Life is a mosaic…

My life is a mosaic of other people, mostly my ancestors. Both sets of my grandparents joined their lives together and produced my parents. My parents joined their lives together and I’m the incarnation of their love. The same thing happened with the grandparents and parents of my wife. When Carol and I joined our lives together and had each of our children, we carried on the design of perpetuity which God intended from creation. Every one of us is the product of the choices of other people, whether we like it or not. Each human being has inherited the DNA, build, appearance, metabolism, traits, physical characteristics, etc., from our ancestors. We are also the product of the personalities, educations, beliefs, morals, ethics, temperaments, and etc., of those who are our God-given influencers, usually our parents, who in turn are the product of their parents (our grandparents). When you look at me, you think you see me. The reality is that you are also seeing my parents, to a lesser degree you are observing my grandparents, and to an even lesser degree you are observing some things from my great-grandparents. The person that I am is a conglomerate of at least 6 other people, with another 8 thrown in for good measure. This number is only taking into consideration those of whom I am the biological descendent. There are hundreds of other people, to whom I have no biological connection, who have contributed some piece to the mosaic of my portrait. It should go without saying that the greatest influence on my life has been the God-head and His revealed and written Word, but that isn’t the thrust of this post.

Excursus: if you want a little bit of a philosophical exercise, consider how the facts of ancestry and progeny are ignored in the unfortunate assertions of individualism in the western culture.

I was blessed with exceptional grandparents on both my paternal and maternal sides. None of them were perfect, but they were perfect for me. This past Sunday was Grandparents Day and so I’ve spent some time thinking about my grandparents and their influence on me. I look at some of the traits that I have and I can trace them not just to my parents, but in many cases even to my grandparents. I can see physical resemblances not only in me, but often even in my children. One of my sons reminds me of my Grandpa Tate when he smiles (ironically, he is one of my sons which has an aversion to having his picture taken and the one which we usually have to remind to smile in pictures. I wonder if he realized how special that smile was to me if he would share it a little more often?).

Sidney Clyde Tate: known as “Clyde” to every one who knew him. He grew up in the Depression, to my knowledge, he never borrowed a dollar in his life and I remember him telling me that he never had a credit card. He built his house with his own hands and with lumber from trees that he had taken from his own property to the sawmill. He purchased vehicles, tractors, and animals with cash. He was a farmer of crops and animals. His main crop was tobacco until his later middle aged years when he went to work for the post office as a mail carrier. But he never gave up his farm. He continued with enough corn and hay to feed his few head of livestock. He and grandma had a good sized vegetable garden, but he loved to grow as many watermelons as possible on a couple of acres of his North Carolina side-hill farm. He grew not only the standard red watermelon, but he also specialized in the yellow meat, moon and stars watermelon. He took great delight in filling the bed of his truck, or the trunk of his car with melons and taking them all over his community and gifting them to friends and strangers. He laughed hysterically about a woman who told him the melon that he gave her was bad when she cut into it because it was yellow inside. Grandpa loved honey and kept a couple of bee hives. I remember several times when we happened to be at the farm when he was going to “rob the bees.” He’d start up his smoke pot, put on his netting, smoke and then open the hives, and bring plastic trays with the comb and honey to the house where it would be put in jars. Grandpa loved to have a mouthful of honey and comb. Ice cream was a staple for Grandpa; he said that he seldom got it as a boy and decided that when he was an adult he would have all he wanted. He and grandma had 2 freezers beside the one on the fridge in the kitchen and those freezers usually held a multiplicity of half gallon boxes of varied ice creams. He would take a mason jar, fill it with ice cream, then put a spoon full or two of sugar on it, then fill it with Vitamin D milk, stir it and then enjoy it (and he still lived to be 86). After Grandma would serve him a plateful of food at a regular meal, he would eat a piece of pie or two, he would often break the crust off all the way around the pie and eat it while sitting at the table. He hated onions. He had either scrambled eggs, sausage and toast, or fried eggs, bacon and can biscuits every morning for breakfast with his coffee. He loved Arby’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Grandpa had new and old tractors. He had several old “Poppin’ Johnnies” with hand clutches and without power steering that he let his grandkids (me and others) drive. Grandpa seldom got mad at us (that he showed), but he did at me one year when I was about 10 or 11 years old and put diesel in his JD318 lawn tractor (the issue was that he told me to wait on him to fill it up – and I went ahead and filled it myself with the wrong fuel). Grandpa was not organized with his tools. He had a couple of old out buildings with tools scattered everywhere, and he could usually find what he needed because he remembered where he used it last. I’ll always remember his grip and his hands. His fingers were thick and shaped with seemingly permanent curves. I don’t remember if he ever wore work gloves. He seldom used an actual hitch pin for his implements, usually it was a good sized bolt with a nut screwed on finger tight (but so tight that all the rest of us had to use wrenches to get it off). He could throw hay bales like no one I’ve known before. He cut and split his own wood for years before ever getting a hydraulic splitter. I remember trying for minutes to get a chunk of wood to split, he would walk by and say “let me see that axe.” He’d take one swing at it and that piece of wood would “pop” and split with the halves flying a foot or two in either direction. He would smile, hand me the axe back and say “see, that’s how you do it.”

Grandpa was strong. He got caught in the PTO of a tractor when he was in his middle 40’s. He grabbed the fenders of the tractor and muttered “help me, Lord!” as the PTO literally popped the seams on his bibbed overalls and ripped them off of him (he later laughed and related to me that the worst part was having to drive the tractor home with no pants). He was very opinionated about politics and sports (against sports). But he still had an amazingly tender heart. I remember him praying in his very humble self. He had left his hat at the door and his combover would hang down over his bowed forehead. At every meal, he thanked the Lord for his salvation and for the plenty that he had when there were people around the world who were going hungry – usually he would finish praying with traces of tears in the corners of his eyes. When one of the grandkids (especially granddaughters) would get hurt, he would pick them up in his strong arms and take them to the house in his hunched half walk half run to the house to see momma.

Concerning politics, Grandpa was a conservative republican, but a couple of his best friends were not. Grandpa would go have breakfast a couple of days a week at the little cafe called “The Old Richmond Grill.” While sitting in the same booth, these men would argue in very strong language (sometimes course) their positions on the various issues of the day. Yet after about a half an hour and they had vented a little bit, they would laugh at and with each other, often taking turns buying breakfast for each other, walk to the parking lot, slap each other on the back and go on about their day as loyal friends. Grandpa was also pretty good at arguing religion with some of those same men; they didn’t argue the finer theological points, but the practical outworking of their belief systems.

Grandpa Tate loved people. As I’ve thought of my 4 grandparents these last couple of days, I think he was the only one who was demonstrably an extrovert. He found energy in the presence of other people. He invited elementary public school classes to his farm where he would saddle the ponies or harness them to the wagons and give scores of kids rides each fall. He drove a church bus for decades picking up kids to bring them to church. He worked as an election judge for years. He enjoyed going to livestock auctions as much to see the people as to see or purchase animals. Grandpa would take a half dozen grandkids to the little country store to buy candy (and to chat with whoever else was there). I don’t think he knew a stranger.

I’m half extrovert and half introvert. However, though I may not be energized in the same way that my grandpa was by people, my natural love for people, the telling of stories, the chatting and going to visit people – undoubtedly can be traced to my Grandpa Tate. The personality traits passed on to me through my mom and from my Grandpa have been empowered by God to be used in the vocation which I now have.

Alice Juanita Tate (Hunter): known as “Juanita” to all who knew her. Like my wife and me, she was 6 months older than Grandpa, also like us from January to July. Grandpa said he would pick out the prettiest girl he could find and decided that he would marry her. He did. However, lest you think she had no voice or choice in the matter, the story is told that she at one point broke up with a man who would later become an executive with BB&T; you would also have to know that Grandma was a person who knew her mind and could speak it. There were times I was frightened by her; but I always respected her.

Obviously, she grew up in the same Depression era that Grandpa did. Woe to the person who took too long of a shower and used too much water. Woe to the person who didn’t finish their plate of food. Woe to the person who left the door open too long and let out the heat or the a/c. She (they) were frugal, yet also generous. Grandma worked in a factory for AT&T for decades, but she also was a farm wife. She had chickens and rabbits, peacocks and guineas. Countless evenings or Saturdays she would spend in the garden hoeing her vegetables. Innumerable hours she spent canning vegetables in a hot kitchen over a wood stove. She never seemed to get in a hurry in any of her chores or tasks. She would sit on the couch in the evenings and knit or crochet. One of my most valued treasures is the multicolored afghan that she made for me for my HS graduation (my college roomates probably remember it and my wife has pretty much taken possession of it).

She wasn’t as jovial as Grandpa with the grandkids, but she loved to hold new-borns on her lap and chatter with them until they would coo back at her. She often seemed serious, but when the Andy Griffith show would come on, she would light up and she and Grandpa would tag-team narrate the story as it was happening – laughing with each other throughout the episode. She would sit on the couch each morning and read the paper; you could tell when she got to “the funnies” because her face would start to glow and she would occasionally laugh out loud as she was reading. She and Grandpa would discuss the better comics of the daily paper. She and Grandpa would sit on the front porch in the evenings and watch the cars go by.

I saw Grandma catch a 6′ black snake in her chicken coop; she carried it with tail dragging to the woods before flinging him like David’s sling as far as she could, all the while giving that thing a talking to that scared me, her admonishment was “you stay out of my chickens!” The story is told that Grandma told Grandpa one day that her dryer went bad and she needed a new one. Grandpa responded by mumbling that “women used to hang clothes out on the line!” Grandma firmly reminded him that “farmers used to shovel out stalls before they got buckets for their tractors too!” She got a new dryer.

Grandma was not an extrovert like Grandpa. She went to the grocery store once a week. She went to get her hair fixed once a week. She would go out to eat with Grandpa and another couple or two on Friday evenings, but they were select. She didn’t mingle at church the same way he did (she would stand next to him as he greeted dozens of people); she would usually stay in the house when all the school kids came over. But to those who were her family, her love was loyalty and honesty. She wouldn’t always express it verbally or physically, but there was never a question in mind that she loved us.

Like Grandpa, Grandma Tate wasn’t the most organized person. But on her couch, there was usually yarn and crochet needles, the newspaper, and always on the back of the couch and faithfully read each day, was her black Scofield Bible. She was faithful.

The memory of my Grandma Tate convicts me of wastefulness and inspires me to faithfulness. If those things are seen in me, they have been passed down to me.

George Wilbur Deatrick: Grandpa Deatrick’s life was hard from the beginning. His mother died when he was 6 years old. His father was not known to be very affectionate and remarried a woman who didn’t want Grandpa around. When he graduated from HS, he was ushered into the U.S. Army and after basic training went to Europe and fought in WWII. The things he endured in the war are almost unimaginable and haunted him until his early death the week of his 58th birthday. After the war and he and Grandma were married, their first-born son died at a week old. Grandpa had grown up as a farmer, and so his professional skills were basically laborer and mechanic. He had driven a half-track in the 631st Tank Destroyer Battalion in the war, so he was also a truck driver. None of those occupations are lucrative and so life was a constant effort. Furthermore, because of smoking, high blood pressure, and a couple of military related injuries, he was never healthy. I don’t remember seeing Grandpa Deatrick smile often, but we do have a few pictures of him kneeling down with his arms around us and a smile on his face. He died of a heart attack while Grandma was at work one day. I was only 7.

Grandpa had a phrase that he repeated to my Dad and that Dad repeated to us, “work hard and tell the truth.” Grandpa was known by those qualities. He respected those qualities. He had no respect for those who did not have or value those qualities. Though he never had much, he did value his reputation as an honest and a hard working man. He would not have traded his reputation for any amount of material wealth.

Dad told us that he sometimes wondered about Grandpa’s spiritual life until one day he walked out to the garage where Grandpa was working under his old car. He said that as he began to walk in, he heard Grandpa singing John Newton’s testimony and hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Dad said he felt like he had entered the Holy of Holies and slowly backed out to leave Grandpa alone with the Lord.

I had the least amount of time with my Grandpa Deatrick. I have a few things that belonged to him, my favorite being his army dog tag. I wear it around my own neck pretty frequently as a reminder of my heritage.

I can’t say that I haven’t had lazy times in my life, but the moment I realize that I’m not giving a good account of my time or energies, that motto from Grandpa calibrates my conscience and I’m motivated to action. The times in my life when trouble may have been avoided by being less than truthful, I remember that the expectation of my Grandpa Deatrick for those who carried the Deatrick name was to “work hard and tell the truth!” I refuse to bring shame on that name which was given to me without a black mark on it.

Ernestene Hope Deatrick (Tripp): She is the only one of my grandparents still living. She is probably also the one I know/knew best, by nature of proximity. We used to go visit her on Sunday afternoons between the morning and evening services; she would usually have a snack for all of us and we would sit and visit in her living room as a family for an hour or two.

Grandma has been a widow since 1983; she has been a widow for longer than she was married. However, she is the epitome of a “one-man-woman.” I have a note that she wrote to my Grandpa the week he was leaving for basic training when she was 14 and he was 18. After Grandma became a widow in her early 50’s, when told by someone that she could remarry, her response was, “the man hasn’t been born who could replace George.” When I was researching Grandpa’s military records and before I had his dog-tags, I told her I needed his serial number to be able to search his records – she quoted it to me instantly like most of us would our SS number. She told me that she had written that number on so many letters that she sent to Europe that she could never forget it – even 65 years later.

I corresponded with my Grandma off and on through college and my adult life. Though it has been a long time since we traded letters, it was still always a special treat to see her distinct, left-handed script show up in the mail box. After she had a stroke, her handwriting became difficult to decipher, but I still got a few more letters from her. I think my love for writing is probably inherited from her. Though she only wrote letters to her family, it was her way of expressing her life and thoughts.

Grandma Deatrick was/is one of the most candid people that I have ever known. Grandma was reserved in her humor, in fact she made famous in our family the statement, “there’s nothing worse than someone trying to be funny who doesn’t know how!” And yet, little has brought me more delight in life than seeing and hearing my Grandma get into a good “belly laugh.” Grandma Deatrick was a generous person; but everything she gave she had worked to get. She, like my Grandma Tate, worked in a factory for decades making foam rubber interior for automobiles.

Grandma Deatrick was the initiator of my library. I have over 4,000 books, but the first half a dozen or so were from her. Not many teenaged boys would pick Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible, or Lectures in Systematic Theology by Henry Thiessen, or Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, and especially not Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, but those were my birthday gifts from my Grandma Deatrick when I was teenager. Decades later as she was getting ready to leave and sell her home to move into assisted living I was able to get some of her books; though I didn’t keep her copy of Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible (we passed it on to a nephew), I was blessed to find her bookmark in a section regarding the working of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life – this was an obvious clue to what her curiosity had been the last time she had opened that book. When I was in college as a missions major while doing my undergraduate work, she often sent me missionary biographies, some new and some old. She also loved to read books on U.S. statesmen and seemed to always have a stack of various books by her rocking chair. I have her rocking chair; I don’t sit in it often since it is rather fragile, but every time I do, I think of the scores (conservatively estimating) of books that she read in that rocking chair.

Grandma is probably the initial source of music in our family; to my knowledge, none of my other grandparents were musical. Grandma had a small piano in her house, but I didn’t know she could play it. One Sunday evening when I was a teenager, the pianist for choir was unable to make it to practice. The choir director asked if anyone could play a couple of hymns that we would be singing the following Sunday – you can imagine the open mouthed amazement, but then pride, when Grandma raised her hand and volunteered. I distinctly remember her playing that evening the song “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.” My aunt Teresa, who took after and surpassed my Grandma in that area, taught me and my siblings piano lessons for several years. My Dad, though knowing little of music theory, passed on to us good tone quality and the ability to sing parts (my Grandma was a good alto).

My need to express myself through the written word, my eagerness to collect and consume books, my interest and appreciation of music, are all things that were instigated under the influence of my Grandma Deatrick. So, she forms a part of the mosaic of the portrait of who I am.

Collective Influence: Neither of my sets of Grandparents ever divorced. They all honored their marriage vows “till death do us part.” Both of my Grandfathers were strong-willed, thinking men. Both of my Grandmothers were strong-willed, thinking women. Though their marriages certainly endured disagreements and occasional conflict, there was never any thought other than that “we are one.” Both sets of Grandparents instilled this determination into their children. One of the greatest securities in my life as a youngster was the certainty that my parents were committed to a lifelong union.

Clyde and Juanita Tate produced Elsie Luann; George and Ernestene Deatrick produced Daniel Lynn. When Daniel Lynn and Elsie Luann came together to produce me, they passed on to me the influences of their parents which made them who they were. I am a mosaic made up of those characters. Grandparent’s Day has tremendous significance to me!