The sun is shining, the breeze slight, birds are singing and flowers swaying. Today is a rare day that beckons, come outside! Come, walk and chase. Come, see and sit and breathe. A perfect day full of promise. A day like this on a Saturday back in my childhood home would have us hoping Dad would notice it and call out to us in the middle of our weekly chores, “Let’s get going!” Weeding tools would be put away. Irons and vacuum cleaners turned off. Laundry could wait. Grabbing tennis shoes in hand, we’d race in bare feet to the station wagon passing giggles of glee between us like rays of light.
With Father’s Day having recently passed, I have been thinking of things that remind me of my dad. I remember his sturdy suitcase covered with labels from around the world. He wore dress suits and starched white shirts and neckties. His piercing eyes peered out from wire rimmed glasses under a shock of dark red hair slicked back with Brylcreem that revealed a receding hairline. On his feet he’d wear wingtip shoes in black or brown leather, and the scent of warm and welcoming Old Spice wafted around him after he shaved.
An imposing oak desk anchored his home office, along with a floor to ceiling library of dark barrister bookcases full of Grandpa’s book collection and commentaries to study for preaching sermons. Dad did a lot of writing and preaching. He preached in Tagalog and Ilokano overseas. He also had a habit of praying loudly in his office very early in the morning at home. Lessons in loving the Lord and reading the Bible were the steady cadence of my father.
His shoe shine kit is also memorable. When I think of his well-worn wingtip shoes in black or brown leather, they gleamed with a shine thanks to the labors of us kids well trained in the contents of the heirloom shoe shine kit. It once belonged to his father and was constructed of sturdy enough wood to travel back and forth overseas many times. It had metal cans of brown and black shoe polish, whose sharp turpentine aroma and quick staining power challenged our young powers of focus and diligence. Soft rags and sets of stiff brushes used for cleaning and shining on up to the softest brushes and cloths designed to produce the best shine rounded out the kit. We were all taught to shine his shoes. If he had to ask one of us, a nickel per shoe was earned. If we remembered to ask him, a whole quarter was paid for the two shoes. Shined shoes had to pass inspection before nickels or quarters were paid.
My father was a man of inspections. Smooth bedspreads, crisp table settings and our personal appearance were frequently noted. Growing up in boarding school and military training taught him to set high standards and equip himself for every task. And he was set on equipping us in similar ways.
Then there were Dad’s surprises which filled us with delight. On Saturdays in the middle of doing chores, if the day and attitudes were just right as they are today, we might anticipate the declaration, “Let’s get going!” These adventuring words took us on unfamiliar roads to a picnic by the ocean or to a place we’d never seen, on a hike in a state park or a long walk by a rolling river. “Outdoors Dad” wore his oldest pair of dress shoes ever gleaming with shine. Oh, what earnings could be counted on later with the gauntlet of getting the mud off and the shine back on those shoes. Then he’d roll up his shirt sleeves and loosen his tie. This soldier in the Lord’s army was always in some form of recognizable uniform.
“Shouldn’t we pack a lunch?” Mom would ask. In earlier times with a younger, smaller family, Dad would answer, “No need, we’ll buy mangoes in the market!” Dad used to answer this way in the islands. Once we moved back stateside, Mom had us filling thermoses and making a picnic basket full of fruit, sandwiches and cookies before we went anywhere. We grabbed old blankets for our picnic and headed for the station wagon. There was also a separate bag of sandwiches just for Dad who’d be doing all the driving at breakneck speed and asking for a sandwich five minutes into the trip and every hour and a half thereafter by our calculations. Dad wasn’t the only one keeping track of things.
Dad’s speeding on highways and back roads greatly amused us back then. The officer who walked up to our pulled over, waiting station wagon stuffed with wide-eyed children would ask, “Do you know how fast you were going, sir?” Dad would smile and hand over his driver’s license. “Reverend?” The officer’s eyebrows would arc in surprise. I saw Dad talk to many police officers but he never received a ticket. Praise God we were never in an accident. Once the warning to “Never speed again,” was issued, Dad would ask if he may pray for the officer or answer any questions about faith.
Sometimes a quick prayer was prayed right then. Sometimes he’d go back to the officer’s car and pray and talk in the car alongside the policeman. We could see through the patrol car’s windshield that Dad was pointing to verses in his Bible. We would try to guess if he was reciting a verse from Ephesians or Romans or was he to John 3:16 yet? Dad liked to ask an officer if the local jail had any occupants who needed visiting. If it did, we’d all follow the policeman’s car to the jail and go visit a very surprised occupant. Dad enjoyed telling the family joke, “Have you met my family? They’ve all spent a lot of time in jail.
So when it came time for driver’s ed, I was told that even though Daddy drove like a demon, I had better drive right and observe all the rules of the road. Especially the speed limit; as he was not paying for my tickets. However, he promised to visit me in jail if I disobeyed because he always visited prisoners in jail. “C’mon Dad, tell me why you get away with speeding? No one gets away with that,” He told us maybe if we were World War Two veterans who became missionaries, and then pastored a local church; some understanding and grace may yet fall upon us. Or maybe we should work on our missing charms and stop asking pesky questions.
One day, returning home from a beautiful adventure at Turkey Run Park, most of us were dozing as we neared our city’s limits. On the edge of our Indiana town, as shadows lengthened, a group of four young African American musicians stood by their broken-down van with their thumbs in the air hoping for a ride into town. It was the mid-seventies, during years of heightened racial unrest in our town. Locally, anger on both sides had been stirred up in an “eye for an eye” unwinnable contest. Cars heading into town were steering clear of this group. Not Dad. He pulled over and backed up to get closer to them.
Our father who hitchhiked from a ranch where he worked in Colorado to his parents’ home in Indianapolis during summers as a teen, always stopped for hitchhikers anytime of the day or night. We were used to it and nodded obediently whenever he picked up a hitchhiker warning us again to never hitchhike and not to ever pick up hitchhikers ourselves as “the times they are a changing’.” Dad jumped out and shortly returned with the order to make room for our passengers. Those of us in the middle seat jumped into the back and the band took over the middle seat holding onto their guitars and horn cases, while mic cords and all sorts of sound equipment was squeezed into every available space in the car.
We drove to a part of town we’d not be wanted in and caused quite a spectacle with our family parading cords, microphones and small amps into the venue helping them set up for the concert. Then before we left, Dad, the band and all of us, held hands in a circle while Dad prayed for their concert, their families, safety on the roads and most of all, their souls. He gave them Bibles from the ever-present Gideon Bible box in our car, also his business card so they could contact him anytime.
He blessed them by reading Psalm 121.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Dad finished reading and we were invited to the band’s concert that night, but we didn’t get to stay. Dad invited the band to church the next morning, but they would be driving to St. Louis by morning. Then one of the band members started singing the old familiar hymn,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
Together we sang all the verses we could remember and said goodbye. The drive home was filled with surprise that our now-favorite hitchhiking band knew the words to the serious church hymn, “Rock of Ages.”
As we go out into the highways and hedges this summer, I wouldn’t recommend speeding like my Dad because no one except Dad gets stopped and gets away like he did. The hitchhiker part of the story, God bless and protect anyone brave enough to help that person in need. I still obey Dad and don’t hitch or pick up hitchhikers. Maybe if I know you, I’ll pick you up if you don’t look too scary! What we can all learn from Dad is to be generous in helping and be willing to pray and invite everyone to saving grace. Our job is to love, and this is the perfect day. Let’s get going!
And the lord said to the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. Luke 14:23 (KJV)