On Saturday we held a memorial service for my Dad, JJ. Dad loved to tell stories: They usually began with a phrase like: Hey listen to this, or You’re not going to believe this, or Did I ever tell you about the time I was in the Hurtgen Forest in WWII…
Dad’s stories were usually long. I’d often wonder, where are you going with this thing? And 15 minutes later he’d bring it back to the original idea that sparked his memory. What’s so funny about Dad telling these long and winding tales is that when I was a kid and I’d start to tell him a story, he’d say, “Stop. Wait a minute. Make it like Dragnet. Just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts.”* I once told him “Dad this is so unfair. When I was a kid you told me to make it like Dragnet, just the facts, but you go on for 10 – 15 minutes.”
In Dad’s honor, here are my two favorite stories of his. Only I’ll try to make them a little more like Dragnet. Once after dinner I said I was going to have a cup of coffee, which prompted Dad to say, “You want to hear a really sad story?” “Yes Dad, we’d love to hear a really sad story.” So he said, “I was having lunch in the Allied Club in Tulsa with this oil man and when we sat down he said to the waitress, ‘Bring me some coffee and keep it coming.’ I said, ‘You must really like coffee.’ He said, ‘Boy do I. When I get up in the morning my wife makes a pot of coffee for me and when I get to the office I tell my secretary to make some coffee and keep it coming. I drink it all day and when I get home I drink coffee all evening long till I go to bed.’ Then my dad looked around the table and said, “And you want to know what happened to him?” Poignant pause. “He wound up in the INsane asylum!” Then he just looked around at each of us in silence. I said, “Dad. Are you saying that because I’m going to have a cup of coffee I’m going to wind up in the INsane asylum?” He probably said something like, “Well you never know.”
Here’s my favorite story of Dad’s. Dad loved Baseball and especially the St. Louis Cardinals. When he was a boy the famous Cardinal pitcher Dizzy Dean came to his hometown of Belleville, Illinois to play an exhibition game. He and his brother Bob were beside themselves with excitement to see Dizzy Dean, but when they got to the park canvas had been on all the fences so no one could get in without paying. Dad and Bob had no money. They managed to find a breach in the canvas and sneak in. When they did they saw Dizzy Dean sitting on a bench by 3rd base, so they went over and sat right on the bench next to him. An attendant saw them and said, “Hey you boys, Do you have tickets?” They were speechless. “Well then, you’re going to have to leave.” But before the attendant could escort them out, Dizzy Dean said, “These boys are my guests.” And they got to sit with ol Diz the entire game.
I love that story because it reminds me of the story Dad believed and by which he was saved. We all sin against our Creator and those sins create an infinite chasm between us. None of us do good by God’s standard of good, which is perfection and no amount of good deeds can bridge the chasm and get us into heaven. And unlike Dad and uncle Bob, who longed to see Dizzy Dean, we had no desire to be with Jesus. Even if we could somehow sneak into heaven, we’d have no right to be there and one of heaven’s attendants would quickly throw us out into the darkness. But Jesus bridged the gulf between us and God when he became a man, lived a sinless life, then paid the price of our entrance to heaven when he bore God’s wrath for our sins on the cross. His resurrection was the validation stamp on our ticket to heaven, proving he’d paid the price. When we turn from our sins and trust in Jesus and his work, he says to his Father, “These are my guests. They’re with me.” And we can sit down at the marriage feast of the Lamb with Jesus forever.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18)
I’m grateful for Dad and his stories. I can see him right now with about 6 angels gathered around him, saying, “Hey, did I ever tell you when I was in WWII in the Hurtgen Forest in Germany?” and them saying, “We were right there with you JJ, keeping you safe.”
Dad loved his stories. And especially the wondrous story of his Savior.
*Dragnet was a show in the 50s and 60s about LA Detective Joe Friday, who constantly exhorted long-winded crime witnesses to give him just the facts.