Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Almost a Fatality on the Fourth

Seems like every year at this time many of my clan reflect upon one of their favorite family stories - the Fourth of July when Dad almost killed Drew.

I think I was about twelve years old, back in my Windsor years, and back when local and state governments were seriously considering banning the sale and use of fireworks. So I decided, thinking of course about my future kids and grandkids, to use all of my lawn mowing money to buy enough fireworks to last for several generations. This I accomplished, but then came the challenge of trying to find a place where I could blow up a year's worth of fireworks without getting arrested.

On the Fourth there was going to be a big community celebration at Farrington Park with a big fireworks display at the end, and not being a real sharp boy, I felt sure they would let me shoot my fireworks as part of the finale. Mom and Dad were going to the park, but I begged and pleaded, "Please let me go on my own, not with you guys. Please, please don't make me go with my parents. I'll walk down to the park by myself." (This way I could carry a big sack of fireworks.) Mom said no at first but eventually she caved with one strict condition. After the fireworks display, I must meet them at the main shelter house and ride home with them. I said okay, and Mom repeated her instructions. "As soon as the fireworks display ends, you meet us at the main shelter house." "Okay, Mom, I'll meet you right after the fireworks."

Well, to spare you some of the detail, I was really mad and disappointed later on when the guys at the park told me that I absolutely could not light up so much as a sparkler in that crowded park. "Get lost, kid. Gotta go out of town if you want to shoot those off." While I was stomping back around the lake who should I spot but my big brother, John, who was just leaving with some of his friends to go shoot their own fireworks over at the golf course. He didn't know anything about the bargain I had struck with Mom. "Let me go, too, John. Look at all this stuff I got." He took one look in my sack and said, "C'mon!"

It was nearly midnight when I walked in the front door of our house. My parents had looked everywhere for me as had several other friends and neighbors and yes, even the local police had been searching for me. Mom was worried sick with all these terrible scenarios playing in her mind. When I came through the front door, Mom was in her bedroom and she had been crying.

Now, there was an unwritten rule in our house among the eight of us siblings. Our dad could be counted upon to be pretty calm and fair when disciplining his children, with one noted exception. Never, never, never do anything that pushes Mom to tears. Something about the sight of Mom weeping had a transforming affect upon our father. To sum it up, "Make Mom cry, you will die." 

John had dropped me off at the house first so that he could take his girlfriend home without his kid brother tagging along. When I came through the door I was feeling fine. I had had tons of fun, blown up everything I had, and it had never even entered my poorly wired mind that I was supposed to meet my parents or that I might be in some kind of trouble.

Dad had another unique quality when thoroughly enraged. He didn't get loud or shout or scream. In fact, his voice would get lower and slower, kind of like Clint Eastwood just before he fires his 44 magnum. He met me at the door and said simply and softly, "Do you know what time it is?" (He probably wanted to add, "Well, do ya, punk?") Later I figured out why he asked that question since I'm pretty sure he already knew what time it was. There was a clock to my right as I came in the door and when he asked, I turned my head to the right giving him a much better angle for the kill shot.

I never saw it coming, but Dad hit me on the side of my face with his open hand and immediately I found myself back out on the front porch. I was stunned and bewildered, not yet able to figure out why he was so upset. I heard my sister-in-law say, "Dad!" She had never seen her father-in-law like this before. Dad turned and said, "You get on downstairs, right now." Oh great, I thought, no witnesses. I opened the broken storm door and started back in the house. Dad hadn't moved or come up with a new question. "Do you know what time it is?" This time I saw it coming, but the result was exactly the same, back out on the porch. As I bent over holding my ringing ears in my hands, all of a sudden my faulty memory reconnected, I remembered all about the park, I knew now why Dad was so angry, and I realized that I was probably going to see Jesus real soon.

When I stepped through the door the third time, I was relieved to see that the artillery has ceased firing and a more detailed interrogation began. Never had the words, "I'm sorry, I forgot," sounded so pitiful and inadequate. I apologized to my mother, who chose to hug me rather than wring my neck, and I headed down the basement stairs. Some of my siblings were looking up the stairs wondering if I was still alive. Jerry seemed disappointed.

I had a big red hand print on my face when I went to bed late that night, my ears still ringing. I know it all sounds pretty brutal by today's standards. Near as I can recall, that was the last time my dad ever laid his hand on me for discipline's sake. Funny thing, my memory problem must have somehow been corrected that night, because I never forgot my dad's instructions after that, and I sure never did anything to make my mother cry again. No thank you. Bad idea.

So, a safe and happy Independence Day to all my family and friends. I'll see you at the main shelter house, right after the fireworks. I'll be there, Mom.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bob Goldsmith: Tribute to a Tail Gunner

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
   And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
   and to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah 6:8 NIV)

There are some important words that are slipping away from us. We just don’t use them much anymore, I think, because we no longer see many good examples. No one seems to live up to these words, and so we may grow skeptical and decide that these words are antique, out of fashion, out of date, even extinct.  

But for me, Bob Goldsmith has been that example, a constant reminder that some of these words still hold value and can still be lived out by people today. Here are some of those nearly forgotten words that Bob Goldsmith defines for me.

The first word is Gentleman. Some rare men have an intangible quality. I’m not sure whether to call it a bearing or a style or a persona. I think it is a special grace and when they enter a room or a meeting these gracious people change the whole atmosphere of the room. You know almost instinctively that this is person of sincerity and truth, love and gentleness, and great strength of character. A true gentleman can raises the moral tone and climate of any meeting or conversation. Bob was like that for me. He was a gentleman in the best sense of the word.  

“A gentleman is one who puts more into the world than he takes out.” – George Bernard Shaw

“Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.” –Theodore Roosevelt

We know that there is such a thing as a true gentleman, because we have known Bob Goldsmith.

Here’s another old word, Hero. Bob Goldsmith is one of a remarkable generation of men who accepted enormous challenges, carried heavy responsibilities, accomplished unbelievable things, and did it all with no thought of recognition or reward.

Could there be a more dangerous and frightening assignment in World War II than to be a tail gunner in a B-17? Here’s a little background. One third of all B-17s were shot down, nearly 5,000 planes. The average life expectancy of a B-17 crew was 12 to 14 missions. When enemy fighters attacked a B-17, they almost always attacked from the rear, and their first goal was to take out the tail gunner. Tail gunners averaged 20 years of age and two thirds of all B-17 tail gunners did not survive the war.

There was also no heat in a B-17 and in the high altitude, the temperature plunged far below zero. The crew kept warm by wearing electric suits and boots to help them survive the frigid temperatures on those long bombing runs. On one mission, Bob’s electric boots failed and his feet froze, because he could not leave the tail of the plane undefended, even for a few minutes. When he got back to base he had to be carried off the plane and hospitalized to treat his severe frostbite. But soon, just a few weeks later, he was back in sky, back in his B-17.

Bob said that it was not uncommon, returning from a bombing mission, to see the lights of England through the bullet holes in the fuselage.

Bob Goldsmith flew twenty-four missions as a B-17 tail gunner. He didn’t get his 25th mission, and always said his 25th mission would be his final flight to Heaven.

A day before his final mission aboard a B-17 bomber another young tail gunner, Norbert Swierz, sat down on his bunk and jotted down a poem for his mother back in Michigan.

I go so gladly to my fate, whatever it may be.
That I would have you shed no tears for me,
Some men must die, that others must be free.
And only God can say whom these shall be.

Bob believed that God had seen him through the ordeal of war and preserved his life for a purpose. It was by the grace of God that he did what he did and was able to come home and marry Francis and raise a family. The word is Hero.

And here’s another forgotten word, Integrity. Integrity means that there is no disconnect between faith and practice, no hypocrisy. Someone once put it like this: “A gentleman would be ashamed should his deeds not match his words.”

Bob was always scrupulously honest and true. That’s the way he did business, and that’s how he handled the store and all of his work. I think that’s why our church asked him to serve as treasurer and kept him at the task for 35 years. Here was a man of integrity, a man you could trust without hesitation or question.

Beth has been helping Francis with their bill paying since Bob has been so ill. She was telling me that Bob has maintained a detailed ledger of every dollar he has spent since 1957, even down to the tips he left in restaurants. And he has not only been a meticulous and faithful tither, he has instilled this discipline of faithful stewardship in his children and grandchildren.

We were laughing the other day, that it wouldn’t surprise us if the Lord decided now to put Bob in charge of the Lamb’s Book of Life. He couldn’t find a better man for the job. A man of integrity.

One final word, certainly one of God’s favorites, Faithful. Bob was a man of great faith and faithfulness. He was a man of the Book, a daily student of the Bible. Bob believed in prayer and made it the pattern of his life and faith. He served as a deacon, faithfully and well for so many years.

Bob kept faith with his family, as a loving husband and father, and he kept faith with His God. These verses from Proverbs set the compass and course for all of his life:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
   and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways acknowledge him,
   and he will make your paths straight.
(Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)

I guess every little girl begins her life thinking that her father is the biggest and strongest, the wisest and kindest man in the world. Little girls always believe their dad is special, their dad is the best man in all the world.

Then, as little girls grow up, they begin to notice the weaknesses and shortcomings and limitations of their father. He’s not quite the hero he used to be in their eyes.

But for Janet and Melody it was different. Janet and Melody started off that way and amazingly, they never had to change their opinion. They never had to reappraise their father. He is still the best man they have ever known. And Natalie feels the same way. What a blessing!

Now I know that Bob would not be entirely comfortable being remembered and eulogized like this. Bob would want me to remind you all, that he was the kind of man he was because of the Savior he loved and served.

Christ made the difference in Bob’s life, all the difference in the world. It was God who forged this man, reaching down deep into his willing heart to shape and create a gentleman, a hero, a man of integrity and faithfulness, a wonderful husband and a loving father.

Christ made the difference in Bob’s life and he can make a difference in yours as well. All it takes is step of faith, turn to God, confess your need, claim Christ and His cross for your salvation, and God will begin to do His wonderful work of grace in your life.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17 NIV)

And now the time for his departure has come. Bob Goldsmith has taken flight once more, flying his 25th and final mission, this time landing in Heaven, in the presence of God and all those who have gone before.

Do you remember these words of Charles Wesley from the old Easter hymn?

“Soar we now where Christ has led,
Following our exalted Head,
Made like Him, like Him we rise,
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.”

Bob Goldsmith has taken his ultimate honor flight, arriving to a hero’s welcome, a victor’s crown, and his Savior’s words – “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Only One Thing That Counted

What does it mean to be a human being? In The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene, the hero, or nonhero, is a seedy, alcoholic Catholic priest who after months as a fugitive is finally caught by the revolutionary Mexican government and condemned to be shot. On the evening before his execution, he sits in his cell with a flask of brandy to keep his courage up and thinks back over what seems to him the dingy failure of his life.

"Tears poured down his face," Greene writes, "He was not at the moment afraid of damnation - even the fear of pain was in the background. He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him at that moment that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint, and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted - to be a saint."