The memory of that particular summer will always stand out in my mind. It was about a week before school let out when my dad announced that I would be spending the next three months in the mountains with my grandpa tending sheep.
At first I had been really excited about the idea. That was until I told my best friend about it.
“Yuck!” She had said. “How boring. Why do you want to do a dumb thing like that?”
To hide my embarrassment, I quickly explained that I really didn’t want to do it, but that I had to because my parents were worried about Grandpa being in the mountains alone all summer. He’d had a mild heart attack earlier that spring, and the doctor had disapproved of his going. But he insisted that he’d gone every summer since he was a kid and that this summer wasn’t going to be any different.
So, because I was young and strong and could do most of the work, I was to help him. My parents also reasoned that it would be a good experience for me and give me an opportunity to get to know Grandpa better.
The first month of that summer seemed endless, and I became more depressed and lonely by the day. Grandpa didn’t help matters much. He was a quiet man, never wasting many words, and I wondered how I’d ever “get to know Grandpa better.”
One night after supper we were sitting near the campfire. It was quiet except for the occasional bleating of sheep in the distance. The sky was particularly clear that night, and I remember leaning my head back to study the stars. They winked back at me, and I tried to imagine the many secrets they held. Maybe someday I’ll be an astronaut, I mused, and uncover some of those secrets. Anyway, whatever I become, I won’t be a dumb old sheepherder!
“Grandpa,” I said finally, “haven’t you ever wanted to do something exciting?”
He chuckled. “Like what?” he asked.
I shrugged, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. “I don’t know.”
“You aren’t enjoying yourself much these days, are you?”
“Well, it’s kind of boring.”
“And maybe a little lonely?” he asked, smiling at me.
“Yeah, that, too,” I admitted. “How can you stand this, year after year, Grandpa?”
He poked at the fire with a long stick. “For me it has never been a question of standing it. I’m a sheepman. This is just part of what I do.”
It’s hopeless, I decided. I’ll never understand him.
The silence between us lengthened until he rose and walked over to the small trailer where we slept. A few minutes later he returned with a worn Bible in his hands. I had seen him read from it every night, so that didn’t surprise me. It did surprise me when he started to speak.
“When I was young, I felt a lot like you do right now. I wanted to do something really important in my life.
“My pa, your great-grandfather, died when I was about your age. This old Bible was his. It wasn’t until after he was gone that I opened it and for the first time noticed certain scriptures he’d underlined. One in particular made me do some hard thinking. I thought you might like to read it.”
He handed the old Bible to me. It was opened to the second chapter of Luke. I recognized it immediately as the Christmas story. In the light from the fire I could see that the pages were yellowed and wrinkled from years of use. My eyes went to the underlined verses, and I read: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. …”
As I read on, the familiar words began to take on new meaning. At last I closed the book and carefully handed it back to my grandpa.
He fingered it lovingly. “My pa was a sheepman, and his pa before him,” he said. “I’m proud to have followed in their footsteps.”
Grandpa rose then and left me. I sat alone for a long time, gazing up at the sky. Those were the same stars that had shone that night so long ago, along with that one very special star.
The rest of that summer passed swiftly, and before I knew it, I was back in school. My friends teased me a lot about being a sheepherder, but I didn’t let it bother me. I knew something they’d probably never know.
Not long before Christmas Grandpa had another heart attack, and a few days later he died. I was devastated. Never again would I be able to go with him to the summer sheep camp.
Christmas morning at our house was quieter than usual because we were all thinking about Grandpa. I, for one, knew I’d never forget him. As we gathered around the tree, Dad handed me a package. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, but I wasn’t in the mood for presents. I think he could tell, because he urged me to open it.
I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was the old Bible. Inside was a brief note from Grandpa. “I thought you might like this,” was all it said. So simple, and so like him.
As I stared at it, I had the feeling that Grandpa was there, watching me, waiting for my reaction. I smiled and pressed the Bible close to me. There were other presents waiting under the tree for me, but I knew none of them would top Grandpa’s Bible.