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Two Birthdays

This week, I've been helping to celebrate the birthdays of two special people in my life: my brother and my father-in-law.

I'm alive today in spite of the best efforts of my older brother Dale. He kept me in stitches as we grew up together. I mean that quite literally. Of the 31 stitches I had installed in my heard during my youth, 21 of them were the direct result of his involvement.

First, there was the incident on the back porch, when he let go of the collar of my shirt by which he had caught and was holding me after I jumped from the porch in an attempt to escape some nefarious scheme of his. Daddy heard my cries for help and came running. Dale, in an attempt to seem innocent and thereby escape the just rewards of his crime, released his hold on my collar, allowing my head to drop onto the edge of the concrete porch. Score 18 stitches for me and more gray hairs for our mother.

Then there was the bike wreck. Our parents had warned us never to "double" on a bicycle, but when it was time to return home from playing at the neighbor Doug's house, I didn't want to walk back. Dale insisted that I double with him, sitting on the bar in front of the seat with my legs hanging off to the left side. As we flew down the hill toward the curve at our driveway, Dale yelled, "Lean into the curve!" I leaned left, and my foot went into the spokes of the front wheel, stopping the bike and sending Dale flying through the air and me straight into the road, chin first. Add three more stitches to the chin for me and another clump of gray hair for Mother.

Dale still gets a kick out of the memories. I certainly didn't at the time, but looking back on them, they are funny--now. But the scars remain. That's why I wear my hair longer and resist the urge, especially in the summer, to get a crew cut like the ones Daddy gave me every summer--before the stitches. Those scars are also part of the reason I'm so concerned about that spot of thinning hair I see every morning when I work to comb over it.

Dale is celebrating his 74th birthday this month. Hard to believe. Harder still is believing that I'm right behind him. (You can read more about how I survived childhood with him in my book Look Unto the Hills: Stories of Growing Up in Rural East Tennessee, available on Amazon.)

The second birthday we're celebrating this month is that of my father-in-law. No stitches to lay to his account, at least not on my head, although he might have sometimes felt like thumping me there.

Charles Dietterich has been like a father to me ever since I married his oldest daughter, Connie. He has given me some good advice on life. My own father was a great listener, but he wasn't much on giving advice, especially not after I reached adulthood. Dad D not only listened but also offered some good advice, some of it solicited but also some volunteered.

The first valuable advice he ever gave me came unsolicited during preparations for our wedding reception in the church's youth building/gymnasium. My mother-in-law, who liked to have everything just so and no other way, was getting pretty testy as the time before the wedding ran out. I was feeling awkward, but I said nothing. Just did whatever I was told and offered no alternatives. Finally, Dad D turned to me and said, "Dennis, I think we need something from the hardware store." He beckoned me to follow him. I had no idea what he thought we needed, but after we got into the car and drove off, he said, "Sometimes you have to just walk away." No further explanation. I got the message. I can't remember if we ever got to a hardware store, but when we got back, things had cooled down dramatically.

Dad D offered valuable spiritual and marital advice, too. "Love the Lord, and love your wife," he said. To ensure that I knew what that meant, he gave me books to read. In fact, even before we were married, he gave me a book titled Forever My Love by Margaret Hardisty and said, "You two need to read this--together." We did, and we learned a lot. But he also gave me several other books to enrich and strengthen my spiritual life, for that is the necessary foundation for a strong marriage. They included The Normal Christian Life; Sit, Walk, Stand; Love Not the World; Changed into His Likeness; Not I but Christ; The Good Confession; and A Living Sacrifice, all by Watchman Nee.

Dad D also offered sound financial advice, especially for a young couple starting out with basically nothing to their names except a box spring/mattress set, a pair of very slim paychecks, and a lot of love and naivety. "Pay yourself first and invest," he said. "Find work you enjoy, and you'll never work another day in your life." he said.

Dad D is a wise man, yet he dropped out of school in eighth grade. He lied about his age so he could get into the Navy toward the end of World War II. He served in the Pacific theater aboard the heavy cruiser the U.S.S. St. Paul. After the war, he took several classes under the G.I. Bill, including meat cutting. He can still sharpen knives and cut up choice meats like a butcher. But he found the work he enjoyed most in architectural design, drawing house plans and commercial buildings for decades before retiring.

When he retired, he said he wanted to do two things he had never had time to do: paint and play golf. He's done neither because he's been too busy. The deacons of the church he was attending asked him if he would be the pastor of a new church they wanted to found until they could find a permanent pastor. He agreed. I don't think they ever made the first attempt to find a replacement. He was 77 years old at the time. He preached at least three times a week until they finally found a pastor when he was 89.

Learning of the news, I said to him, "So now you can finally retire, right?"

"No," he replied with a chuckle, "they elected me assistant pastor!"

He's still going strong as he turns 97 this month.

What a blessed man I am from having known these two men and for being able to celebrate their milestone birthdays with them. I survived my brother and thrived from my father-in-law's example.

Happy birthday, Dale and Dad!

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Thank you for your thoughtfulness and the birthday card. Now send the check! 🤪

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