Sermon: Why My Paternal Grandfather Punched My Maternal Grandfather (Faith & Politics)

why my paternal grandfather punched



Has anyone seen the amazing Hamilton musical on Broadway?

Didn’t think so. Tickets are going for $1,000.

Of course, for 1,000 buckaroos you will, among other things, get to see a reenactment of the infamous Burr–Hamilton duel, as in gun duel.   Aaron Burr, the sitting Vice President of the United States, and Alexander Hamilton, the former Secretary of the Treasury had their duel on July 11, 1804, the duel being a culmination of a long and bitter rivalry between the two men. Tensions reached a boiling point with Hamilton’s journalistic defamation of Burr’s character during the 1804 New York gubernatorial race in which Burr was a candidate. Burr got his revenge at the duel, shooting and mortally wounded Hamilton.

Nothing like settling politics John Wayne style. And you thought politics was bad now. Well, they are bad now, and they were bad then.

It reminds me of when my paternal grandfather punched my maternal grandfather.

Permit me to set the stage.

My paternal grandfather was a big boy. 6’ 3”, 300 pound, oval shaped body frame – hula hoop for a waist line. A big flirt. Called every female he ever saw a movie star. Sold shoes in downtown store in Mt. Airy. Lived in Cana, Virginia, though. Imagine where the Clampetts lived before they became the Beverly Hillbillies. My paternal grandfather later moved to Winston-Salem after getting run out of the state of Virginia for shooting a man. In Winston-Salem he ran a little convenience store before there were convenience stores. Milk, bread, chips, canned goods, vegetables from his garden, and the essentials: vienna sausage, pork and beans, , and of course, candy, soda pops and ice cream, which he didn’t give out free to grandchildren. He did give out nicknames to grandchildren, however, and he called me Jericho. Don’t know why, but that was me – Jericho. I thought it was neat even though it didn’t make any sense. My Paternal grandfather loved to square dance, play the banjo, and he always wore a straw, wide brim hat. He was the biggest Republican who has ever walked the face of this earth. My paternal grandfather liked to count and name all his children, all his in-laws, and all his grandchildren. He assumed everybody would be voting Republican so the number he came up with was the number of his contribution to the Grand Old Party. In his living room he had photos of the last 10 presidents framed. Surprisingly, he even had photos of the Democrat Presidents.

My maternal grandfather also was a big boy, tall, 6’4” and not fat. He was what they called a working alcoholic. He worked in the pipe shop at R. J. Reynolds and drank wherever he wanted to drink. His nickname was Biggum. We always thought it was in reference to his tallness, but we eventually learned he was called Biggum because he told a lot of big or tall tales. Speaking of big, my maternal grandfather was a big, big Democrat even though his wife’s family were big, big Republicans.

My maternal grandfather lived across the street about 50 yards south of my paternal grandfather’s store and house. My grandfathers frequently played checkers under a maple tree 30 yards from the convenience store. The maple tree provided excellent shade and the checkerboard was placed on top of a wooden reel.

To sum up: my paternal grandfather was a big, big Republican and my maternal grandfather was a big, big Democrat.

Which means my father, the son of that big, big Republican, married my mother, a girl from the big, big Democrat family, and being that my mother was not a liberated woman my father in effect got to vote twice.

When I was a seven year-old seeking the approval of my father and my paternal grandfather, I would stand near the wooden reel under the maple tree doing an impression of Lady Bird Johnson, mocking her and her Highway Beautification Act which involved planting wildflowers along the interstates. “Ugliness is so grim. A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which will lessen tensions.”

Ladybird was just one of those spend everybody’s money on stupid stuff Democrats, and a woman who didn’t know her place.

By the way, my first semester at UNC-Chapel I wrote a paper for an English class in which I argued the New Deal was NOT the American Way.

Yes, God has changed me. Amen. Yes, God was able to move me beyond a politics that had at its core seeking my father’s approval.

So that’s the setting, the background to my paternal grandfather punching my maternal grandfather. The specifics, the down and dirty details, are as follows. My paternal grandfather and maternal grandfather are playing one of their checker matches underneath the maple tree and up drives my father. He has with him my oldest brother, Steve, who at that time was 3 years-old. Upon seeing my father and brother get out of the car and walking toward them, my maternal grandfather says to my paternal grandfather, “I’m going to make Steve a Democrat.” At which point my paternal grandfather reached across the checkerboard, too the shirt of my maternal grandfather, and raised him up to the feet and proceeded to punch him.

You might say politics was important in my family tree.

So now it’s time to play the guessing game. You get to vote on what you think my party affiliation is. If you think I’m a Democrat, raise your hand. If you think, I’m a Republican, raise your hand. Well, all of you are wrong. I’m registered as an Independent. And I’ll tell you why I’m registered as an Independent. Because I’m a follower of Jesus who learns from all the religions and from atheists and agnostics and I’m aware of how one’s political party affiliation can get in the way of practicing Jesus politics. And that’s what I’m for: Jesus politics, politics which emphasizes the plundered and the marginalized and the outcasts, politics which critiques all leaders and all institutions and all political parties based on Jesus politics.

Over the years I’ve noticed the politics of people often has to do with seeking approval from parents or rebelling against parents through politics. I’ve observed that frequently one’s politics is based on one’s self interest and one’s prejudices and on racism. I’ve also noticed a lot of people thinking faith and politics shouldn’t mix, as if God does not care about everything that happens on this planet. Fundamentalist Christians scare me but so do all the good church people who don’t have a clue about how Jesus ended up on a Roman cross other than some archaic notion that God had to kill his son so people could be saved.

If you are rich or middle class, if you are practicing Jesus politics, in many respects, especially with respect to your economic interst, you will be voting against your self-interest.

Nobody said it was easy.

My grandfathers were right. Politics is a very serious matter, just not in the way they thought or in the way they fought.


Material Things Are Not Important But Some Are

My niece, Melissa Jane Ayers, got married this past Saturday to Matthew McDonough.  We really like Matthew and are thrilled he’s in the family.  And we are so happy Melissa is so happy.

At Melissa and Matthew’s wedding my brother, Steve Ayers, read from a Bible he gave to my mother when he was a freshman at the University of North Carolina.  My mom died – well, it seems like a long time ago.  Steve’s reading from her Bible and citing a verse she had underlined gave us a sense of mom’s presence at the wedding.

Material things are not important but some are – some things like your mother’s Bible given to her by her oldest son.

Before my parents went to Daytona Beach, Florida to spend their retirement years they auctioned off all their stuff.  I attended the auction and was frankly surprised how emotional an experience it turned out to be for me.  I never imagined I would cry at an auction, but – but there was the piece of furniture in which my Christmas gifts were stored the year I first suspected the Santa Claus myth wasn’t adding up.  And – and there was the piano on which I took all those piano lessons I hated. I didn’t bid on any of the items.

Material things are not important, I told myself.  And they aren’t, but some are.  No material things are worth a family argument, that’s for sure.  But some things – well, when you can no longer touch your parents being able to touch something that was theirs sure can soothe, at least momentarily, a grieving heart.

There were two things I was interested in having when my parents died.  First, I was interested in a pan they used to pop popcorn in.  To be more accurate, they fried (Southern fried) just about everything in that pan, including taters and squash (which I didn’t care for).  It was just a great pan.  I always told them I wanted it when they died.  They didn’t give it to me, though.  And they didn’t auction it off either.  The frying pan bit the dust before they did.  Oh well.

The other thing I was interested in was my mother’s coin collection, not because the coins were really valuable but because of my coin experience with my mother.  My parents owned a little country, meat and two, sweet tea that would put you in a sugar coma, restaurant in Clemmons, NC.  After closing, (read: after I mopped the floors and cleaned the grill) I would go home and my mom and I would sit at the kitchen table and she would count the money.  Part of counting the money was looking through the coins for wheat pennies.  I know, how much is a wheat penny worth?  Well, I’m sure there may be a particular wheat penny that is worth something, but most wheat pennies today are worthy very little.  But how much is time spent with a mother looking for wheat pennies worth?

I guess because of our coin experience together Mom started getting me coin sets for Christmas.  None of which are worth that much today, but how much is a coin set given to you by your mother worth?

Some time after Mom’s death the Ayers brothers took her coin collection to get it appraised.  It was valuable mostly for the silver content but nothing in terms of coin collection.

Did I tell you that Melissa Ayers McDonough was named after my mother?  Melissa Jane.

In our dining room Vicky and I display some pottery made by Tim Ayers, the brother of Melissa Jane Ayers McDonough.  At the wedding reception I told Tim there are very few things in our house more valuable than the pottery we got him to make for us.  Not because Tim is a famous artist.  Not because we love Tim more than any of our other extended family members.  No, the pottery by Tim is a tangible reminder of how important family is and how short our time with family is.

pottery tim reduced

When you get married you don’t realize how short life is.  And you don’t understand that material things are not important but some are.




What Makes A Father Happy?

what makes a father happy

Sunday is Father’s Day and I’m finding this is the happiest Father Day ever for me.  Yes, it’s not even Father’s Day and my Father’s Day happiness has already started.

What has made me so happy is that my son is so happy.  This year has been a year of many joys for him.

Parents want two things for their children:  their health and their happiness.  (Make that three:  that they get a job.)

A father or mother has to be careful about making their own happiness dependent on a child’s happiness.  Our happiness should be our on responsibility.  We should not burden others with the responsibility of making us happy, but let there be no doubt, nothing warms a father’s heart or makes a father cry more than having a happy daughter or son.

May you and yours experience great happiness on Father’s Day and on all days.  Amen.