Percival and Augusta**. Long ago they lived across the street from my family in a small super-modest old home with peeling paint and many many many cats. And one little dog. There was a front porch. There was a back porch. There’s no trace left of where Percival and Augusta spent their sad life. But my mind will never lose the image of that home and the couple who lived there.
Percival and Augusta were old in my eyes from the first time we met. They were probably in their mid 60’s, which as we all know is VERY YOUNG!!!! Their faces looked much older, though. Etched by life. Just the two of them there in that little house.
Augusta spent a lot of time in her large garden across the driveway from her house. And there was an old barn/garage type building at the rear border of their property which the cats pretty much had reign over. One could have called it a “birth center” for hundreds of kittens.
On the rare occasion that mom needed someone to watch me while she and Dad were gone, Augusta was my babysitter. But any day of any week you could find me crossing the street to visit. She fried me bacon any time I wanted good crisp bacon. Better than Mom’s bacon. She and Percival doted on me, and I’m sure my little girl presence brought rare laughter and happiness to their lives.
Right next to their driveway stood a most unique tree. From about 8 feet up it was normal in appearance. However from the base of the tree up to that 8 foot range, the trunk of the tree had seemingly been carved out on one side. I don’t know how the tree survived, but Augusta loved trees and she wasn’t about to allow it to be removed. She placed bricks in the carved out base of the tree to prevent it from falling.
Yes, a most unique tree indeed. With a sad story.
Percival had a strong affection for alcoholic beverages. Very strong affection. He wasn’t able to not drink. Most evenings he would drive their car home after being at the pool hall. As he would turn into the drive often the car would end up hitting Augusta’s prize tree and remain there until Percival sobered up the next day.
From our home across the street we had front row seats to Percival and Augusta’s life. There were frequent scenes in their front yard and often a drunken male voice in a high decibel range could be heard.
Percival often collapsed in their yard, passed out. Our phone would ring and Dad would make the trip across the street to shake Percival back to reality and help tiny little Augusta get him back inside the house. Augusta was tiny. And Dad was a whopping 5′ 5″ at the most and maybe 160 pounds. Maybe.
Once Percival fell into a snowdrift and their little dog ran out to check on him. While Percival was passed out in the snow, the little dog lifted his back leg and proceeded to do a sort of canine wake up call on him.
From inside our house Dad drew the curtains closed and told me to not look across the street. This happened often.
Percival was Daddy’s friend and fishing partner. Dad wanted very badly to help Percival. To “fix” Percival. When I was around 8 or so years old Dad started including me in their fishing trips. Dad would say to Percival, “Do you really want Bunny to see you drunk? Do you want her to see you lying in your yard passed out, or hear the horrible things you say out there?” And Dad then told him he wasn’t welcome to go on our fishing outings unless he hadn’t been drinking.
Percival needed a friend and he treasured his time with Dad and me. Our early morning trips to the river usually included sober Percival. The evening trips to set the lines on the river? Well, more often than not he was absent.
My eyes saw Augusta’s tears and sadness. She just exuded grief and heartache. My young girl heart felt bad for Augusta and angry with Percival for being a drunk. As I grew up I developed intense dislike for him. Why on earth was he such a mean man? Why didn’t he just stop drinking? I avoided being around him. I….. judged him.
Years later, several years later when I was a young adult I learned something about Percival and Augusta that painted a different picture of them.
They were childless when I knew them. But I learned that they hadn’t always been childless. They once had a little girl and lost her. Their only child. Never any more children for them. I don’t know the exact circumstances surrounding her death but I know it was very unexpected.
This past Memorial Day weekend I happened upon some new details. While visiting the hometown cemetery I learned facts that added even more sadness to the story. The little girl’s name was Hazel Viola. I found it on her parents’ grave marker. One grave…and a family of three engraved in the stone. She was born on August 4th. She passed on December 8th. Four short months later.
And there’s more. I did the math from the grave marker. Augusta was 43 years old when Hazel was born. Can you imagine how many years Augusta and Percival desired to be parents? The months that came and went with the same heartbreak? The tears that were shed? The questions of “why can’t we” that were never answered. Infertility had no treatment in those days. Seemingly, nothing would ever change for them.
Until it did change. In a quick moment their years of deep longing turned into incredible unbelievable happiness and surprise and jubilation when they learned that they would finally, amazingly, become parents. So many years of waiting turned into a feeling they never dreamed they would experience.
Four months of parenthood. Percival and Augusta went from the most wonderful months of their life together to their absolute worst despair.
A heartbreak like no other. After so many years of praying, hoping, waiting.
And clearly it broke them to pieces. Pieces that seemed to be beyond repair.
I thought about the times spent with them when I was a toddler. The love they showered on me. Undoubtedly what they really wanted was to hold their own little girl just one more time. Shower her with love. Hold her close.
I have my own children now, and grandchildren. It takes no effort for me now to understand how much pain they were in. In fact, it takes more effort to not get teary thinking about their life that I witnessed as a little girl. And if I could turn back the clock, I’d show them more grace, more love, more understanding.
Oh what a difference the rest of the story makes.
We’re all called by Christ to have compassion and extend grace to those around us. To see their actions that are ugly to us, even repulsive to us, and then actively look for the rest of the story.
And then….love them. Just love them.
Seriously, the Bible is jam packed with instructions to be nice.
Like….be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just like God forgives you.
Or…… don’t judge unless you want to be judged yourself.
Or just the basic….LOVE ONE ANOTHER!!
Or….. mercy. Have mercy…. “because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13
Mercy triumphs. Who are we to withhold grace and mercy from those who have been graciously forgiven by the Creator of the universe? Are we superior to God? Help us.
Jesus knows the rest of the story for every one of us. He loved Percival. He understood his pain. He forgave him for his sins. Just as he loves and forgives me. And you. Isn’t that amazing?