I was recently looking through some plastic storage bins in our attic and garage to find a high school yearbook. My lovely wife Jeannie had just made a friendship with one of our neighbors and discovered that her new friend had graduated from the same high school as I, only a couple of years prior to my graduation. We were hoping to find some photos and information to build on that new friendship.
To our surprise, I discovered something even more interesting and meaningful. In one of the bins, I saw a number of scrapbooks and thought I might have found the yearbooks, too. Instead, when I opened the bin, I saw a framed photo of my father sitting at a desk. He appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s. Right under that photo was a very old scrapbook. I opened it to find a number of other loose photos of my dad and his family. One of them dated to c.1918, when my dad was only seven years old. Several were from his years of military service in WWII. Attached to the pages of the scrapbook were letters that he had written home to his mother during that time, dated from early 1941 when he was drafted into the Army. Since I made that discovery, as I have had a few minutes here and there, I have been reading the letters. They have been a revelation into my father’s character and experience. They contain mostly personal and family concerns. The envelopes were taped into the scrapbook pages and cut open at the top so that the letters could be removed. Someone thought these valuable and worth saving—besides me, that is!
For example, I discovered that my father’s first marriage to a woman named Lillian was on December 7, 1941, one day before he turned 31. Yes, that’s right—the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor when the United States was yanked into World War II. Dad had already been drafted and had just finished his training in the Army Signal Corp (communications). By then, he had been attached to an Army Air Force battalion, and was actually hoping to be discharged soon. The Congress had just passed legislation to allow men 28 and older to request discharge. All of that changed on the day of his wedding in Tallulah, Louisiana. The letters tell how he was moved to a couple of other bases before he was shipped overseas, to New Guinea (though the letters don’t reveal this detail). Somehow, I had never learned much of this, and it has had a strange effect on me.
I find myself now much more personally connected with my father, hearing his tender voice in those mostly handwritten letters as he wrote to his “mama” back home. He always spoke to her with love and concern for her health and wellbeing. He related how homesick he had become (even to his surprise). He spoke well of various chaplains and seems to have attended Christian services quite regularly—another detail I did not know. It is going to take me some time to process all of this!
As I see it, we always live somewhere between our heritage and a sense of hope for the future. For Jesus’ followers, until He comes again (Come, Lord Jesus!), we are links in a chain, chapters in a story being written by God in human lives and their generations. “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many” (Isaiah 51:1-2, NIV). Isaiah got this: remembering our heritage, especially how God has worked in the generations before ours to bring us to faith, can be a key to our outlook on the future. “Look to the rock from which you were cut.” In my case, that includes my father. And I still haven’t found those yearbooks.