Grateful for those who care

2007 Family Gathering

2007 Family Gathering

It’s one of my favorite tales from my father.

Elroy and Leroy are brothers who reflect the stereotypical backwoods image, so the story goes. One day they decide they want to learn to drive one of those big 18-wheel rigs.

So they make their way down the mountains to a trucking headquarters. They tell the man in charge what they want. He indicates they must take a test. Leroy, the older brother, says he will take the test first.

“OK,” says the trucking manager. “Tell me, Leroy, what you would do in this case. It’s a dark night. Elroy is already asleep in the bed behind the driver’s seat. You are coming down the mountain that has a hundred-foot bank on the right and a two-hundred-foot drop on the left. As you come around a curve, you see another truck jack-knifed, blocking the road. What’s the first thing you’d do?”

“Well, the first thing I’d do,” said Leroy, “I’d wake up Elroy.”

“Why would you wake up Elroy?”

“Well, you see, Elroy ain’t never seen no real bad wreck.”

I smile each time I recall this story, no matter what frame of mind I’m in. There are times when most of us can identify with Leroy. Often, when bad things happen to us in life, about all we can do is brace ourselves for the crash.

On our family vacations, Dad always mused at road signs, especially the ones that warned, Look For Falling Rocks. “There’s not a whole lot we can do about ‘falling rocks,'” he’d say, waving his finger at the sign. “Rocks tumble down hillsides so fast we don’t have time to look, let alone get out of the way.”

Yet, “falling rocks” happen. Disease, job loss, death – these things happen and, like falling rocks, there’s not much we can do except “wake up Elroy” and alert all the kin who are affected.

But all crashes aren’t disastrous or tragic. Some are predictable, even expected. Our kids launch to college, get married, move across the country for jobs, or expand their families with children.

And their changes change us. We can see it coming, the loss of what was. Sometimes all we can do is brace for the impact and “wake up Elroy,” reaching out to those who know us and love us to help us through the adjustments.

However, what we do after impact is perhaps more important than why or how it happened. “It’s not what happens to us but what we do with what happens to us that measures life,” Dad often said.

And we press on, reconfiguring our lives to embrace change and perhaps even grow from it.

As the Thanksgiving season approaches, we give thanks for health, happiness, and perhaps we hug a little tighter the loved ones we still have with us. We celebrate the fullness of life, in all of its changes, and for the Elroys of the world, who are there for us and help us make it through.

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at