On September 24, 2008 my father will mark 102 years from the time of his birth. Dad died on June 12, 1985 at the age of 78 in Dallas, Texas. I was 33 at the time, and it was the hardest experience I ever endured. I still mourn my father.
He had just turned 45 when I was born, 48 when Beth was born, and 51 when Patti was born. Oliver Harley Sanders was a strong and healthy man most of his life. At six foot tall, he weighed 157 pounds nearly all his adult life. Dad liked to walk in his later years and often did so, even when he had a car to drive.
Dad was born in Oklahoma Territory, less than a year before Oklahoma was admitted to statehood. He was born in the township of Stella in Canadian County, Oklahoma about ten miles east of Norman, Oklahoma. He is buried with my grandparents and brother in Tecumseh Cemetery, half-way between Shawnee and Tecumseh.
All of these memories seem to flood back to me. I'll be going to my home town, the place of my birth, the place where I graduated from high school, in a few weeks. I don't usually go to the cemetery (I like to remember people alive), but I probably will go out there this time. I want to see the gravestone. I likely will see the burial places of some other relatives--some kinfolk I never knew: my brother and my grandfather. When I find dad's stone, I'll also find my grandma Booth. Mom will be buried there beside dad, but not soon I pray.
2008 marks the 90th year since my grandparents and their family obeyed the gospel at the Central Church of Christ in Shawnee. The building was located on Union Street in those days instead of the fine edifice at 10th and Bell.
I am to preach at Central on October 5-8, and nothing in quite some time has kindled all the feelings that going home seems to stir in my soul. While I am there I will tell the story of William Lee and Rebecca Sanders and of Curtis G. Booth. I love to tell these stories, and they are Shawnee stories. Just thinking of them brings a little tear to my eyes.
My dad was not a perfect man, but he was "faithful in a few things." Orphaned at 12, driven from home at 14, he suffered many lonely hardships with his brother Hill. Dad had his oldest daughter kidnapped from him in early adulthood; he did not see her again for more than 30 years. Dad was among the first five men in Pottawatomie County to be drafted at the onset of World War II. He rose to the rank of sergeant and trained soldiers to shoot artillery. He went to the island of Luzon in the Philippines, where he saw violent action. When dad came home from the war, he never wanted a gun in the house.
My mom, who obeyed the gospel at the age of 16 in Shawnee, was the best thing that ever happened to my dad. Though they lost a son, my brother Richard, mom and dad loved each other dearly. They were good parents and did the best they could in many ways. Dad smoked for many years until he learned that smoking was harmful. He laid down his pipe and never took it up again (he didn't want his boys to smoke).
Mom and Dad wanted to be sure that we were Christians, so in the year 1967 we began attending Dale Church of Christ, where Hill and Alice went. Dad wanted us to have some training. I still treasure friends I made there. Danny Fredman and I still email at least once weekly. I preached my first sermon there at the age of 16 in 1968. They let me do Wednesday night devotionals as well. I remember hearing Steve Bracken preach, and I knew that's what I wanted to do! Mom and Dad always encouraged me. I don't think I would be preaching today if they had not gotten us involved in church at this critical time in my life.
Dad baptized a few folks, preached some sermons, and wrapped Bibles for World Bibles for Christ. He and Mom were very involved in their later days at Northridge, and I am thankful for the service they gave.
I hope to see a lot of loved ones and old friends at Central in October. I remember hearing such great preaching there when I was young--Richard Black, Perry Cotham, and others. A sweet sister who helped me gave me a tape of Alan Highers in 1970. Alan preached a sermon on the tape entitled, "Five Minutes After Death." That was the most powerful sermon I had ever heard up to that time. It still is. I will preach that sermon Wednesday, Oct. 8. I've preached it no less than 100 times over the last 35 years. Little could I imagine what good friends Alan and I have become in these later years and how often we have labored together in the Spiritual Sword.
Going back to your roots reminds you who you are, whose you are, and where you belong. Shawnee is home--Louisa, Kickapoo, Harrison, and Broadway are streets that fill me with memories. Long before the mall there was downtown. I remember Jr. High across the street from a 12 cent hambuger place with a Scottish name (but not McDonald's). I remember high school on Union St (not out by the football field). I remember Jim Thorp Stadium and 5-cent taffy.
Dad didn't have much of anything to impart to me or my siblings, except a faith that leads to eternal life that is far more precious than gold or jewels. For my part, I am glad I received the greater, for the rest just doesn't matter.
with love and appreciation,