My Grandpa

On one particular Saturday, Grandpa was offended by the way the “young minister” giggled and snorted about the myth of Santa Claus. To Grandpa’s way of thinking, such shenanigans were not becoming a minister of God.

 

It’s funny how the mind works. I had a call yesterday from my cousin in Florida (missed the call, have to call him back) and got to thinking about the space shuttle. The space shuttle set me thinking about the Apollo shots, and that took me to my grandpa, who was pretty sure those shots never took place.

(Sitting in his little house in Arkansas, with only a radio to listen to (he suspected that television was somehow the tool of the devil), Grandpa never saw the massive Atlas rockets lifting off from Canaveral. He heard the words, but anybody can speak words and say anything they want. To Grandpa, it was all a massive hoax, probably perpetrated by Northerners for reasons not quite clear (“Abraham Lincoln did this country more harm than any man ever did,” he told me once).

Grandpa refused to accept Daylight Savings Time. When the rest of the country turned their clocks back, Grandpa did not. (“They only do it so that doctors and lawyers can get out and play golf after work!”))

And then I thought about religion, because Grandpa was big on the Bible. In fact, I remembered that it wasn’t really my mother who went looking for a cult, it was her father -Grandpa -who found Armstrong.

I never knew Grandpa well. We left Arkansas when I was two and aside from half a dozen visits over the next twenty years, I rarely saw any of my grandparents. In 1973, when he was old and ailing, my mother packed him up and moved him to live with us in California. I finally got to know him a little in the last few years of his life.

Grandpa was a colorful character. Raised deep in the Ozarks (Hector, Arkansas), he had no formal education to speak of yet was considered something of a scholar by the mountain folk in his community. Primarily a farmer, at different times he also served as postmaster, forest ranger, and occasional preacher. He was a crack shot with a rifle, but missed World War I because he was blind in one eye (and was too old for WWII).

During World War II, he lived in Arizona and worked for the military as a guard for German prisoners of war. He felt sorry for them, most of whom were mere boys, and reportedly was also much loved by the Germans, who called him Papa (or whatever the German equivalent is).

Grandpa was born around 1888 and was just a little older than Herbert Armstrong. Grandpa loved the Bible, and was particularly addicted to prophecy. He could quote acres of scripture from memory, and did so when he could find anyone who would listen. (I found that very irritating because he acted like I had never heard it before, but I had grown up in WCG. I had heard it all before, and I hated prophecy.) When my mother was growing up, people would come to the house to ask Grandpa Bible questions, or sit on his front porch while he expounded from the book.

I’m not exactly sure when Grandpa first heard Armstrong on the radio, but I think it was during WWII. That’s when Mom first heard him, and I don’t think she liked him much. His attack-dog style of criticizing other religions offended her, but she still listened.

Grandpa remained in Arizona until the 1960s, when he finally returned to Arkansas. I remember visiting him in Arizona when I was about five. Late at night he would turn on the radio and for the first time I heard the shrill, half-hysterical voice of the prophet of doom, and the introduction of the man called “Her-buuurt Double-You Arrrrrrm-strong, Post Office Box Wunnuh Wunnuh Wunnuh, Passa Deena, California”. I didn’t like the way the man sounded. He scared me (and this was only 1953!). But it was every night for as long as we were there. When Grandpa wanted to listen, everybody had to listen. You couldn’t escape it.

Over the next decade, Mom got lots of letters from Grandpa. But he pissed her off – instead of writing news about his life he wrote pages and pages of prophecy. He would often start out by saying, “I got a letter from Herbert today…” (he apparently thought Herbert’s letters were personal correspondence). At some point he would add, “Herbert Armstrong is the only man on the face of the earth who is preaching the truth!”

Mom finally got so sick of it all that she set out to “prove Armstrong wrong” – and that’s when she walked straight into the minefield. She made one fundamental mistake – she read Armstrong’s writings, which were designed to entrap the unwary. By using his own material to try to disprove him, she instead “proved” him, and swallowed the hook. The result was the rest of her life (and most of mine) in the cult.

Mom was baptized in 1961. Grandpa was still in Arizona then, but he had never joined the church. He listened to Herbert on the radio, read the “personal” letters Herbert sent to him, and wrote sermons to my mom. Still annoyed, my mom finally demanded to know why Grandpa hadn’t joined the church!

So Grandpa did.

For awhile.

Lucky for Grandpa, two obstacles stood in his way. The first was his own pride of scholarship – nobody (not even Herbert) knew the Bible better than Grandpa – and the ministers they sent to Arizona were all “young pups”. On one particular Saturday, Grandpa was offended by the way the “young minister” giggled and snorted about the myth of Santa Claus. To Grandpa’s way of thinking, such shenanigans were not becoming a minister of God.

There were other problems, too. One was Grandpa’s appetite for snuff. Though he acknowledged that it was a “dirty little habit”, he simply did not classify it as a sin, and thus never gave it up. Another problem arose when Grandpa insisted on calling the minister by his first name. The minister was Carl McNair, but to Grandpa he was just Carl. McNair at some point went into a rage (according to Grandpa) and disfellowshipped him. “God is going to CRUSH YOU!!!” McNair screamed at him. Well, God never did. But Grandpa was out of the church. He lasted about a year.

Lucky Grandpa.

But to his dying day, Grandpa insisted that Herbert Armstrong was “the only man on the face of the earth who is preaching the truth”.

Unwittingly, Grandpa did me a great deal of harm by uncovering Herbert Armstrong and preaching him to the rest of us. Yet at the very end, he did me a huge favor…

When Mom brought him to California to live with us, Grandpa’s second wife (his first died in 1956) had already suffered several strokes and was mentally incapacitated. After a few months, it became necessary to place her in a convalescent hospital. I was going to programming school at the time and working nights at a dam construction site. I got out of class at three and had to be at work by six. That gave me three hours in between, and every day (without fail) I had to drive Grandpa out to the convalescent hospital to see his wife. I waited for him and drove him home, then headed off to work.

That was 1973. While I waited for Grandpa to finish his visit, I usually checked out the nurses and aides who worked there. One in particular was a stunning young brunette from Minnesota who I was afraid to talk to. But Grandpa wasn’t. He caught her on the scales one afternoon and boldly asked her how much she weighed. Amused, she told him – 116 pounds. He told me on the way home, then later announced that he had a “secret”. According to him, two of the girls at the hospital thought I was cute (later investigation proved this to be false, but at the time I didn’t know any better). One of them was the Minnesota brunette (God, was she hot!)

So… emboldened by this pronouncement, I screwed up my courage and asked her out. We got married three months later.

And that was 28 years ago.

She’s 50 now, and she’s still hot!

Thanks, Grandpa.


Blast from the past article by John B

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.