A week ago was the day of the funeral of my mom, Virginia McMillion. I’d flown in from Europe the day before and it was just a rough time for me in every way. I’d not planned to speak at the funeral as I didn’t think I’d be able to handle it. But that morning a couple of things came to mind that I felt would be good for folks to know about the heritage and upbringing both I and my parents had.
At the funeral I shared two stories of my parents’ upbringing that had a big impact on them and a big impact on me when I was told them as a child. First, about my dad. He went hunting with his dad when he was maybe 7 years old, around 1928. They came back with a rabbit he’d shot and showed it to his mom. Her only comment was something like, “Poor rabbit. Why did you shoot it? He never hurt anyone.” This of course made a huge impact on my dad and he never went hunting again. But in a broader sense, it was indicative of the traditions and life view of my dad’s mother and father and their families.
There was an underlying theme of kindness and even harmlessness that permeated the lives of those people. Trying to find something in the Bible that could describe this, the phrase “without guile” (John 1:47) came to mind. I’ve thought about how, if I’d tried to speak about this when I was young, I don’t think I could have verbalized it. But it continually touched me and impacted me at perhaps a subconscious level, strongly shaping my life. I wrote about my dad’s side of my family in “Texas People”.
At the funeral I next told about a major event in the history of my mom’s family. They lived on northeast Texas countryside and her grandfather was a very wealthy landowner and cotton farmer over 100 years ago. He had many “sharecroppers” working on his land, both whites and African-Americans. It happened that a white man came to the house of a black man over some argument. A fight broke out and in defending himself, the black man killed the white man. The black man fled for protection to the house of my great-grandfather, Marshall Womack. Soon after that a crowd of white men on horseback came to my great-grandfather’s house, demanding that he turn the black man over to them.
If you’re from the US, you probably know what was going on with this. But for those who might not understand, this time 100 years ago was still totally dominated in the southern states of the USA by rampant, often violent, racism. The sudden hangings of black men without trail, “lynching”, was often the way things were handled in situations like this.
But my mother’s grandfather went out to meet the lynch mob in front of his house and told them he had no intention of handing over the black man to them. It ended up that the black man was taken to Paris, Texas to stand trial where he was convicted of manslaughter and served a few years in jail. But he wasn’t turned over to a racist mob that day and my great-grandfather stood up against the evil that was so rampant in those times about these things.
These stories of my family’s history made a huge impact on me when I was young. It made me realize that there are important things in life having to do with what we call morals, ethics and the things of the soul and heart which are supremely important. Solomon said, “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) My dad’s side of the family was still fairly Christian but my mom’s side was not as much. But even without being overtly Christian, there was still a strong underlying sense of right and wrong and at times a willingness to stand up and against the tide, like in the case of the lynch mob at my great grandfather’s house.
Growing up, I just knew that in my family, we had a standard of right and wrong that would end up standing alone at times against what many others felt was acceptable and normal. Somehow I knew I was accountable to a very high standard of decency, because of the heritage of my upbringing.
Probably all of us have things like this from our youth, stories your parents told you that shaped your life. Maybe you said in your heart, “I want to be like that.” Or maybe you said in your heart that you didn’t. This is a major way our lives are shaped and how we come to decide who we are and what we want to be.
Long ago God told believers back then, “This Word which I command you this day shall be in your heart. And you shall teach it diligently to your children.” (Deuteronomy 6:6 & 7) We all have influence, for evil or for good. I’m so thankful to be from a family that taught me through their words and deeds to have a real love for mankind and for truth, justice and equality as well.