He ploughs deep, removing rock and bettering the soil for those to come.
They say Pennsylvania’s most prolific crop is rock. Maneuvering a John Deere with a touch light enough to perform surgery and loving enough to command 1,800 men and women at Ft. Sill Army hospital, David Crandall has reaped much of that harvest while grooming scrubland into hayfields and grassy lawns at his farm atop the blustery ridge of Glade Pike Road. The site affords a wide vista of the meadows around the Allegheny and Laurel Hill Mountains and the Old Glade Road (established in 1755), herds of cattle, red-tailed hawks, and so much sky that a sunrise swells fit to bursting with vermillion, violet, and lion’s-mane gold.
In the words of David’s late wife in her memoir Linda, “I certainly never dreamed I’d be married to a surgeon, a missionary, an Army Colonel, a hospital commander, a farmer”—and she was no polygamist. David is a farm boy from Mt. Vernon Missouri and fully anticipated a life devoted to agriculture. He once gave me an anecdote about his father, also a farmer, who went upstairs one night to interdict David and his brothers trampolining on their beds rather than sleeping in them. As David’s father’s powerful shoulders filled the doorframe to the boys’ room, one of his sons shouted out a startled challenge, “I bet you won’t!” David’s father eyed his boisterous sons then calmly placed his calloused hands on one bed’s rail, flipped, and landed on his back on the mattress. The next moment, David’s father, mattress, and bedframe crashed to the floor. David laughed heartily as he relayed this story, exuding the same goodness and commanding the same respect as the man of whom he spoke.
Through great diligence David enrolled at Greenville College, a Free Methodist university where he met Linda, a skilled linguist and pianist. David maintained a rigorous schedule through college, winning a track-and-field All-State award for the 880-yard dash, serving as Minister of Music at a church twenty miles from campus, hauling coal, collecting trash, and driving the Greenville College bus for field trips and sporting events. Eight hours after David and Linda graduated Greenville College on June 5, 1961, they were married in the college church.
Over the next fifty-one years, both pursued graduate studies and David later undertook general surgery at the University of Illinois medical school. In the Viet Nam War era, David was drafted into the Army (and during his career served as hospital commander at four Army hospitals, retiring as a Colonel). Toward the end of his residency, he and Linda received a letter from their church mission board relaying the need for doctors in Africa. They committed to a nine-month “exposure tour” in Rwanda and later served in Burundi establishing a medical program for Hope Africa University in Burundi. That commitment claimed six additional years, many services rendered to locals and missionary families in the Name and strength of Christ, the life of their two-year old son Jeff (youngest of five), and eventually the life of Linda, who went to her Lord the winter of 2012 from an ailment contracted while in Africa.
My first notable memory of my neighbor David was, ironically, in a hospital. I was admitted during my gap year for savage headaches and partial paralysis later diagnosed as aural migraines. David Crandall, an acquaintance from my grandparents’ church, visited me at a frightening and painful time and gave me unspeakable comfort by simply standing in the room.
Recently I was over at my grandparents’ home helping Grandpa build a rock path, and as he knelt on the gravel I marveled at his detail and labor in every aspect of the project; while I was content with protruding lips of rock and differences in height, he knew them to be tripping hazards and meticulously leveled each one.
Funny thing about my grandfather . . . he gained that title exactly one year ago today when on August 17th, 2013 he pledged his love to my grandmother, Carol Bryan. One bad cold that spring left him defenseless to Mom’s renowned “chicken soup for the heart” that she and my “Nana” brought him, and shortly afterwards he called to invite Nana to dinner. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I’m learning my new “Grandpa Dave” is a jokester. He points at the elephant in the room, proclaims it hasn’t got clothes on, and breaks convention with the same joy by which he keeps the commandments. He thoroughly delights a more literal and serious person like me. He is a man who has seen the world, yet would rather look at you. The love within him welcomes; mine weighs. I scatter seeds atop gravel and pray for harvest. He ploughs deep, removing rock and bettering the soil for those to come.
Hannah Bryan hails from the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania and cherishes making soup, reading aloud with her clan, and chair caning.
Beautiful, Hannah. I loved every word. You have a wonderful writing style, and a deep intuition. Keep writing and exploring!