Riley's Cross


When Riley arrived at the farm that afternoon “Grandpa” - as Riley had come to think of him - was busy working in his forge. He wasn't her real Grandpa, but her Mom and her whole family, in fact, felt like they had been adopted by the people who owned this farm. Riley wasn't sure who loved these visits more – her or her Mom. Usually they came in the morning with her brother Henry to feed the little heifer they were sharing with another family and everything was quiet and still. Grandpa would have done the early chores and be back in the house enjoying his coffee. In the mornings, Raspberry, as they had named their little Dexter cow, would be quietly chewing her cud in her stall in the barn. The goats would be curious, looking for handouts, glad for some attention. Sometimes the chickens would already have been let out to forage and be hard at work scratching around in Raspberry's manure for looking for insects, but more often than not she and her Mom would do that. Down in the big pasture the rest of the cattle and horses would be clustered around the feeders. The mornings were quiet, but there could be surprises – a new baby goat or sheep, and Riley always liked being the first to find eggs that the chickens had hidden in makeshift nests.

Afternoon visits were different. Grandpa or Grandma were often in the barn or garden fixing, cleaning, building, planting – anything was possible, but one of her favorite things was to watch Grandpa working in the forge. Riley would smell the coal smoke on the way up the driveway and jump out of the car to see what Grandpa was making. Henry and her Dad had actually done some blacksmithing but so far, Riley was content to watch from the doorway. She was fascinated that the hard steel would get so hot in the fire, bright orange and yellow, and soft enough to bend into shapes. Today Grandpa was hard at work trying to bend a piece of steel into a cross-shaped frame. He stopped working to show her what he was doing, explaining how he planned to finish it for a gift to his daughter who lived just up the road. Riley remembered another day when Grandpa had been making a different kind of cross.

Riley waited until Grandpa stopped hammering for a minute. “Why do you always make crosses?” she asked.

Grandpa thought for a minute. “Well,” he said, “I don't always make crosses, but when I want to give someone I love a special gift, I think of a cross because it was God's way of saying 'I love you' to all of us. Have you ever wanted to give someone something very special, something money couldn't buy, something that would let them know that you love them?”

Riley nodded. She was always trying to think of things like that for her Mom and Dad.

Grandpa continued. “Diane doesn't care about money. The best gift anyone can give her is something they have made, so if I can finish this for her birthday, it will be the best way I can think of to say, 'Thank you for being our daughter and our friend. I love you'. Grandpa worked for a few minutes then asked, “Do you remember the other cross I was making?”

Riley nodded again. “Well, you know Cyril, from the Christmas pageant, don't you? “

It was Riley's turn to nod again. The Christmas pageant had been a magical experience, when her Mom, dressed in authentic African costume, had led Raspberry in the procession of the Kings. Cyril and his wife Francisca were from Ghana, and had organized much of that part of the pageant. They were a little strange - exotic – might be the right word, but very nice and “interesting”.

Well,” Grandpa explained, “Cyril works at the university hospital. He is a doctor who takes care of babies who have been born too soon. He is sort of famous, particularly in Africa, for his work with little babies. But not many people know that his father is also a doctor, and even more famous than Cyril, because he was a teacher at the university in Ghana for many years. During his life he advised presidents and kings, wrote books, and everyone in Ghana respects him very much.”

Grandpa paused for a minute, then went on. “Dr. Engmann has been visiting his family in the US because he is very ill, and the family is not sure how much longer he can live. I was honored to meet him, and we have become friends – brothers, really – because we are Christians. I was thinking about what it must be like to be famous in one's own country, then to come here and be a stranger in a strange land. I wanted to tell him that I know who he really is in God's eyes, so I was making him that cross to tell him so. It is a small honor, but all I can think of. Does that make sense?”

Riley nodded thoughtfully, and walked off to find her mom. On the way home her mom asked her what Grandpa had been making in the forge. “Another cross,” Riley said. “He says he makes them for people he loves.” She continued to think about the famous doctor, and Grandpa's daughter, and her Mom, and all the people she loved and didn't know how to tell.

A few days later she and her Mom were at a craft store. There for sale were some unpainted wooden crosses, and she suddenly had an idea. “Mom, can I buy a cross and paint it for Grandpa ?” she asked.

Her Mom looked surprised. “Of course,” she said, “that's a wonderful idea!” Then, as she realized what Riley was saying, the tears started.

Riley glanced over at her. Her mom cried a lot at strange times, but Riley knew it usually was because her Mom had a soft heart. She picked out her favorite cross and took it home. While painting the cross she wondered what Grandpa would do with it. Would he like it? Would he know why she had made it for him? Would she ever know?

The day they went to the farm with the cross Riley began to be embarrassed. After all, “Grandpa” wasn't a real Grandpa who automatically loves you and thinks you're terrific just because. This Grandpa was just the man that owned the farm that she loved, and although he acted like he loved her and was glad to see her every time, maybe he was just being nice. When the time came to give him the cross, she couldn't do it. “You take it, Mom” she said.

When her Mom came back to the car, Riley asked, “Did he like it?” she asked?

Grandpa wasn't there” her Mom said. “I left it with Grandma for him. I'm sure he will like it”. Riley could only nod yes and stare out the window and wonder.

A few mornings later Riley and her brother walked into the barn to feed Raspberry and put her out in the field. “Oh Riley, look!”, her mom exclaimed, pointing to the wall of the barn. There on the wall was the cross, but Grandpa had left an envelope with the name “Riley” written on the outside. “This must be for you,” her mom said, handing it to Riley.

Riley took the envelope and opened it carefully. Inside was a letter. Riley read it, and then read it to her mom, and this is what it said.

Dear Riley,

Of all the gifts I will ever get, this cross will be one of the most precious. I think it must be because God loves you and your family so much that I cannot help feeling the same, but most people don't go around telling other people that they love them unless they are in the same family. But that is what your gift means to me: that you love Grandma and me, and believe we love you too. And you are right. We do, and are very glad, because in a way, you and your family have become part of ours.


Grandpa Green.

From that morning on, whenever Riley came to the farm and saw her cross, she would remember, "Somebody loves me here". As for Grandpa, for whom the Cross carried the hopes and beliefs of a lifetime, every time he saw it he would remember these words from the Bible:

Then Jesus called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me."