The history lesson began in the late 1800's talking about something that was so important in the life of the pioneers as they settled the west - the general store. There were illustrations of what a general store might look like and pages of discussion about the products and services that these stores provided. Lia was really surprised when I told her that my grandfather (her great great grandfather and great grandma Nona's dad) had run a general store! That is how he came to be in the little town in North Dakota that was home to Nora Larson, my grandmother! He ran that general store until my grandmother got very sick and needed to go the city for medical treatment. After my grandmother died (when my mom was only 2 years old) it was too painful for him to return to that town so he never ran that general store again.. But customer service and selling goods continued to be how he supported his family for the remainder of his life. That general store mentality of friendly service and care for people was central to his character. My mom admired that about her dad. She often said that he always had a smile and a friendly word for everyone. And everyone in the town knew him. This picture is my mom at age 3 with her dad.
And then the history lesson moved on to Montgomery Ward and his amazing idea to market goods via a catalog. It was a lot of great information about how he built his company on trust and customer service. As Lia got to the end of the reading I asked her if she knew why this was so special to me. She had no idea. There was a look of surprise on her face when I told her that my dad - her great grandfather - had worked at Montgomery Ward for 43 years! I am sure that my dad would be shocked that Lia has no idea what a Wards store even is and saddened to learn of the demise of the company that was his home for most of his adult life. My mom actually started off working at Wards (I have told the story of their meeting on this blog in past blogs) and met and married my father after he came to work there. Lia's history lesson went on to talk about Sears and Roebuck and the development of the department store as we know it today. Sears actually also started as a mail order business but did not have the same good reputation as Wards. (No bias here, I am actually just relaying information that was in the history lesson! Honestly!) There was an example given of Sears advertising a set of upholstered furniture for 98 cents. The problem was that in very small print it said "miniature" and people were not happy with the doll house furniture they received! I hardly remember shopping anywhere but Wards until I was in high school. My dad was fiercely loyal to Wards as you might expect after his very long employment with them. My mom supported my dad and was just as loyal to Wards as he was. When I was in grade school and my mom needed to return to work for financial reasons, she went to Wards. I decided to use this picture of my mom and dad at my wedding. It was only a few years before my dad retired.
So, yes, I felt like Lia's particular history lesson was just for me. Boy is that enough to make you feel extremely old! But the truth is, my Grandfather was at the very tale end of the general store era (he left the store in 1917). And Montgomery Wards was well established by the time that my mom and dad (1935) began working there. While Lia was getting the HISTORY lesson, I was getting a valuable reminder of my personal history. I was reminded about my grandfather and the life that he lived. My grandfather died when I was just 2 years old so I never really knew him. But through the pages of Lia's textbook I saw the kind of care and concern he had for the people he served through this very important job in the community. He was able to really touch the lives of people every day. He had wanted so much to be a pastor but could not afford college. Today I saw how the course of his life put him in exactly the right place to really serve Jesus and people - just not in a church. And I was reminded of my dad's loyalty to the company that he had served his entire adult life. My dad had that same spirit of Montgomery Ward. He cared about the customers and wanted to provide the very best service for them. He started out as a simple appliance repairman with a small territory. He ended his career as a well respected trainer for an entire region. Not only could he fix just about anything, he was a gifted teacher who shared his knowledge with thousands of servicemen. I remember him saying that the most important part of his job was making sure that each person he trained could do their job well enough that they never had to return to a customers home. Keeping the customers happy was the central focus for my dad.
This is quite an impressive legacy of these two men. Neither had a lot of money. In fact, both were really very average middle class men. Both of them worked hard to make a living. Neither ever got their name written in a history book. But both of these men served well. They cared about people and they loved their jobs and their families. Tonight I am feeling so proud of my generations. I am so thankful for the hand of God on my family line and for His provision for my family. I am reminded of this verse Matthew 22:37-39(from The Passion Translation)
"Jesus answered him, "Love the Lord your God with every passion of your heart, with all the energy of your being, and with every thought that is within you. This is the great and supreme commandment. And the second is like it in importance: you must love your friend in the same way that you love yourself."
Looking at the example of these two men it is easy to see how Jesus uses each of us. It is not only the pastors and the missionary who are doing God's work. It is the person working at Walmart and the drive through person at Starbucks. The preschool teacher, the plumber, the painter. It is the construction worker, the bank president and the customer service representative. Each of us - no matter what our occupations, can fulfill those verses. We can love Jesus and we can love our neighbors. And when we do that, we will be leaving a legacy for our generations.
Jesus, thank you for reminding me of the seeds that have been sown into my family line. Thank you for history lessons that come to life through the people in our own families. Help us all to see the impact of our past generations on our life today. Holy Spirit help us all to recognize and appreciate how you are providing for us through our occupations. Keep us all mindful of the commandments to love You and to love our neighbors. Amen