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On the other hand, regarding my other writing project, I said my memoir is about me and about how I got this way.
One of the “ways” that I got to, scarcely anticipated, is the way of a Bible-believing, evangelical Christian.
Looking backwards in my memoir, naturally, I studied the family line which led to me and to that startling conversion.
The Lord was involved in my study. As I studied, He revealed things I needed to know, to say nothing of the revelation of the fact of Himself in the first place.
My memoir characterizes my father, who was a poet of lyric fire when it came to nature, God, mankind, death, and beauty. I know Dad’s religion. Dad is one generation back.
Dad was the middle of three children in a Minnesota family. Dad's father was a successful businessman in the meat packing industry at the beginning of the 20th century.
That successful business man, my grandfather, was two generations back. The third generation back was my great grandfather, who was a circuit-riding Methodist minister on the Great Plains during the late years of the 19th century.
As a Bible-believing, evangelical Christian writing about my family line, among other investigations, I desired to trace my family’s theological roots and its profession of Christian belief.
Of course, I know my father’s theological roots—one generation back—both from his talks with me and from his poetry. Also, I know about my great-grandfather’s theological roots—three generations back—partly by inference based on his profession, but partly also by my father’s stories about him.
But what about my grandfather—two generations back? The successful businessman: what was his religious awareness? His name was A.L. Eberhart.
One responsibility I had to the publisher of my memoir was to supply it with photographs, so—rather like an archivist—I pulled storage canisters from my barn in which my wife and I have placed family pictures, always with the thought that—soon enough—we should get around to the task of arranging them properly.
Now, if I really were my fictional archivist, instead of just feckless me, I should already have arranged the pictures properly. I should have studied their particularities, catalogued them, ordered them, preserved them, and made them available at a moment’s notice.
In one of the canisters, I came across a familiar item. I knew and liked this three-fold, leather, wallet-like holder of three lovely antique photographs.
The wallet is about four inches wide and six inches tall. When opened out flat, the three photographs are displayed side-by-side, each of them mounted on heavy cream-colored stock as was done in the early 20th century.
I have always liked the three photographs stored inside, which are skillfully done. On the right panel is a photograph of my father’s brother at about age two. On the left panel is a photograph of my father, also at about age two (though he is two years younger than his older brother).
The middle panel has the largest of the photographs. This is a profile picture of my father’s mother—my grandmother—who is revealed as a beautiful woman of about thirty. (It was in memory of my grandmother that my wife and I gave her name to our oldest daughter—Lena.)
After I had admired the photographs this one more time, I was about to put the wallet aside when I felt something odd.
The panel which displayed my uncle’s photograph was slightly thicker than the other two panels. Something was stuck inside the wallet behind the picture of my uncle. I prodded a bit, and out slid an envelope with a folded piece of paper inside.
I was amazed. This was eerie. My heart pounded. I had handled this wallet perhaps a dozen times during the past years. But now I was in precisely the same circumstance as my fictional archivist.
I examined the address on the envelope. I recognized the handwriting. It is the handwriting of my father’s father, of my grandfather, whose handwriting I had often seen in other documents.
The letter was sent from Austin, Minnesota, to my grandfather’s mother, who was at that time staying at Rosslyn Hotel in Los Angeles, on April 7, 1906…postmarked at 4:30 pm.
On the back of the envelope, a note is written in ink, also in my grandfather’s hand. The note says, “For Clara, September 13, 1929, A.L. Eberhart.”
My grandfather, the businessman, could not have known that the financial world would be rocked by cataclysm sixteen days later.
On that day in 1929, I surmise that my grandfather was filled with love and with commitment when he gave his important 1906 letter to Clara. Clara was the woman A.L. loved after he recovered from the sad death of his wife Lena, which had occurred in 1921.
I do not know how A.L. came to re-possess the letter he had sent to his mother in 1906, twenty-three years after he sent it originally, but he must have perceived the letter as precious, and perhaps Clara did so as well.
In those days, important family documents were tucked for safe keeping inside the family Bible. This important family document was similarly tucked away—though inside the icon of A.L.’s wife and his first two children and not the family Bible.
The text of the letter is treasure, as you will see. It is treasure to me—to A.L.’s memoir-writing, family-history imbibing, Christian grandson, into whose hand it would fall, in 2015, eighty-six years later.
With tender fingers, I extracted A.L.’s letter. It is written in pencil on heavy, cream-colored stock, seven inches by twelve inches, folded in half and then folded in four, in order to allow it to fit into the small envelope.
My grandfather wrote the words below when my father was two years old, and then he gave to Clara the words he had written, later, when my father was twenty-five.
The long-lost and then providentially revealed letter is a literary devise often employed by writers, myself included, for telescoping time--as I intend in The Pirate Book. In what is the actual way of the holy, God-filled universe in which I believe and today in which I thrive, A.L.’s words had been hidden away from view by everyone since sometime after he gave them to Clara--hidden away until it was time for them to be revealed to me, when my father would have been one hundred eleven.
April 15 – 1906
Dear Father & Mother:
This is Easter Sunday and this letter will relieve my conscience of one of its heaviest loads and I trust be the means of bringing much joy and happiness to you both. Ever since I backslid after my conversion in Chicago, I have feared that the death of one or both of you would deprive you of the joy of knowing before death that I again decided to serve Almighty God.
At a men’s meeting this afternoon Mr. Hormel and I went forward and publicly declared thereby to live a Christian life to the best of our ability in a meeting of [illegible] Sunday. There were 3000 men there and a number followed our example. I have attended almost every meeting for the past four weeks and have heard more sermons in that time than for the last fifteen years. It was either 1889 or 1890 that I was converted and since the termination of my short religious life of about a year I have never opened a bible or offered a prayer but on account of the early training you gave me, eternally branding on my conscience the difference between right and wrong and because of the simple, fearless presentation of God’s messages to man by Billy Sunday the Evangelist I will read from the bible tonight and pray to God to take me as I am.
You have waited long and patiently for me but now our family is a unit. I am going to begin at the bottom just as I did in business. I have been successful in business so I want you to give me some verses of scripture to read that will help me.
Lena has asked me to go forward with her and she is going tomorrow. Don’t expect too much of me at once for I have a big battle on for a while I am sure, but I have health and an iron will and will try and hold fast this time. Where is that verse “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ?” You have always prayed for me to keep on don’t quit I need them now.
With love from your son
The children are well--
Ah, my goodness!
Buried treasure indeed! Greater than pirate gold!
...and as you see, the photographs are not of pirates!