He was born to a family with sparse resources, the eldest (and only son) of six children. His earliest memory is of riding atop the burlap sack his mom would fill with cotton during picking season. He didn’t own a pair of shoes. Both his parents were limited on education, but had an ample supply of grit. They were simple in means, but grand in hospitality. For a time they lived in an abandoned gas station. People sometimes stopped by looking for gas or shelter from a hurricane, and found a cup of coffee and a place to wait out the storm.
I don’t know what his ambitions were as a young child. In his experience higher education meant making it to 9th grade. The only world he knew was hard work for enough pay to put food on the table. He traveled on a train once – to get from the panhandle to east Texas. Did this give him a sense of adventure? A sense of distant lands? I don’t really know.
What I do know is that his family loved music. And when his parents saw the Light and became faithful members of the local Baptist church, they learned the harmonies of the gospel songs and hymns. The family sang all the parts with all their hearts. So it only stands to reason that this country boy would take advantage of the school music program. He learned to play a second-hand tuba provided by the school. He joined the choir. He became the tenor in a male quartet. And that is where the magic happened.
Somewhere back in 1910, 30 years or so before our story, University of Texas started their University Interscholastic League: a program to “provide educational extracurricular academic, athletic, and music contests” (http://www.uiltexas.org). So our boy found himself at a UIL competition in which his quartet was asked to sing while the judges tallied scores. After they performed, he and his buddies were pulled aside and offered a full scholarship to Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Tx. There was a small problem though. All the other boys were seniors, and he was only a junior. So this boy who had never spent one second of his life thinking past a high school education enrolled in summer school, graduated early, and made his way to Abilene.
This scholarship: It wasn’t just a means for a college education. It was a portal to a life he had never dreamed of. It was at Hardin Simmons that he met his beautiful bride, a girl from New Mexico who had a call to foreign missions. They married young and were soon expecting their first child. So the young woman dropped out of college to care for the child. She put her sewing skills to good use making doll clothes to sell, and she cleaned houses. He worked in the county health lab cleaning test tubes until he was called to be a youth leader and music minister at a local church.
Once he got his degree, they moved to Fort Worth where he started graduate work at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He worked at a nearby dairy cleaning equipment. He had to wait until the dairy had shut down for the day before he started. He often worked till the wee hours of the morning, only to go home and study Greek before going to class. Two more children were born.
Once he graduated from seminary he served in home missions in both Arkansas and West Virginia. And a fourth child was born. It was in West Virginia that his bride finally saw her calling coming to reality. They applied and were accepted to the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board to serve in Tanzania, East Africa (where a few years later the fifth child was born).After almost 15 years overseas, they returned to Texas and helped plant Oakwood Baptist Church in New Braunfels.
This man is my father. In these latter days of his life, he and I have both marveled at his story. How could this young country boy ever know what possibilities would be opened up by a clear voice and a strong musical ear? How could he have foreseen the path on which he was set for the rest of his life? While he always sang, his preaching and teaching became the priority. He remains one of my favorite preachers.
Daddy has been fighting a battle against Parkinson’s for over 20 years now. In the past few years this affliction has taken much of his voice. He can’t preach or teach. He can still sing, but not with the clarity that caused his voice to be heard above the Sunday congregation. On the particularly hard days, he laments that his life has been stolen by the malady that wracks his body. But I don’t see it that way.
This gift of voice, this love of music, he hasn’t lost it. It hasn’t been stolen. He has given it away – to his children and his grand children and his great grand children. He has passed on to his descendants the ear to hear both melody and harmony. We sing, we play instruments, we dance. We have appreciation for a broad spectrum of musical styles from various and sundry countries around the world. We value the beauty of a good chord. And we will keep the magic going for generations to come.
I can’t imagine the sadness I would feel if I began to lose my own vocal capacities. I know it must be very hard to see these things slipping away. Parkinson’s is not a kind companion with whom to travel the road to the River Jordan. But one day that river will be crossed, and my daddy will be given a new body. I love to think his of clear tenor ringing out above the heavenly congregation. I imagine when that happens, all that has been lost on this earth will seem quite insignificant. After all, the most beautiful voice this world has to offer is like an old, out of tune spinet when compared to what is to come.
“When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power to save:
I’ll sing Thy power to save,
I’ll sing Thy power to save;
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power to save.”