By Brian Carpenter
In the summer of 1994 General Mills moved my wife and I to southwest Indiana. She was in sales, and I was trying to go to seminary. As we looked for a place to live, we decided to purchase a small home in a small town outside of Evansville. The town was called Boonville.
Boonville had several advantages. It was 20 miles closer to Louisville than Evansville was, and I was commuting to Louisville four days a week for classes. It turned a two and a half hour drive into a two hour drive. It was also cheaper. We bought a 2 bedroom, one bath house for something less than $40,000 if memory serves.
There was a wonderful cemetery three blocks from our house, and the locals would take their evening walks there. You can tell a lot about a people by the way they take care of their dead, and Boonville had done a nice job. There were quiet paved paths and a gazebo with benches to take a rest if you wanted. Christians would often leave tracts on those benches in case some unbeliever happened to sit down and contemplate his bodily demise from a spiritual perspective. I first saw what I want someday on my own gravestone at the cemetery in Boonville. It said the man’s name, and the dates of birth and death, and then it said, “Born twice, died once.”
The town was fairly old by the standards of the American Midwest. Boonville had even been the boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln. Many of the graves in the oldest section of the cemetery dated from the early 19th century. There were a shocking number of infants and children buried in the old part of the Boonville cemetery. Life must have been very hard, indeed.
There was also an old hardware store owned by the farmer’s co-op. It was right next to the railroad tracks. It had well worn hardwood floors that went “clump, clump, clump” when you walked on them in your work boots. The nails were in those funny segmented metal carousels that you don’t see anymore. There was an honest-to-goodness potbellied stove in one corner which was actually used in wintertime. The guys who worked there would cut panes of glass for you and always found the straightest lumber out in the yard for you without having to be nagged about it.
There were historic homes in varying states of decay, and a moderately functioning town square a short walk from the house. The square held the county courthouse. It also hosted Frank Broshears’ Barber Shop, which was a true, old-time barber shop. The first time I went in to get a haircut, Frank was happily chatting with the locals. I just sat and listened while pretending to read old issues of Outdoor Life. When my turn came he sat me down and kept chatting. He never asked what sort of haircut I wanted, and when I got up, God as my witness, it was the best haircut I’d ever had. For all the years I patronized Frank’s barber shop he never asked what I wanted and he always got it exactly right. There were also several antique shops on the square, a Five and Dime store that was just holding on by its toenails, a pharmacy, a decent cafe, the Warrick County newspaper, and a jeweler. At night you could hear the distant horn from the coal train taking the coal from the mine north of town to the Ohio River south of town.
There was an old guy down the street who always wore overalls and had a 1940’s vintage Ford 8N tractor. He’d turn over your garden for you for $10 in the spring. He drove an old Chevy pickup with a large plastic water tank in the bed, of the sort that ranchers use to fill their stock tanks. The tank was always empty, and to my knowledge he didn’t have a farm or any cows anymore. I think he just carried the water tank around for old time’s sake.
In the Fall, if you’d rake your leaves to the edge of the street they’d come by with a giant sucker truck and vacuum them up for you. No bagging, no burning, no shredding or trips to the dump were necessary. Since we had three giant maple trees plus a large poplar on our lot, I thought it was the best use of taxpayer money I’d ever seen.
As good as that all was, the best part about Boonville was Bob and Daisy Austill. They were our neighbors across the street, and two of the finest Christians I ever met. Bob had retired from the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. Daisy had stayed home and raised three kids. They were probably in their late 60′s when we met them.
On the day we moved in, Daisy brought over cookies as a welcome. We talked a bit and I think I noticed a fish sticker on the back of Daisy’s Oldsmobile. I asked if they were Christians, and a friendship was born.
About three months after we moved in, early on a cold Saturday morning, Laura said, “Brian, the toilet won’t flush!” Those are alarming words when you only have one toilet and you haven’t gotten to use it yet that day because the wife beat you into the bathroom.
I went out into the yard and undid the cap on the sewer cleanout. After some mucking around with sticks it became apparent that tree roots had grown into the pipe and were catching most of the stuff flowing through the pipe. I had seen an old sewer snake in Bob’s garage, so I walked across the street to ask him if I could borrow it.
“Sure.” he said, and then he went out to the garage and got it down off the wall and began carrying it across the street to my house. I asked him what he was doing. “I’m helping you.” he said.
Now, I didn’t want to be mucking around in my own sewer at eight in the morning on a Saturday, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be mucking around in somebody else’s. I was flabbergasted and humbled by his behavior. If the roles had been reversed I would have gotten the snake out, handed it to him, and said “Good luck!” and closed the door. Had I not been a Christian already, Bob’s behavior would have made me seriously consider the claims of the Christian faith right then and there. To this day, my personal definition of Christian love is mucking around in somebody else’s sewer on a cold Saturday morning.
That’s the kind of man Bob was. I’m sure there were things about us that bugged him. His yard was immaculate. We had no shed or garage, for one thing, so our little patio was cluttered with lawnmowers and all sorts of stuff. The closest he ever came to criticism was to say, “You do kind of need a place to keep your stuff,” after I told him we had bought a shed on sale at Sears. He was all patience and kindness and generosity, and yet there was no hint of weakness about him.
Bob and Daisy were always there with a sympathetic ear. They had lots of advice, but never offered it unless I asked for it. I longed for the chance to be as kind to them as they had been to me. The second year after we moved in Bob had a detached garage built in his backyard. I chastised him for not letting me do the vinyl siding for him to save him money. When the alternator went out on Bob’s pickup, he came and asked me for help. I was overjoyed that I could finally serve him.
They were members of some small church in a town not far from Boonville. It wasn’t a particularly doctrinally sound church. On the one Sunday that we went with them to church the minister mostly spoke about a Rush Limbaugh program he had heard that week. I was puzzled how such mighty oaks could grow in such poor soil. Then one day Daisy let the secret out. I was over at her house on some errand. She had been in pain from some minor ailment the night before and couldn’t sleep, so she had been up in the middle of the night reading her Bible and had discovered something she wanted to share with me. She got this giant, well worn King James family Bible off the bottom shelf of an end table in the living room to show me the relevant passage. The lights went on, and I understood. Bob and Daisy fed themselves on the Word of God. They didn’t know the five points of Calvinism or the difference between supra and infra lapsarianism. Nobody had ever mentioned Zwingli or Erasmus or Bucer to them, and yet they managed to grow into a lovely spiritual maturity.
I think Reformed theology is the most accurate and comprehensive explanation of what the Bible teaches that is available to men. Nobody else in all Christendom has thought as carefully and systematically about the Scriptures as we have. Yet with all our knowledge, we don’t seem to produce very many Bobs and Daisys. The fault surely rests with men like me, who are the shepherds of the flock of God, and aren’t very Bob-like (that is to say, not very Christ-like) ourselves. We may be full of all knowledge, but as the Apostle Paul pointed out, knowledge (even good and true knowledge) tends to puff up. It is love that builds up. Let’s make it our main goal to add love to our knowledge.
Sometimes, when I think of what I should be and compare it to what I actually am, I know what Bunyan’s Pilgrim meant when he said, “I am weary of my inward sickness.” For all my learning, I am still weak and fleshly in so many areas. I am not very patient. I am not very kind. I have great need to be discipled and taught by men like Bob. I have great need to be up reading the Scriptures in the middle of the night myself, like Daisy, so that the Spirit of God can make me more Bob-like. The church has great need of Bobs and Daisys who will take an active role in other people’s lives instead of moving to Florida to play golf and marinate in the sun. Only then will we be able to marry truth and love in our own lives, and by God’s grace start producing Bobs and Daisys in large enough numbers to do some good in this world.