Lou Purvis was my grandpa and I grew up with the family calling him “Goggie”. Grandma Purvis was called “Mammie”. The story is that the grandchildren started calling them that when they were very little and it just stuck from then on.
My father would tell the story of riding on rough roads in bad weather and grandma voicing her concern to grandpa. Goggie would say reassuringly, “What’s to worry about? Can’t you see that angel on my bumper?”
As a minister dad would drive many miles each week for various church reasons. Dad would tell that same story over the years and assure us that Goggies angel was on his bumper now. So we didn’t need to worry about driving in bad weather, bad tires, or badly running engines.
I was born seven years after Goggie died, so I never had the chance to meet my namesake, Louis “Lou” Purvis. I did, however, inherit something from him.
I was in high school and we lived in Valley Falls. I had a tendency to stay out too late and one particular evening I had a minor wreck with the car. When I got in the house it was well past midnight. Even though dad had to preach at two different churches later that morning, he was sitting in his favorite chair in the front room where he could see out to the street and driveway. He called it his praying chair. I guess a few of his kids had been out late over the years so he’d gotten some practice in that chair.
I went in the house and faced dad, who was sitting there as I came in. I told him about the wreck and expected to be in a lot of trouble.
Instead of yelling at me, he looked at me and I saw tears welling up in his eyes. He then hugged me and told me in the gentlest of voices. “I should have known better than to have worried. I’ve been sitting here praying and my prayers were answered, because….here you are. I should have known better than to worry, because I asked God to send Goggies angel to watch over you…..and here you are. I shouldn’t have worried and had faith.”
Daddy retired some years later as a minister in the United Methodist Church. He actually ended up retiring a couple of times. There was the first time when he went from being a full-time pastor of two churches in northeast Kansas to being a retired pastor with one church.
When dad retired, you couldn’t tell any difference, really. He was appointed to the small town of Scranton, Kansas, just south of Topeka. He had only one church and was expected to work only part-time. Part-time preaching wasn’t in dad’s nature. He basically took it on in a full-time capacity. As always, he threw himself completely into serving the church. Mom and dad took up residence in the small parsonage across the street from the church.
He maintained the church office and took up all the usual duties from home visits, hospital visits, services, committee meetings , and a multitude of other responsibilities and tasks. He was soon known throughout the community as that Methodist preacher down the road that you could count on to help out when life got tough. His empathy was deep, with an ability to listen. He could comfort those who needed a shoulder to lean on or a hand to hold as tears of grief filled their eyes.
Retired? …. No, that was just a label on a list somewhere. In reality, he definitely hadn’t retired.
After graduating from college I worked as a park ranger and at the end of the summer I found myself without a job, since my position at that time was seasonal. Mom and dad were kind enough to let me come stay at their house until I got my next position. During my job search, I could live in their basement in Scranton.
These were luxury accommodations of the first order. Dad and I put up a few sheets of plywood for a couple walls and an old aluminum storm door was hung for access.
Next to my room was a sump pump and a shower head with a plastic curtain forming a circle. You would basically stand in the basement, on the concrete floor taking your shower, while hoping that visitors wouldn’t come down the stairs. And of course, the water drained into the sump pump which kicked on during the entirety of your shower.
I was thankful to have a home to go to. The idea of a shower head in an old basement seemed to be part of the Purvis DNA anyway. We had the same setup in the basement of the White City parsonage when I was little. Dad was, by this time, in his later sixties and having a few health issues. He took a couple meds for various things. He also injected insulin daily for diabetes.
As I’ve said before, mom and dad were not prone to panic or becoming upset in tough situations. They had been through so many traumatic events with persons in the church as well as raising 7 children, many grandchildren, and numerous strays they helped along the way.
The very idea that mom came all the way down to the basement and woke me up was in itself disturbing. I knew something was very wrong if mom was concerned enough to come wake me up.
She told me dad was sick and needed my help. This was the first time she’d ever asked for my help regarding dad. She said that dad felt sick to the stomach and had been throwing up. While that was serious and especially gross sounding, I didn’t immediately understand the seriousness because mom was able to act very controlled. I could tell that she was downplaying the seriousness. I asked if we should take him to the emergency room and she told me that she couldn’t move him. This really got my attention because this had gone from an upset stomach to dad not being movable.
I followed mom upstairs to their bedroom on the second floor. I found dad sitting on the edge of the bed conscious, but not very responsive. He appeared to be dazed and didn’t respond to my questions. The most disturbing part was that there was blood everywhere. While I was standing there he threw up and it appeared to be nothing but bright red blood. It was very obvious that he was bleeding severely in his stomach or somewhere close by.
Mom was correct that even between the two of us, we weren’t going to be able to get him down the steps, let alone to the hospital 20 miles away. I then grabbed the phone and called 911.
Within several minutes we could hear the reassuring sound of the ambulance, which pulled up to the house. It took the paramedics and several volunteer firemen to carry dad on the stretcher down the stairs and into the ambulance. He was then whisked away to the Medical Center in Topeka.
When you’re in a large hospital it is likely that you are down within the inner parts of the building with no windows. Your time seems to stand still. The lights never go out and there is always activity. You sit in the Intensive Care waiting room just watching the clock.
Mom had made numerous calls to family, telling them what was going on and where we were at. After a while, various family began to arrive and begin the vigil. We’d grown up frequently going with dad to the hospital when he visited folks, so it didn’t seem like strange surroundings. It was an oddly familiar place.
After a few hours the doctor came in and told mom that dad had a major hemorrhage in his stomach. He said they were trying to get it to stop bleeding, but weren’t having success. He said they were running ice water directly into his stomach to try and get the bleeding to stop, but that it wasn’t working. The doctor felt surgery was the last chance to save dad. He then told us to come into the room individually to say goodbye. He didn’t think dad was stable enough to survive the surgery, due to the loss of so much blood. There wasn’t really a good choice for mom to make. She just had to try the only choice that was left, surgery.
In my job as a park ranger I had encountered many people who had been injured or killed, but never someone I was related to. I had always been able to maintain an emotional wall, because it was people I didn’t know who were hurt.
When I entered the ICU where dad was, I could see the tube going into him for the ice water. He’d had so much of it that he was shivering very hard. He was conscious, but still seemed to be unaware of what was going on around him.
It was a very surreal experience because he had always been one of the folks taking care of others. Now he was connected to monitors, shivering, and semi-conscious. It was a very intense and indescribable feeling as I walked toward him.
It suddenly dawned on me that I might not see him again. I also became acutely aware that I could do nothing to change the events unfolding before me. I was going over that first big drop on the roller-coaster. I was a passenger with no control, whatsoever.
I stood there looking at this shell of a person who wasn’t in control over coming events. I didn’t know what to do or say. It wasn’t a movie where I had professional writers to give me dialog which was moving and heartfelt. I had no stunning revelations to give my dad in his last moments of life. All I could do was lean over and tell him I loved him. And then I said, “Daddy, I’m gonna let you have Goggies angel back. He’ll watch over you at the foot of your bed and lead you where ever you’re going.” I then left the room. I really felt like I had done little to help.
It was all I had….
I sat quietly in that waiting room feeling so small and powerless. I prayed to myself and waited to see the outcome. I tried to imagine a world without Daddy and couldn’t.
Many hours later the doctor returned and told us that the surgery had been completed and dad had survived, so far.
Later, with time, dad became stronger and eventually recovered.
As I think about the whole experience, I know that I personally didn’t have anything to do with dad surviving that night. There were a lot of people praying longer and harder than me and some who probably knew of God better than I did.
The one thing I was able to do was make my short confession of faith to my daddy that night, in that ICU room. You see, Goggie and Daddy didn’t think there was an angel literally sitting on the bumper of the car or on the foot of Daddy’s ICU bed. Neither did I. The angel was an expression of faith. A faith that the Lord is with you on all those long trips and late night car crashes or hospital beds.
My little contribution that night had been to finally, tell Daddy about my faith in this one they call Christ. And that my faith told me he was with Daddy, whether he stayed with us or went to be with his father. This was the same faith professed by Goggie to Daddy and by Daddy to me so many years earlier.
Yes, there is an angel on my bumper, it is the faith of my fathers……this one called Christ.