Monday, November 12, 2012

Faith of My Fathers


What am I teaching my kids about America, land of the free and home of the brave?

Bright Girl and I just read through a book about America in the early 1900's, during WWI. The story was about two children orphaned from the influenza outbreak and raised in a Shakers community called Dear America: Like the Willow Tree by Lois Lowry. 

Like the Pilgrims, the Shakers came to America fleeing religious persecution in England. Since then, the Shaker communities have dwindled down to nearly a handful of people, if even. With no new generation to carry on their simple ways of life, they may be the last of the Shakers.  Following the teachings of one of their founders (though it is not a Biblical teaching), Shakers all have to practice celibacy and do not have any children.  

It makes me think of my roots, physical and spiritual. My family tree on my mother's side is full of aunts, uncles, and cousins. My father's side, I didn't meet until I was about sixteen, but that's another story...

Last count, my eldest grandfather, the one on my father's side, has upwards of about eighteen great-grandchildren.  How could this possibly be, you might say?  Well, he just turned 101 years old and is still going strong. 

Grandpa Hedges was born in 1911, the second to youngest of 10 children. His grandfather lived to be 100, and he's had several siblings live beyond 100, as well. It looks as if he has some sort of longevity gene. But, if you ask Grandpa, or Grandpa Ernie as we grandkids call him, he would say it is his faith that has kept him strong. 

Here is Grandpa Ernie holding the "Happy 101" sign. A WWII veteran, Grandpa was chosen to gather with other vets at Washington D.C. courtesy of The Space Coast Honor Flight.

Amidst the trials and tribulations of life, the Lord has helped my grandpa to remain at peace. When many American soldiers had to return to the states from shell shock or the rigors of war, Grandpa Ernie remained as a cook and a medic in the Army during WWII. He was an organ player and played hymns for his fellow soldiers with a portable organ to cheer their spirits.

Grandpa got to know everyone he met, and soon befriended a young Italian boy named Andrea. Andrea offered to have his sister wash Grandpa Ernie's clothes in exchange for sapone or soap. Little did Grandpa know that this sister was a beautiful Italian young woman named Cina. They fell in love and married shortly thereafter.

After the war was over, Grandpa Ernie came back home to the United States, but had to leave someone very special behind in Italyhis bride. The war brides had to wait several months apart from their husbands before being allowed into the U.S. It was a long and heartbreaking wait for Cina. She was pregnant and ended up losing the baby while in Italy.

Grandpa made his living as a baker, and owned Hedges Bakery in Downtown Melbourne. The bakery was quite the competition for nearby Publix. Grandpa's edge was that he made everything with all natural ingredients. Even before trans-fats, refined flour and corn syrup were known to be bad for cardiovascular health, Grandpa Ernie only used healthy oils, unrefined sugar and whole grains in his cookies, cakes, and doughnuts.
My Nonna Cina was Grandpa Ernie's true love. They were married for over 50 years and had four children. When she went to be with the Lord back in 1998, Grandpa never remarried. He couldn't love another the way he loved his bride from Italy.

When Grandpa Ernie turned 92, he published his life story, Flowers for Cina, and dedicated it to my Nonna.

Writing his life story was one way that my grandpa passed on his faith and values to the next generation, but another way was through love. His gentleness, humility, and devotion to the Lord was evident in the way he lived. We grand kids saw it and it made an impression on all of us. 

May we all follow Grandpa Ernie's example and carry the torch of faith, telling the next generation of the love of our great God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

"But You, O LORD sit enthroned forever; Your renown endures through all generations." (Psalm 102: 12, NIV)