Papa’s Hands: A Tribute to My Late Grandfather

Now let’s just be honest. Pappa Celli had a big head. And I’m not talking about the metaphorical kind. I’m talking about the kind that caused him to let out every hat he owned to the farthest possible latch.

Even then, his hat perched so high atop his head that you never could quite tell how committed it was to actually stay on.

A puff of wind, a stumble, a slight glitch in the earth’s rotation, all very real threats to Papa’s ability to keep his size eight covered.

About the only thing bigger than his hat size was his hand size. His glove had to have been a double extra large. When you shook his hand, you could never quite get a hold of it. Large, large hands.

I can imagine how small each of his newborn children felt in those big, enveloping hands of his as they made their grand entrance into the world, one-by-one: Donald Richard, Donna Fay, Felecia Gayle, James Michael, and Mary Katherine.

But Papa’s hands provided security to his loved ones far beyond life’s first few minutes. In fact, as each of his children grew up to face their own uncertainties, pain, heartache, and regrets they could always rely on Papa’s quiet consistency that made them feel safe. Like they were being held in a big pair of hands. Because they were.

But not only did Papa have big hands, Papa had strong hands too.

Maybe it was all of that chopping, stirring, and cleaning in the kitchen as he fed the soldiers during the Korean War when he served as an Army chef. Then later as he re-enlisted and was stationed at Fort Chaffe in Fort Smith Arkansas.

But more than likely the strength in Papa’s hands was a by-product of those thousands of hours of toting lumber, wielding a hammer, a making a countless number of cuts as he did the laborious work of a carpenter.

Yes, Papa was a pastor, but the small churches in which he labored never generated enough income to fully support his family of seven.

But they never had to worry whether or not food would be on the table or a roof over their heads. Papa’s strong hands made sure of that.

Much like another carpenter we know, Papa used his hands for far more than building cabinets, and furniture, and houses, however. For nearly five decades, after a long, tiring day’s work, Papa would lay down his hammer and take hold of a guitar pick and assault his poor, helpless, Gibson D-60 as he led the congregation in one of his many favorites. And no, I’m not talking about a Hank Williams dirge, although I’m sure at times he was tempted.

The faint echo that I hear today sounds an awful lot like “The Great Speckled Bird.”

Having the congregation sufficiently worked up into a lather, he would lay down that guitar only to pick up a bible in one hand and a microphone in the other. Papa preached the word of God as pastor to a total of six churches over a course of 42 years of pastoral ministry

He pastored churches in Camden, Arkansas, Campti, La. Oberlin, La. Ponchatoula, La. Franklinton, La. and finally, in Bolivar, La. where he came out of retirement for one last ride.

Combine this with 18 years on the evangelistic field gave Papa a grand total of sixty years in the ministry.

It takes a big, strong pair of hands to hold onto a plow for that long.

But Papa’s hands finally met their match on April 13, 2017, at 5:32 pm. I can imagine his surprise when he felt the grip of a much, much bigger hand than his. Then, he remembered, the hand he was now holding was the one big enough to hold the whole world.

As Papa recognized the texture of those all-too-familiar carpenter’s callouses, he could feel in them a strength not only capable enough to plane rough lumber but able to fitly frame the galaxies of which his vapor was a tiny part.

And Papa, as much as we all would like for you to make us feel safe again with those big, strong hands of yours, we aren’t about to ask you to let go of that nail-scarred one which you now hold.

But we are going to take a page from your book and hold onto some things ourselves. I know we don’t have as big and strong a grip as you Papa, but you can believe one thing, that we will never let go of every beautiful memory that you ever gave us.

We’re going to hold onto every leg kick with a “whoo-hoo”, every quotation of Psalms 122:1, every blank stare and point to your hearing aid as you pretended not to be able to hear what MaMaw was saying, and to every request for another half-cup of coffee.

We’re going to hold onto your example of love for family, commitment to the kingdom of God, plain ole human goodness, and that day-in-day-out faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ for which you and MaMaw were known.

Papa, we know you’re in good hands today, so we’re going to let you go. But we wanted to pause for a moment and thank you for teaching us how to hold on.

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