Way back in 1893, my mother’s father was born. I don’t know that we even have an idea of where he was born, or to be honest about it, what date. We have it narrowed down to either December 3rd or December 4th, but Grandpa himself wasn’t even sure of the date. Now I’m sure that if we tried hard enough, we could go back and get accurate information from somewhere, but even the cemetery where he is buried can’t tell us his birthday.
To be perfectly honest about it, Grandpa didn’t speak too much about his childhood. All I know is that he had a younger sister who died at the age of two, from tuberculosis, and that his mother, my great grandmother, died when Grandpa was approximately 12, also from tuberculosis. The family was rather poor and my great grandmother was buried in an unmarked grave in Oakwoods Cemetery on the south side of Chicago. Grandpa’s sister is there also, in another unmarked grave somewhere nearby.
Several years after the death of great Grandma, my great grandfather remarried and the newly blended family had many children – I don’t know how many, but I am led to believe that it was more than they could afford. My grandfather made the decision to move out on his own, at the age of 13, and supported himself from that time forward. On the day that he married my grandmother, it was raining hard outside and he had to stop at the drugstore to buy another bow tie, for $.10. And that’s how my maternal grandparents got their inauspicious start. My mother was their only child.
My grandfather was a complex man. Whenever he was troubled, he would go out to Oakwoods and practice the discipline of solitude. At some point, when he had enough money, he purchased headstones for his mother and sister – finally locating their grave sites in the cemetery archives. He even investigated having them moved to a larger family plot, but cemetery officials convinced him to leave well enough alone. Based on the pauper graves they occupied, there wouldn’t be anything left to move to a new site.
Mom even learned to drive a car at Oakwoods. Grandpa used to say that Mom couldn’t hurt anybody in a cemetery as she was learning to drive. And I remember many times that Grandma would take us out there to feed the ducks on the lake and to bring flowers to the family site that eventually contained 18 plots.
Grandpa had lost touch with his father and other siblings throughout the years, with the exception of one sister. He was generous with her and the rest of her family. He put numerous people through college and was the largest influence on my young life. He taught me patience, which I never learned very well – to love the family, to sacrifice for the sake of others and to embrace a strong work ethic with an unfailing belief in honesty and the highest moral standards. As a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office, an attorney and finally, as a Referee in Bankruptcy during his later years, I spent a tremendous amount of time sitting on the bench next to him as trials were brought to his court.
I heard him speak about the mistakes of his youth, the guilt over losing touch with his father and the rest of their nuclear family; and the regrets he had about the time he spent working as he missed part of my mother’s childhood. And from my earliest recollections, I was raised to spend my life taking care of other family members. After all, I was the oldest grandchild and that responsibility went with the territory. All in all, my grandfather taught me things that on reflection I probably should have learned from my father – but didn’t. Dad taught me other things – but not these foundational elements about faith and family. Grandpa was the most authentic influence of my young life.
Grandpa was also a devout believer in Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior. His favorite biblical book was “Judges” and it was from this book that verses at his funeral were read. He believed that families elders had the responsibility to set a great example for the younger generations following behind. And he was steadfast in his belief to set a great example for the rest of us. The verse for this evening comes from Judges 2:16-17, “Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the LORD’S commands.”
In this verse we are warned to listen to our elders and not turn away from God. This lesson was drummed into me from my earliest recollections. My encouragement this evening is for you to set a good example, without wavering, for the younger generations coming behind us. My prayer is that you will always maintain your focus on the Lord and that you will be remembered with the same love and fondness that I remember my grandfather each year. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…