Monthly Archives: March 2017

A Tale of Two Cabinets: Dad’s Sermons – Getting Them Organized.

Another month went by before I had time to continue my exploration of the bins. It was actually Thanksgiving night, still thoroughly stuffed from our Thanksgiving lunch, while watching college football that I returned to my effort.

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I had come to the realization over the past month that each time I thought about these sermons, the next step of my discovery process was really going to be predicated on my getting them more organized. While each bin represented one drawer from my dad’s file cabinet, the folders inside the bins were in random order as we had pulled them from the drawer. Since I didn’t have an empty file cabinet of my own to put them in, I raided my wife’s stash of Bankers Boxes.

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As I pulled handfuls of folders from the first bin, they were in somewhat numerical order. But then I would run across a number series well before or after the stack I had just pulled. Soon I had several stacks of sequences and I began to put them in the box in order, starting with number 1. It was a little like assembling a puzzle.

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I did have to pause for a moment when I found folder #1 to look through its contents. This was at least the first documented sermon my dad ever wrote. It was entitled; “Jesus, The Door” and my dad first preached it in August 1946 in Duncan, Oklahoma. This would have been while my dad was still in Seminary and thus even predated the beginning of his professional ministry. It gave me chills to hold this folder recognizing it was one my dad had written on at the young age of 19 over 70 years ago.

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Then returning to the process of getting them organized, I ran across #191 that had been given more times than the others I had seen. When I had randomly pulled folders from the bin, I hadn’t found a sermon that had been given as many as 10 times.

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I thought this was a lot until I came across #15 and saw that the dates literally ran the length of the folder. Curious, I checked my dad’s book of 32 sermons that he had typed up and sure enough it was in there, one of the ones he considered his best. In fact, it was the sermon that had the footnote at the end that said this was the sermon he gave the day he met his future wife. It sent chills through me as I realized he had written on this folder the day he met my mom, April 25, 1948, as duly noted on the folder.

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In no time I had filled the first box with sermons #1 through #190 and started on the next.

As I pulled more folders from the bin and ordered them in increasing numerical number, I began to notice that my dad had religiously (pun intended) used three-tab folders for all those years. He even strictly used them in cascading fashion (first left 1/3, then middle 1/3, finally right 1/3) so as I pulled a handful from the bin, it was easy to see if I had them in the right order, scanning across the tabs.

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Occasionally, I would run across a missing number only to be found later as I continued to empty the bins. But a few folders I never did find. It got me to thinking what might have happened to those. Maybe Dad had retrieved them to prepare for a future church service, but one that he never got to give as he died so suddenly. I can only wonder if these will ever be found.

Once I had pulled all the sermon folders from the bins and organized them in increasing numerical order, I had filled five Bankers Boxes.

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It was a pleasure to see them all organized again.

But as I pulled the last few sermons from the third bin, I found there were still some other folders left in the bin, each labeled with a single alphabetical letter.

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I opened a few of these and found that they were individual typed pages with quotes from books Dad had read that he thought could be included in future sermons. And in the top right corner in Dad’s organized fashion, there were hand notations as to when and which sermon he had incorporated the idea. I recalled from reading the 32 sermons last year that Dad would often quote verbatim a passage from some learned source in his sermons. Now I understood how he was able to easily access those.

For instance, if he were going to write a sermon on “death”, he would pull out his “D” folder to find what additional sources he could incorporate into his sermon. It was with a little sense of Sherlock Holmes that I had deduced part of my dad’s system.

Returning to the sermons, I discovered that rather than the 706 that I had expected to find based on the typed list, there were actually 710 sermons. Puzzled, I pulled out #706 and noted the date—February 23, 1986. The date on #707 was March 28, 1991, over five years later. Thinking about this time gap, I then remembered that Dad had retired in December 1989. So the last time he updated his list of sermons was sometime after he wrote #706 and prior to his retirement. I guess by then, Dad figured he had enough previously written sermons that he could draw from for the remaining few years of his active service.   However, knowing how hard my dad had worked his entire life, I would never think that he just “coasted” for his last few years of ministry before retiring.

Having completed my organization task, I felt I was in a much better position for reading and exploring them. As I thought about these typed sermons, I realized they comprised a significant part of my dad’s professional career. Although his ministries to church members no doubt took up much of his professional time, these sermons represented his creativity, the times when he was alone in thought, thinking of ideas to convey.

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To me, these written sermons represented another aspect of his life I didn’t know. And with these sermons now more organized, I felt I was ready to gain another glimpse into my dad’s life as I had briefly explored before to learn more about the man I most admire, the man I didn’t get to know well enough before he was gone.

A Tale of Two Cabinets: Dad’s Sermons – All of Them!

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Due to a busy fall, it was over a month before I got a chance to start going through Dad’s sermons.

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Another item that my sister gave me was this small black book she had had since he died. Inside was a typed list of all his sermons in numerical order. Based on this book, I should find 706 file folders, one for each sermon he had written.

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At random, I pulled a couple of folders out and started going through them. On the outside of each folder was the date and location of when the sermon was given. I noticed on some of the folders that the sermon was given a number of times over the years, always at a different location (he apparently had no reruns, never giving the same sermon to the same congregation).

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On others, the sermons were given as few as only once or twice. I pondered if this meant in my dad’s opinion, that this sermon was not good enough to be given more than a couple of times. Or more likely as I found in one sermon folder, it was written for a special one-time occasion.

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As I had seen when I read my dad’s book of 32 sermons last year, some of the text was all in caps and some was in both caps and lower case letters.   But in these sermons, there was underlining in four different colors, green, purple, red and black. I wondered what the significance of the different colors meant to my dad. Obviously they served as visual cues as to how he should speak or the tone of voice he might use. But unless I could find a legend somewhere in his files, the secret of the color-coding might be lost forever.

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I also found in the folder, the church bulletin from each Sunday the sermon was given. I remembered in conversation with my sister about the files, that the hymns were specifically selected to go with the sermon topic. So while the old bulletins might be nostalgic to me much like a retained copy of each course brochure I have taught over the last 20 years, for my dad, the bulletins simply documented the hymns that should be used each time that sermon was given.

While I had pulled these files at random from one of the three bins, it was interesting when I began to notice that these were written the year I got married. I scanned through the folders that fall and specifically opened up the one my dad gave the day after I got married. It gave me an idea that I could go back and find significant dates in our lives and see what words my dad spoke on those Sundays around that time.

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Returning to the black book, I began to go through it to see what all it contained. While the listing of his sermons were only a few loose sheets in the front, I wondered what the rest of the book contained.

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The first few pages seemed to be notes written for a Bible study of the book of Matthew.

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There were also individual hand-written note pages where my dad was mapping out each chapter of Matthew, verse by verse. It appeared to be incomplete as it ended at chapter 5, well short of the 28 chapters in the book of Matthew. This might have been where his Bible study group ended but was never picked up again. Or this might have been as far as he intended to cover it. I would never know the reason.

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In the rest of the book were additional sermons, much shorter than the sermons in the file folders I had just looked through. I pondered why these would be separate but then I noticed up in the top right corner of each separate sermon, a small written date followed by (p.m.). Then I remembered that during our years in West Monroe, in addition to Sunday school at 9:45 AM and the morning service at 11:00 AM, there was an abbreviated Sunday evening service at 7:00 PM. This recollection brought back a vague memory of me dreading to have to go back to church on Sunday evening. It seemed I had already spent my whole morning at church, why should I have to go back in the evening? But we did.

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These pages chronicled his shorter sermons for those Sunday evening services. The earliest one I could find in the book was from August, 18 1963. The last one was dated January 31, 1965 and counting them all up there were 49 additional sermons not included on his typed list of folders sermons.

At that point the sermons ended. I don’t know if the evening service was discontinued at that point, or if after that Dad just didn’t use prepared notes for his sermon. It wasn’t too long after that date that we moved to Arkansas to a new church so it could just be that the services ended.

To be continued…

A Tale of Two Cabinets: A Mystery!

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When I wrote about my first road trip in my new Subaru WRX last year, I left it as a bit of a mystery as to the contents of this file cabinet. But in reality, I knew what was supposed to be in there. Just to my knowledge, I couldn’t recall actually ever seeing what was inside. But before dispensing with the subterfuge, a little background is in order.

A metal file cabinet (I couldn’t remember how many drawers) stood in a closet in my parent’s condo. After my dad’s retirement, the closet served a dual purpose of not just as a storage area but also as an “office” for my dad’s professional files. My dad was a retired minister and all the paperwork from his 40-year ministry career was in that closet. After my dad died (three years after our mom died), my three siblings and I took what keepsakes we each wanted, gave some things away, and the rest was moved (at least twice) by my oldest sister to where we found it on that hot Saturday afternoon in September.

But when we came across this cabinet, we weren’t sure it was the same cabinet. We both remembered it as being green. So we searched elsewhere in the garage among the many other items stashed but did not find another file cabinet. We returned to the beige cabinet.

As we found it, it was lying on its back, partially hidden underneath a couple of mattresses wedged between some boxes and a dresser. It was encircled with a piece of rope and to prevent any drawer from being opened, a golf club was jammed between the drawers and handles (not pictured). Although packaged this way no doubt for safe transport, it seemed almost as if it was secured in this manner to prevent its contents from escaping.

The first step to gain access to the file cabinet was to pull the dresser far enough forward to be able to slide the golf club out, which I found was an extremely tight fit wedged beneath the drawer handles.

Next we had to cut the rope so that the individual drawers could be pulled open. Before we went any further, I decided to at least try to pull open one drawer to get a glimpse of the contents inside in case it was not the right cabinet. As I pulled on one drawer, it seemed almost as if it was locked; but it wasn’t. It was just extremely heavy. I managed to get one open far enough to see inside and I immediately recognized my dad’s hand writing on a few of the file folders which were beginning to slide down to the back of the cabinet. Bingo! We had the file cabinet with my dad’s sermons.

We then pulled the dresser out further so that we could turn the cabinet and stand it upright. It was after several unsuccessful attempts at barely getting our fingers under the back of the cabinet and trying to lift that we found it was just too heavy to stand up (It turned out all four drawers were stuffed front to back with file folders holding papers and probably weighed close to 300 pounds).

Faced with not being able to lift the cabinet up and not being able to remove a single drawer, our last ditch effort was for me to pull up the drawer as far as I could and my sister reach in and pull out as many files as she could, one hand full at a time, trying to prevent them from sliding behind the drawer and into the back of the cabinet.

By this time, as hot as it was, I had already stripped off my t-shirt and had repeatedly wiped the sweat off my face with a towel. But requiring both my hands to pull the drawer up, I couldn’t keep my sweat from dripping down on my sister’s arms as she pulled the file folders from the drawer. I apologized as she continued to pull hand-full after hand-full of file folders from the drawer.

Once we had emptied the first drawer, I pulled it completely from the cabinet and could see that the inside of the cabinet and drawer was in fact green. Sometime during it residence with my parents, the exterior had been spray painted beige but the inside was still the original manufactured industrial green both my sister and I remembered it being.

At this point, we had several precarious stacks of files from the drawer.

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We carefully transferred them into one of these storage bins for my transport home.

We then proceeded to empty a second drawer using this same tedious process (and dripping sweat) filling a second bin.

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By this time, we had removed enough weight from the cabinet that my sister and I were able to lift the cabinet and stand it upright. Of the two remaining drawers, we found one more completely filled with the same file folders.

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And so my sister and I loaded these three bins, each weighing over 50 pounds, into my car for the ride home.

Once I pulled into my driveway, I took the bins upstairs for me to more easily go through what treasure I had brought home. And this is where they sat for a while.

To be continued…

Building Books – A Surprise!

On multiple occasions, I have written of my interest in learning about how different things were built by reading a book about the project. Loving all forms of transportation, in particular, cars, trains, and airplanes, I wrote last year of my long-standing desire to read about the building of the railroads in the US during the 19th century but how my efforts had been thwarted. I had purchased and read several books about railroads but had not gotten the story I wanted. As I said in that post:

What I really wanted to read about was the early tycoon days of how the railroads were built, the competition that ensued, and the rail barons that consolidated the many smaller roads into monopolistic larger lines.

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This is the book I put on my Amazon Wish List in November 2012. Reading the book description gave me the impression this was the story I really wanted to read.   But unfortunately, before I could purchase this book, it went out of print and has remained so ever since.

Then early last September, a package arrived at our house that by the look of the packaging and the feel of its contents, it was a book. Knowing that our youngest son had recently started graduate school and was purchasing his schoolbooks online, I ripped open the package thinking it was just another textbook he needed for his graduate studies.

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But when I pulled it from the package, I got a big surprise—it was the book I had been wanting for almost four years.

My first thought was I had accidently spoiled a Christmas surprise for me (not the first time I had done that either). I next asked my wife if she had bought it for me to which she replied no. I then discreetly asked all three of our children if they had started their Christmas shopping early. Again the answer was no.

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Then a few days later, I got a text from my brother asking if a package had arrived at the house. I replied that one had but that I had opened it potentially spoiling the surprise. He said it was a surprise but that he intended for me to open it as soon as it arrived. He explained it was not an early Christmas or birthday present but just a gift. After reading the disappointment in my voice evident from my blog post about not being able to purchase it, he had sought the book out and bought it for me. What a brother!   And what a gift for what he found turned out to be a very gently used copy in excellent condition!

With book in hand, it quickly moved up my list of books to read. And read I did.

Although this booked started similarly to the one I read last year in covering the fact that many of the railroads were originally laid out along old Indian trails or stagecoach routes, I could tell this one would be different as it included a multi-page preface of the cast of characters—the railroads and the railroaders key to this telling of the history of railroads in the US.

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And skipping over a few pages, I could see that it included maps that would help visualize the proposed routes of the eventual railroads.

I was not long into the book, having been introduced to some of the early tycoons that I learned of their consistent strategy. Obtain a lucrative land grant from Congress, incorporate a railroad company, name a president and other key players, vote to sell bonds or stock, and then begin construction with said funds. Since all of the land grants came with a stipulation of a certain amount of mileage completed between destinations within a certain time frame, there developed fierce competition between rival rails. And the frantic building pace frequently left the railroads in a precarious financial position with insolvency ever looming.

In fact some times “paper railroads” would be incorporated just for the sole purpose of bluffing a competitor into taking certain actions along a route or to motivate a consolidation of lines.

While a prominent milestone in the book I read last year was the famous driving of the golden spike by the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific in Promontory Point, Utah in 1869, that event occurred in this book before I was even 1/3 of the way through. And what was even more interesting was the little known and often-ignored fact (disclosed in this book) that while claiming to be the first transcontinental railroad, the Union Pacific had not yet bridged the 1,500-foot span across the Missouri River (Until their bridge was completed almost three years later, traffic was conveyed across the water by ferry). Rather it was the final spike of the Kansas Pacific railroad at Comanche Crossing Colorado in 1870 that marked the true completion of the first uninterrupted transcontinental railroad between the Atlantic and Pacific.

Featured prominently in this book was the contentious battle between the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad and the Denver and Rio Grande railroad as well as others. Two separate struggles through narrow passes in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona highlighted the stealth and aggressive tactics executives from each company would pursue, even to the point of gunfire to claim the pass for themselves. Ultimately it was multiple court decisions all the way to the Supreme Court that settled the dispute. But not before I got a real taste of the rail baron shenanigans I was looking for.

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But these conflicts were just a prelude for bigger competition. Not long afterwards, the Santa Fe and Frisco joined forces to attempt to build the third transcontinental railroad. Thwarting their efforts were none other than the Big Four out of California (Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford). And once Jay Gould began to work with the Big Four rather than against them, they proved a formidable opponent. It was exactly the battle royal among barons that I had wanted to read about. Ultimately it was the shrewd maneuvers and financial muscle of the Big Four that won the day preventing the Santa Fe from laying track into California. Left with the only option of cooperating with the Big Four, the Santa Fe and Frisco became part of a combined route with Gould and the Big Four.

But it wasn’t just the rail barons that fought aggressively with each other; towns along the proposed routes “politicked” hard to become the next rail boomtown. Recognizing the benefits to their local economy and their escalating land value, town fathers (who frequently had vast land holdings that would appreciate in value) offered enticing incentives for the railroads to choose their town. This heightened the struggle even further when competing railroads would “court” the same towns.

It was with sadness when I neared the end of this book for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, I knew how the story was going to end. While the race across the continent began in earnest during the Civil War and the expansion of the railroad network grew dramatically for the next 50 years, it was their extreme useful during World War I and II that marked the rare high-water marks that stood out among their years of decline. After World War II, it was the swiftness of the jet airplane and the individualized mobility of the automobile that doomed passenger rail service, a service I would have loved to enjoy had I been born just 15 years earlier.

Beginning in the 1950s, no longer were railroads consolidating to form mega-monopoly empires but rather merging as the only means of survival in a redefined era of freight transport sans passenger service.

Secondly, sadness that the story itself had come to an end for this book well told the tale I had wanted to read. The exciting times of railroad growth in the 19th century, the challenges the railroaders encountered in building through the mountainous west, and the machinations of the rail barons, the shrewd tactics they pursued, and the political moves they employed to build their empires all made for an extremely interesting saga. Closing the cover of the book, I felt I had learned a tremendous amount of this history, I had been entertained, and I had most certainly satisfied my quest for knowing more of this story.

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So thanks Bro, for a most satisfying surprise gift!