As I contemplate the upcoming Father’s Day and my reflections on my first year of this day since the passing of my father, I would like to commemorate a life well lived and the legacy that he has passed on to his seven children. From this point forward we are trying to continue the heritage as patriarchs and matriarchs of our own clans.
This incredible story actually begins with my grandfather, my Dad’s father, who was born in Vermont before the outbreak of the Civil War. He and his family attended the Advent Christian Church, a small country church in Bridgewater Center, Vermont, called Oak Chapel. The small building with white clapboards had a short cupola with a belfry, and it had a large inverted acorn on the top of the cupola. My grandfather used to sing in the choir, and the church had revival services in the late 1800’s as they were expecting Jesus to return at any moment.
But by the time my father and his brothers and one sister were born, the family did not attend church much, and the boys were mostly found hunting and fishing on Sunday morning. In a few years, the small church closed down and no services were held for almost 40 years. But my grandfather never forgot the heritage he had learned as a youth, and in his later years he lived with our family and sometimes at night, when it was quiet, he would remove the pipe from his mouth and say in a loud voice, “If the Lord come tonight, be ye ready?”
An answered prayer
Years passed, and after World War II, my parents, Percy and Alice, now had seven children. My father worked in the machine shops of New England and did some carpentry work. By now they were not attending church as their lives were busy with a large family and running a small farm as well as working outside the home. In 1953, a cabinet maker in Boston named Harry had a vision of a small country church with an acorn on top. God spoke to his heart and told him that he wanted him to open up that church. Harry had no seminary or Bible school training, but he did have a heart for God and set out for Vermont in a snowstorm with no winter tires. He drove to Vermont and in a series of incredible circumstances, and being led by the Holy Spirit, he found the country church and asked the locals about it, as it had been closed and empty for 39 years. They said a man named West would know about it, and Harry walked the last half mile in the snow and got the key from him. He in turn referred the cabinet maker to a man named Walter, actually a relative of ours, who was on the church board, which wanted to sell the country church due to lack of interest by the locals. Walter asked the board for just one more year as he had been praying for years that someone would come and open the church. Harry drove 25 miles to Walter’s farm, and Walter met him with tears in his eyes, and said, “Young man, I know why you have come. When you turned the corner to drive in my yard, God said, ‘There is the answer to your prayers.’ God has sent you to open our church.”
Within a few weeks, Pastor Harry saw my older brother and sister in our yard on a Sunday morning and invited them to Sunday School. They went and heard the gospel and about the love of Jesus for the first time. All of our family including my aunt and our cousins came to know the Lord, and we attended the church for a few years until Pastor Harry left to found another church in Vermont. Later the old farm where we lived burned to the ground, we moved away from the small town where we had lived all of my life, and the small church eventually closed its doors again.
But the legacy that my father was able to pass on due to one man’s obedience, like Abraham of old, leaving a good business in Boston with his wife and four children, was the spiritual heritage of a personal relationship with God through Jesus, and walking with him through the large and small issues of life. We have all learned and been taught that God has no grandchildren, and each of us and our children and children’s children have had to come to a saving knowledge of God in our own way and our own experience. My father taught us how to hunt and fish, how to excel at archery, how to do algebra and geometry, how to put in a garden, how to drive, and how to study Latin and the classics. Most importantly, he taught us how to do life, and how to know God and to make him paramount in our lives.
The godly legacy or spiritual heritage that my father has been able to hand down to us is incredible. His descendants now number seven children, 23 grandchildren, 48 great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandson, Elliot Elisha, born in January of this year. His family includes doctors, lawyers, college professors, librarians, social workers, pastors, teachers, missionaries, elders and deacons. My parents were married for 75 years, and my father saw the 81st anniversary of his high school graduation from Woodstock High School in Vermont, where he graduated as valedictorian in 1934, and where five of us went to high school. He was not able to attend college, although he had a scholarship, since he had to take care of his family. But he made sure his children had a chance to further their education, and they went to Bible School and some of the top schools in the Northeast. His grandchildren include three with a Ph.D. degree and several with Master’s degrees. We have learned the centrality of God in our lives and the primary importance of family and not always a career or possessions.
My parents lived for 44 years in the home that they bought after the farmhouse burned down. They both worked at Dartmouth College, my father in the Physics Department, and they were both active in the campus fellowship where they mentored many of the students. After their retirement, they wintered in St. Petersburg, Florida, but they were not too busy to attend our children’s baby dedications at Calvary Chapel Jacksonville and CCFL. They were prayer warriors, and prayed faithfully by name for each person in their huge clan every day. At 99 years old, weeks before his passing, he was on his laptop on Facebook every day, liking things left and right and giving words of encouragement.
After a short period of failing health, my mother Alice went to be with her Lord in April of 2013 at 93 years of age, and her younger sister this year at 95. My father’s younger sister passed in March of 2013 at 93, and my father Percy last August at 99 years and four months. They all walked with the Lord for over 60 years. Three of the four graduation ceremonies for them were held in Oak Chapel, and they were laid to rest in the tiny cemetery near the church, alongside my grandfather Milo Woods, my great-grandfather Elisha F. Woods, and my great-great-grandfather Elisha A. Woods. But their legacy continues today as we celebrate Father’s Day.
Bob Woods has worked as an engineer at AECOM Technical Services and HBC Engineering, and is a published Christian author. He can be reached at [email protected].