I believe in the joy of a dead man who loved cantaloupe, sang How Great Thou Art and wore purple polyester pants pulled up so they sat approximately six inches above his navel. He lived for ninety-five years, giving him plenty of time to eat, sing, and pull his pants up too high, although he didn’t start wearing the purple ones until he was at least eighty, after which time they were virtually the only pair of pants he ever wore. Until then, my mother tells me, “he was a very snappy dresser.” She would know. This man, Clarence Engstrom, was her grandfather – my great-grandfather. In the time I knew him, he taught me more about how to love and enjoy life than anyone else.
In his old age, Grandpa Engstrom loved few things more than his weekly trip to the grocery store. Even when he couldn’t drive, and my mother had to take him to the store, it was one of the highlights of his week. Whatever else he bought, Grandpa Engstrom invariably came home with a cantaloupe. What amazed those around him about the phenomenon the enjoyment it brought him. As far as anyone could tell, he never found a cantaloupe he didn’t like. Each cantaloupe was the best one he’d tasted yet. A skeptic would say that this is impossible, that eventually you will find the best-tasting cantaloupe and any cantaloupe you eat after it will be second-rate. Not so. With Grandpa Engstrom the cantaloupe itself didn’t really matter, for what made it taste good was his mindset while eating it. He wanted it to be good and told himself that it would be good. In so doing he ensured that it would taste good. This desire to find beauty in every situation let Grandpa Engstrom live a life as joyful as one could hope to find.
Grandpa Engstrom’s other source for pleasure and comfort in his life was the one to whom he sang his favorite hymn, How Great Thou Art. The hymn’s words are simple and beautiful: “Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder / Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made / I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder / Thy power throughout the universe displayed / Then sings my soul, My Savior God to Thee / How great Thou art, how great Thou art!” Grandpa Engstrom found joy through the majesty of God. Even when life got difficult, his Savior God was right there with him, and Grandpa Engstrom always remembered that fact. This song reflects Grandpa Engstrom’s life and legacy: as he found beauty and pleasure in simple things in the world around him, he looked up and praised the creator of the beauty.
So, when life’s rough, be like Grandpa Engstrom. Find a reason to be cheerful, then thank God for it. Then put on some purple pants – pull them up really high – and have some cantaloupe. It might be the best you’ll ever eat.
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