Hermits Rock

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What my grandfather said

In spite of all the times I sat among the congregated when my grandfather preached, I remember little of what he said. Sermons I heard preached from Alaska to Virginia to Arkansas: some Sundays, when I was in high school, I would go with him to a town northeast of Mountain View where, dressed in his customary three-piece suit and secondhand tie bought from New Hope Industries or the Goodwill store, he preached a series I cannot remember. I know how my grandfather thought about politics and religion from his books; I knew Papa from my relationship to him. That relationship was at least three fourths about my growing up and learning not to be embarassed by his bad handwriting on my notes for school or wondering about his eccentricities. He ate breakfast, a bowl of cereal with sliced-up banana, with a newspaper or a Congressional Record at hand, which he would cut articles from as slowly and carefully as he cut the banana. Once I watched him cut out a photo of a bathing-suited Jane Fonda from the USA Weekend. I asked him, “Why?”—after all, he rarely cut photos. He explained the photo was obscene, and only recently did I realize that to him, more than the bathing suit, it might have been Fonda herself that was obscene.

I remember what he said in a sanctuary only once. It was a Sunday evening. He had spent the previous two years researching both his parents’ genealogies: they were killed in 1927 when he was 11 years old, hit by the Dixie Flyer Dixie Flyer, 1957 at a crossing on Campbelltown road in Atlanta. They were on their way to Bible class. He had researched his genealogy for two years, and that Sunday morning we had driven up Skyline Drive in Virginia to a family reunion populated by the descendants of his maternal grandparents. That day he sat around a picnic table and talked about family history, because this was a family he had lost when his parents died—the connections that might have survived through his mother had she not disappeared in an instant.

However, to get to the reunion, we had to skip church services that morning. So that night, he and my grandmother walked forward to take communion. Beforehand he stood to say, “Today was the first day in fifty years that I missed the Lord’s Supper on Sunday morning.” As I remember his speaking, he wasn’t lamenting the breaking of a streak—he was too satisfied with the reunion to be upset—rather, he was marking it with the significance it deserved. His faithfulness to worship and to communion with the church was a direct expression of his faithfulness to God.



It’s a rare blessing indeed to have had a grandfather who left behind his thoughts in books.

It’s frustrating too, though, in that so much of his writing was doctrinal in nature and therefore not very self-revelatory. He could exhaust the logical fallacies behind an argument and list proof texts to infinity, but that level of argument always formed the bottom line. On top of it, his writing is often a tiresome flogging, sometimes beyond the point of death. I wonder that he wasn’t like the serf in Crime and Punishment whose rage drives him to beat his horse to death: was he so sure of Truth that he couldn’t see that what he did might be cruel, or unnecessary? Are musical instruments that evil? Will another hermeneutic (e.g. narrative) really throw the cross out with the bathwater? And how bad can the Seventh Day Adventists really be?

That’s the man I read when I read his books. That’s not the gentle, eccentric man I knew when I was growing up.

oh let me tell you about the seventh day adventists!...

this is a lovely post.

though, it seems that today i am in a very agreeable mood

You’re practically gushing, in fact. Must be a good writing day…

Yeah, I get that. The one piece of writing I recovered from my grandfather (a CoC minister) was several pages of correspondance he kept with a local pentecostal minister. I found it wedged into a book from his personal library. They were debating a few points on the holy spirit. The only personal traits of his that were apparent were his rigorous logical faculties, and the characteristic respect he showed even to people he thought gravely mistaken.

My grandfather was a CofC minister, too. Although not much of a writer (as far as I know), his persona in the pulpit was much more fiery than his usually light-hearted way of being. I remember him studying hard on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and I remember a fair bit of fear-mongering and rigidity—both communicated in a sort-of loving way—on Sunday mornings and nights.

Was Hermit Dave’s grandfather not a CofC minister, and was that why he got run off this website?

So far as I ever knew, Hermit Dave always blew in with the West wind for a brief period of time, sang a few songs (“Tu’pence, tu’pence, tu’pence a bag,” he was fond of, I remember) and then flew away when the winds shifted. Had he ever a grandfather? That, like Dave, will ever be a mystery.

Do any of you find your personal roots run through your grandparents as much or more than your parents? I am always amazed at how little I identify with either of my parents (while at the same time I am very similar to both of them in very disturbing ways).

That’s a fascinating question, for a number of reasons, but in particular for me, in that as I was reading about your grandfathers in the comments above, I was struck by how much they sounded like my father: often kinder in person than on paper, fiercely attached to a particular kind of logic, etc. But then my father was born in 1923, which probably makes him closer in age to your grandparents than your parents. (He was, in fact, born a few months before my maternal grandparents—1923 was a bumper year for this family.)

In some odd way, I’ve learned more about my father (who died in 1981) from my grandmother than I have from my mother. As often as not, I become lost in the generations.

As kids we always knew we were getting near the Nonni’s home when we passed Camel Rock. If there is one place on earth that I consider home, a place that in my imagination, Camel Rock Postcard despite my peripatetic youth, keeps me rooted, it has to be my grandparent’s house (+35° 54’ 28.15”, -106° 1’ 15.89”). The building sat on a north / south axis and the great room opened on to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east and the Barrancas del Diablo to the west.

I don’t remember if it was the summer of my 15th year, when the entire family gathered from the four corners of the globe to drive up the Al-Can highway to have our family reunion in Alaska, some winter break from college, or the summer between my junior and senior year of college when my grandfather hired me to work around the place: mainly fixing fences, digging trenches, linseed-oiling the weathered wood of the adobe style home. It was more an effort to ground me; upon deciding that I wouldn’t go into foreign missions, I sort of listlessly ambled (for nothing more than a year) looking at clouds. But it was late and we were curving through the Sangre de Cristoes, returning from a trip somewhere. Part of me says returning from Taos or Las Truchas or some such place where we’d gone for a Sunday service some bleak and cold mid-winter; another part swears that we were on our way back from a day-trip to see Chaco Canyon the summer I built a bocce court out back (not, however, according to specs). Still, we were in their Dodge and Nonna was fast asleep. In the darkness, he told me two things that shocked me: 1) were it not for the women he’d married, he’d be much more theologically liberal than he was; 2) he thought that the Pentacostals (celebrating their 100th year this year), despite other errors, got the whole Holy Spirit thing right and we got it wrong.

Clearly, that started as something more than a comment…

true, true… but i didn’t want to supplant your post… and i didn’t really know where i was going with it…

ecumenism? the strangeness of not knowing part of my dad since i don’t know his mother? at one point i had a whole digression about a certain preacher training school, which for the better part of 20 years my grandfather railed against…

Didn’t want to supplant? But that’s what blogging’s for! Supplantation!

L, your dad is definitely contemporary with my (our) grandparents—although none of ours fraternized with Allen Gisnsberg…

I’m fascinated by the things one learns from people in odd moments, things that, had that particular set of time and place and mood not occurred, one might never have learned at all. Living with my grandmother for two and a half years was not always a joy, but there were many moments, and I learned a great deal—though nothing with theological implications (my deeply agnostic grandmother is disappointed that children of hers grew up to be church-goers!), and nothing with the sensory detail of J’s or G’s car trips.

This is a lovely post, and a lovely stream of comments.