Monday, February 11, 2013

Late Night Conversation With My Dad

Last night at the hospital with Dad, he was especially talkative. He began telling me stories from his life, ones I had never heard before. There was a crazy one from his days in the navy during World War II. On the day that Japan surrendered, bottles of booze materialized out of thin air. Since Dad had famously never taken a drink in his life, a couple of guys decided to force him to by cornering him and pouring it down his throat. When Dad realized what was up, he grabbed the bottle out of the guy’s hand and cracked him over the head with it leaving only the jagged- edged neck in his hand. The other guy backed off as his buddy lay out cold in a puddle of bourbon. Dad even remembered that his would be attacker was from Waycross, Georgia. This from a man who can’t remember what he had for lunch, but can recall the home town of a man he hasn’t seen in 68 years.

 Then he told me in great detail the story of Charlie Newton. When Dad became the pastor of Nicholsville Baptist church in Nicholsville, Alabama in 1965, he was warned by the members not to bother visiting Charlie. He was something of a celebrity in that small farming town because he was so violently hostile to the church in general and preachers in particular. Of course, Dad determined to visit him first before anyone else. Dad went through all the details of the long and tortuous relationship that he gradually built with Charlie, all the nastiness that he endured from this wretched and profane man. When Dad got to the part where Charlie knelt on the kitchen floor of our trailer early one Sunday morning to become a Christian, my father broke down in tears. “When the people saw Charlie Newton walk into church, in his right mind, and a bible in his hand, they just couldn’t believe it.” Dad said through his tears. “ I never can get through talking about Charlie without crying son, even after 48 years.”

 Later, I asked him to look back on his amazing 88 years and try to pick his favorite year. “I’ve had lots of favorites,” he said with a smile. Then he talked about the year he was saved, the years he was going to University of Richmond full time, while working midnight to 7 every night, and the years in Seminary where he spent 5 nights a week loading freight as a teamster, while pastoring a church in Alabama, and taking a full load of classes at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as a 41 year old man with four kids. “Dad,” I said, “Those were the hardest years of your life, how on earth can they be your favorites?” He looked at me with an easy smile on his face. “It’s not a hard year when you’re in the center of God’s will.”

 After talking for the better part of an hour, he was tired and fell silent for awhile. Then out of nowhere he says, “You know, your Mother didn’t marry a preacher. She had a preacher thrust upon her. She had to learn to be a preacher’s wife, but she ended up being the best preacher’s wife in the whole world.” Once again he began to cry.
I’ve written this down because I don’t ever want to forget these conversations. My dad is laying down a marker for me and my children and their children to aim for. Not sure any of us will hit it, but even if we miss and just end up in the neighborhood, we will have lived well.