Keep Your Fork
Date Added: Dec. 3, 2001
Touching tales are very common on the 'net and usually do little harm beyond the risks of identity theft and spam that forwarding any message poses. This e-tale is interesting because it appears to be a curious updating of a true story.
Keep Your Fork
There was a young woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So as she was getting her things "in order," she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in.
Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the young woman suddenly remembered something very important to her. "There's one more thing," she said excitedly.
"What's that?" came the pastor's reply.
"This is very important," the young woman continued. "I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand."
The pastor stood looking at the young woman, not knowing quite what to say.
"That surprises you, doesn't it?" the young woman asked.
"Well, to be honest, I'm puzzled by the request," said the pastor.
The young woman explained. "My grandmother once told me this story, and from there on out, I have always done so. I have also, always tried to pass along its message to those I love and those who are in need of encouragement.
'In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, 'Keep your fork' It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming...like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance!' So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder "What's with the fork?". Then I want you to tell them: "Keep your fork ... the best is yet to come." The pastor's eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the young woman good-bye.
He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the young woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She had a better grasp of what heaven would be like than many people twice her age, with twice as much experience and knowledge. She KNEW that something better was coming.
At the funeral people were walking by the young woman's casket and they saw the pretty dress she! Was wearing and the fork placed in her right hand. Over and over, the pastor heard the question
"What's with the fork?" And over and over he smiled. During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the young woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her.
The pastor told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either.
He was right.
So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you ever so gently, that the best is yet to come.
Friends are a very rare jewel, indeed. They make you smile and encourage you to succeed. They lend an ear, they share a word of praise, and they always want to open their hearts to us.
Show your friends how much you care. Remember to always be there for them, even when you need them more. For you never know when it may be their time to "Keep your fork."
Cherish the time you have, and the memories you share ... being friends with someone is not an opportunity but a sweet responsibility.
Send this to everyone you consider a FRIEND even if it means sending back to the person who sent it to you.
And keep your fork
The tale above was written by Roger William Thomas in 1994 and first published in the 1996 book, A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul. It has been republished in various forms and in various venues, including Anne Landers' popular column. The version circulating via e-mail is, expectedly, changed significantly from its original - most notably that the dying woman in Thomas' original was described as "not only one of the oldest members of the congregation, but one of the most faithful," in contrast to the young woman in the version above.
Curiously, the notion of living life in anticipation that the best moment was yet to come was put into writing a decade earlier.
In the mid-1980's, Glen Wheeler, a retired minister from southern Ohio, wrote a touching story about his marriage and his wife's life-long battle with heart disease called "Hold On To Your Fork." The story was published nationally by Standard Publishing of Cincinnati, Ohio, and has appeared in newspaper columns and other collections of inspirational stories.
Here is the original "Hold on to Your Fork" by Glen Wheeler, of Worthington, Ohio, as published in the Summer/Autumn 2001 issue of Ohio's Heritage magazine (reprinted with permission):
"Hold on to Your Fork"
"Recall in your mind the most delicious meal you ever enjoyed. It could have been at home, at a restaurant, or at a family get-together. It could have been at a church meeting, a cookout, or on a special occasion. But let your mind go back to that memorable time. Do you remember when, as the meal came near an end, the host or hostess would urge you to have additional meat, more vegetables or salad? Your response was, "Thank you, but I am so full, I cannot eat another bite." This dialogue would be repeated two or three times until at last, the hostess would begin removing the dinner plates from the table. As each plate was removed, she would say, "Hold on to your fork." Why would she say that when you already stated there was no room for more food?
"Because she knew what was coming. In a few moments, the hostess returned with a generous helping of your favorite dessert. Immediately forgetting your previous comments, you picked up the fork.
"And this is the way life is.
"I still remember my 1943 graduation from Lincoln High School in Vincennes, Indiana. I thought I was the greatest. About the time the tassel was moved, the message "Hold on to your fork" was whispered. And sure enough, in the fall of 1943, I enrolled at Johnson Bible College, Knoxville, Tennessee. Oh, the many emotions I had! Four hundred miles away from home, among strangers, sharing a dorm room, learning new procedures - What an experience! But finally, I again walked across the platform, received my diploma, moved the tassel, and seemed to hear "Hold on to your fork."
"And so I did. On August 31, 1948, the strains of Lohengrin's wedding march filled the sanctuary of the First Christian Church in Vincennes, Indiana. I thrilled as I watched a beautiful bride walk toward me, escorted by her father. We took each other "for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death parts us." Was I ever happy I had held onto my fork!
"All that we ever dreamed about having was now ours. A ministry at First Christian Church in Harriman, Tennessee, our first car, our own home, our own bank account, our first mortgage and our first credit card. But that haunting refrain came once again. "Hold on to your fork." What could be better? In a few years, here came a little boy to bless our home, then a few years later, another one.
"After eight years in Harriman, we moved to West Frankfort, Illinois, where Evelyn suffered her first heart attack and we realized that she would not enjoy a normal life span.
"We faced many questions and uncertainties but the rewards of faith are many. When we moved to Ironton, Ohio, in 1961, we had no idea of the adventure before us, nor how many times we would assure each other that the best was yet to be.
"In 1963, local doctors referred Evelyn to the Cleveland Clinic where, after a series of tests and evaluations, they performed open-heart surgery and implanted a metal heart valve. She was one of the early pioneers in this type of heart surgery. A young lady from our church took Evelyn's care as her ministry and became a member of the family. Doctors advised us that Evelyn might live three to five years, so we tried to live each day to the fullest and to make as many priceless memories as possible. At Christmas, Evelyn gave me a watch chain with a miniature heart valve and a charm that read "Stick with me, the best is yet to be."
"Three years passed. Then five years. Then ten and twelve and fifteen - far longer than the doctors had anticipated. Our children married and three granddaughters blessed us. Evelyn's ministry literally reached hundreds who sought strength, advice, and comfort from one who had walked in their shoes for so many years. Her courage and infectious laughter were ever present and practiced, as was her deep, radiant and unwavering faith.
"Then, in 1977, the fork wavered. While attending the North American Christian Convention in Cincinnati, Evelyn suffered an embolism and, in just 48 hours, lost her eyesight. The following three years were a time of great adjustment.
"The Northeast Church of Christ in Columbus extended us an invitation in the fall of 1978. In December of 1980, doctors advised that they felt that the heart valve, which had done its job for more than seventeen years, should be replaced and that an artificial aorta valve needed to be implanted.
"On March 1, 1981, Evelyn entered the hospital for surgery to be performed the following day. Early in the morning of March 5, doctors brought the news we dreaded - "We're sorry, but we did all we could." - and the fork not only slipped, it broke. After so many years, it just wasn't possible that this beautiful one was gone. The arrangements were made and services were held at the Northeast Church of Christ in Columbus. We then held services of praise, victory, thanksgiving, and love at the beautiful Central Christian Church in Ironton, where she had ministered with me for more than fifteen years. It was a tribute to her life and influence.
"Then came the pilgrimage to peaceful Woodland Cemetery. After graveside services, I reluctantly got into the family car to leave. As we drove away, I did what I have seen hundreds of other family members do: I turned slightly for one final glimpse. My eyes were filled with tears and my heart nearly bursting, yet I seemed to hear a familiar feminine voice whisper "Glen, the best is yet to be - it really is. Hold on to your fork."
- Glen Wheeler is the chaplain for Worthington Christian Village, author of four books and a 2001 inductee to the Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame. Adapted for print from Standard Publishing, Cincinnati, Ohio. Published with permission.
Outside of e-mail circles, Thomas' version is never represented as a true story. Instead, it is presented as a parable meant to inspire thought and warm the heart. Wheeler's version is presented as the author's true experiences. Perhaps Thomas had read Wheeler's tale and decided to put his own twist on it to make the concept of "keeping your fork" much more visual. Or, maybe the two men received their inspiration from the same source. It's hard to tell.
References: Snopes.com, Keep Your Fork (original)