“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth”
–so you never tired of telling me, Papa. “What does Matthew 6:33 say?” you used always demand, whenever I was going away. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you,” I would dutifully reply. Thank you for reminding me, Papa, and thank for showing me how:
“Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white, and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life and in the labour which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”
You drank lemonade and “bubble juice,” not wine, and you ate eggplant and okra more than bread, but you did it with joy. When her back was turned or her hearing aid was off, you may have muttered to me about the oppressive regime of “Deputy Dog,” but you loved your wife all the days of your life. Best of all, you did what you did with all your might. By the time I knew you, your might wasn’t what it used to be, but the fruits of all your labors were everywhere, whether it was the amazing collectibles in your basement, where I worked long hours trying to sort the wheat from the chaff (even if you refused to believe there was any chaff), or the dozens of men scattered all over the state who credited you with leading them to Christ and getting their lives back on track. Growing up, it seemed I couldn’t meet anyone without hearing about something you had done for them or done for this community.
“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.”
“Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.”
Your wisdom is the greatest inheritance you have left to me, and to so many in this room. It was often eccentric wisdom–you would call me several times a month, it seemed, to see if I remembered what happened on this day in history–when I called you last month, I still remembered: November 30th–the Battle of Franklin, the destruction of the Army of Tennessee. I’m sure you noticed, though you chose to ignore it, how I would grumble under my breath or make faces behind your back when you called me over at the end of each visit to tell me another strange story about great-great-uncle Edward Gridley, or to show me the roster where John Calvin Hicks served in Jenkins’s Palmetto Sharpshooters. But I don’t regret it now–you taught me the value of heritage and roots in a forgetful and rootless world, so that I carry a bit of South Carolina and the Old Confederacy with me wherever I go, even to the far corners of the earth like Scotland. You instilled in me a passion for history that will never burn out.
“The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails firmly fastened. And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
You taught me the love of books, but tried to remind me that people were more important. The one unconditional promise you extracted from me was that I would never bring along a book to your funeral. And I want everyone here to be my witnesses that today, I left all of them in the car.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”
And you, Papa, have returned to God who gave you to us. And we all join together today in thanking Him for his gift and for your example. And we thank him that we will have an eternity to sit at your side and hear tales of the Old Confederacy with the gravel in your voice and the twinkle in your eye, when God shall have wiped away every tear from our eyes, there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away, for He makes all things new. So together we shall await that day when death is swallowed up in victory and we stand together before the throne.
O Almighty God, who hast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of thy servant Dick Littlejohn, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at length, through thy mercy, we may with him attain to thine eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, who live liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.