
It's rare we have a unanimous decision. Bowling it was. Brenham bowling alley, here we come.
But there was a problem. A summer school program or camp had invaded the bowling alley. Too crowded. We needed an alternate plan. We got in the car, and I simply started driving up SH 290. As we drove, I thought about the Cotton Museum in Burton. We'd never been. Kaylee had studied about it in second grade. Perhaps this would be a worthwhile activity.
Video presentation. Cotton gin tour. Kids getting to see how cotton was ginned with a miniature gin. Questions asked and answered.
Then, Kevin asks, "Daddy, can we pull a cotton leaf?"
There was a reason he asked this question--a reason dating to over 20 years ago when I was working with my grandfather in the cotton field.
It was the last year my grandfather farmed before he succumbed to cancer. We were cultivating the cotton, and it was my job to ride on the tractor, spot weeds, flag my grandfather when I saw them, jump off the tractor, and then pull the weeds putting them in a burlap bag. Grandpa liked his cotton field absolutely clean.
During a particular stop in a weedy patch, Grandpa told me to take a water break. When I climbed on the tractor to get a drink, Grandpa asked, "Kevin, have I ever showed you God is in the cotton?"
I was in my second year of college studying Theology/Philosophy. I thought Grandpa was about to get philosophical on me--perhaps talk about his love of farming and how it showed him God. I had been exposed to all sorts of ideas at Texas Lutheran, and I thought I'd hear another one.
Boy, was my assumption completely wrong. Grandpa had other ideas. Very concrete ones.
"Go pick me four or five big cotton leaves. They have to be really big ones."
I did exactly as my grandfather instructed and brought the leaves to him as he sat on the tractor. He took a leaf in his hand and pulled out his pocket knife with the other.
"Now," he spoke, "you need a really sharp knife, and you have to cut the leaf in just the right place."
I watched as he spoke these words. Grandpa's hands shook, and he had a hard time holding the knife steady. He made a cut, looked at his work, swore, and threw the leaf and stem to the ground. Picking up another leaf, he spoke again, "You need a really sharp knife, and you have to cut in just the right place..."
He cut again. Looked at his handiwork again, and this time held the remaining stem for me to observe. Looking at the cut, which had been made right near the juncture of the stem and leaf, I observed something mind blowing. Wonderful. Amazing.
The veins which brought water to the leaf formed the letters G...o...D.
It was as if God left His signature right there in the midst of that field on each and every plant--on each and every leaf. No wonder Grandpa had a special affinity for cotton. God was in it.
I had told this story to my kids. I had tried to show them at one point, but the leaves were too small. Kevin, Jr. remembered. He wanted me to cut a leaf and show him while at the cotton gin museum.
So I asked the lady giving us the tour, Linda, if I could have a cotton plant leaf.
She replied to Kevin, Jr. "Well, ordinarily, I would let you, but if I let you, then I would have to let other people as well. Then, our plants wouldn't have any leaves on them."
My wife rose to the challenge. I didn't want to talk about Kevin, Jr.'s reasons. My wife had no such inhibitors. "Tell her why he wants the leaf."
Linda's curiosity was piqued.
"God is written in the cotton," Dawna said. "If you cut the leaf just right, you can read the word God in the stem. I thought he (me) was crazy when he first told me about it, but then he showed me. It's there."
"I've never seen that!" Linda said. "I want to see that."
She took me outside to their cotton plants which grew in wooden barrels.
"First, you need a really big leaf, and I hope my knife is sharp enough..."
We went back inside, and I sat in a chair. Linda talked with my kids and another couple visiting the museum.
I cut the leaf. I put my knife where the stem met the leaf. I hadn't done this in years. I wondered if my knife was sharp enough. I wondered if I was cutting in the right place. I cut slowly and carefully. After separating the leaf from the stem, I looked. Kiera, my eldest was right there looking over my shoulder. "There it is!!" she exclaimed.
Sure enough: G...o...D.
The couple from San Antonio was next. Exclamations of amazement as well as attempts to capture what they saw on camera. Pretty difficult to capture on a cell phone.
Linda took the stem in her hand. Being a little older, it took her moving the stem to where she could focus. "Wow. I never knew..."
I didn't either until my grandfather showed me in that cotton patch many years ago. Linda thanked me profusely for showing her God in the cotton. I thanked her for the tour and a walk down memory lane--memories which took me back to my roots. Roots which include cotton hoes, mile long rows, hot sun, cold drinks, the sounds of a roaring tractor engine, an old man smoking cigarettes who took some time to show his grandson God's signature.
Amazing how it still affects me today.