There were three reasons why people came to Dayton, Texas, while I was growing up in the 1980s: the highway interchange, Frank's Seafood and Steakhouse, and the T.L. Drawhorns.
From one window, Grandpa Drawhorn could see Ford Avenue and anyone who passed the ranch. Few did. Many callers came, usually Texans, the men sitting with one shiny boot crossed over a knee, their hats expertly balanced on the other or lying in their laps, brim up, so the luck wouldn't run out. These were ranchers or church acquaintances from years before, sometimes both; their accompanying wives were always primly dressed. Like my grandmother, these ladies had kept unbroken vigils with their hairdressers once a week for a wash and set and hadn't missed an appointment, come hell or high water, in years.
The window next to Grandpa's bed faced the dog yard, just inside the network of corrals surrounding the barn. For years, his prized bird dogs had yelped endlessly from the other side of the chicken wire, their blue-blooded yet flea-bitten puppies toddling out from a long, tin-roofed doghouse, sniffing the air and joining the fray until Grandpa would command their parents, "Shut up, Spot! Shut up, Lou!" By instinct or experience, the dogs respected the commands of their old master, even in his harmless dotage.
But the final view was the old man's favorite — though it stood behind him, guarding his back — the front pasture was so named because the Old Spanish Trail running through it was once the main entrance to the place. Viewed from the dirt road, it was our endless backyard. Growing wild most of the year, it was an unkempt mane of costal hay and bahia grass with wildflowers and other weeds tangled in. Still, his motley cattle herd was there, what was left of it. And each spring, the new calves bounced and butted heads as our neighbor Pete's spindly Tennessee Walking Horse foals drilled regally around the oblivious cattle herd, the bearers of a proud heritage.
Looking out this way, Grandpa could almost see forever.
Young as I was, it was hard not to remember him and wish for the way that he had been. Well into his 80s and even after his first major stroke, Thomas Laurie Drawhorn was a force unlike any other. With his Stetson set and his cane in hand, he strode to his truck every day, driving into town to stop at Bingham Feed & Seed and chew the fat or the Rice Growers Co-operative to worry over the present agricultural markets or to the stock auction to see what was on the block that week. At each stop, he'd tell a favorite joke that had become his mantra over the years: It was easy to make a small fortune in farming as long as you started out with a large one. He'd survey his fields, his grain, his cattle, his friends — some Mormon, like him, most not — watching and praying over them. That was his true calling: Grandpa was a patriarch.
Unlike other religions, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints upholds a doctrine of living, personal revelation, available to everyone who seeks it. And it's true that all church members seek to develop and maintain personal relationships with God the Father and the Savior, Jesus Christ through the Gift of the Holy Ghost. But our patriarchs — men called to this position — are priests who give special blessings to the members of the church; unlike most church callings, most patriarchs serve for life. While Latter-day Saints regard all priesthood ordinances and blessings as sacred, patriarchal blessings are especially unique as they are customarily given to worthy members once in a lifetime. When a patriarch draws on the powers of heaven, the Lord opens this special servant's eyes and lays out all that the person being blessed needs to know to succeed in life here and hereafter, including their heritage in the House of Israel and heavenly counsel tailored to the Saint being blessed.
In this way, patriarchal blessings — sacred and deeply personal — are invaluable as it reflects the recognition of an individual by the Divine. Even as a child, I felt the weight and seriousness of these implications: They meant that blessings were special and not to be taken lightly.
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