April 7, 1963
My name is Howard and I found you, hidden in the back of a closet. Mom said you used to belong to my grandpa. If you don’t mind, I would like to write in you.
It is springtime here in West Eaton, New York. Dandelions have started to bloom, peppering the lawns. Leaves are sprouting from the surrounding maple trees. The weather is beautiful today. This morning, on my way to Sunday school, all I needed to wear was a light sweater to keep me warm. But you should know, Dear Diary. The weather may be nice, but Sunday school was about the last place I wanted to be.
I’m seven years old and I don’t believe in God. Still, my friends would be in church and if I wanted to see them, I’d had to go too. So, there I was sitting at a classroom table, coloring Bible pictures with my friends and the Sunday school teacher, Sandy Brown. Now, Sandy was someone you couldn’t forget if you’ve ever seen her. She was eighteen, mahogany brown hair, six feet tall, and weighed about three-hundred pounds. Compared to all fifty pounds of me, she seemed like a monster, ready to devore us. Normally, no one in class would sass her, but today I couldn’t help myself. The words, “Where did God come from?” flew out of my mouth.
Well, I guess I surprised her with my question, because with a dumbfounded look on her face, she replied, “He’s always been there.”
“What kind of answer is that?” I asked myself. “Everything has to come from somewhere.” I thought about asking the Pastor but decided not to. Every time I hear him preach, he might read one or two scriptures and spend the rest of the service singing hymns. As far as I can remember, he never sung about where God came from.
So, that’s it. After today, I’m done with Church. If I want to play with my friends, I can do that any other time.
June 10, 1969
Something odd happened yesterday. It was the first time I could remember not hearing the church bell ring before the service started. I never paid attention when it pealed, but now I find its silence very disturbing. Well, you know me, Dear Diary. I went to the church to see what had happened. As soon as I went through the front door, I had my answer. There, next to the entrance to the main chapel, was a coil of rope lying on the floor. It was obvious the rope had snapped and judging by the length of the coil, it broke near the top.
I was left with two choices. Should I just leave things as they were, or should I try to repair it? Remember, the church was built in the early 1800’s. The ceiling rose twenty-five feet high and the loft above it was another twenty feet before you reached the bell tower. There were no stairs to take you up. All that existed were steps nailed in the wall. To me, the choice was obvious. I slung the rope over my shoulder and went to find my way to the top.
It was simple when I first began climbing, but each step I took became more difficult. The weight of the rope took its toll on me and when I reached the loft, I was met with darkness, only to be broken by the sunlight breaking through from the belltower. Finally, I reached my goal. As I touched the bell to keep my balance, I gazed at the beauty surrounding me. The houses below all were aligned with each other, scattered along the highway. In the distance, I could see the headstones in the local cemetery. And beyond, spanning in every direction, was a green ocean of trees, glistening in splendor.
Then it was time to finish my task. I replaced the piece of broken rope from the bell with the rope I carried and dropped the rest down through the loft. Afterwards, I fed the rope through a hole in the ceiling, and I was finished. I can hardly until Sunday to hear the bell ring again and knowing the name of the person who fixed it will remain a mystery.
December 1, 1974
As you know, I’m staying with some friends in Columbia, South Carolina. College was a drag and I had to get out of New York for a while. I got a job working as a janitor at a local hotel and today I had the day off. I was planning on loafing around all day, but Tom, the guy I was staying with, decided to invite me to church. Being an unpaying guest in his house, I felt I had no choice but to go. Tom told me not to fret it. Unlike the Baptist church in West Eaton, we would be going to a Catholic Church. Catholic? I said to myself. When he told me this, the only thing I could think about was the movie, The Exorcist. At that moment, I knew if I saw anybody in church twisting their heads 360 degrees, I would be running out the door.
It’s ridiculous thinking that way, but I couldn’t help myself. But in the end, I let common sense rule the day and attended church with Tom. When it was over, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised from the experience. Unlike the Baptist church in West Eaton which played more music than anything else, the Catholic church I attended today focused on the interpretation of Bible scripture. I couldn’t help but to find it both intriguing and stimulating at the same time. Sadly, I won’t be here for the next service, since I decided to return to New York in two days.
May 3, 1976
I still can’t believe Darla agreed to marry me! When I joined the military and got stationed in Korea, I thought this stage in my life would be little different than the others before. Boy, was I wrong. Now, I have to earn her family’s blessing. Darla told me her family was devoutly Catholic and in order to get their blessing, I’d have to become Catholic too. I recalled the comfort and attraction I felt in the Catholic church in Columbia and feel this is something a can invite into my life.
This morning the Post Chaplain stopped by and handed me a Catholic Catechism and told me to study it. I thought it sounded simple, until I saw the book contained twelve-hundred pages of teachings and doctrine. Reluctantly, I accepted the book and read the first few pages. It didn’t take long for me to realize I would need a dictionary if I wanted to understand what is written in it. Well, now it’s 10:30 p.m. and I’ve completed the first fifty pages of the catechism, and in those few pages, I discovered how much information it covers. Now I’m promising myself I will read the entire book before I get married.
October 30, 1976
It’s my wedding day! My assignment to Korea is over and I have Darla in West Eaton with me. I’m proud to say I finished reading the catechism and slowly on my way to becoming Catholic. But I’m not there yet. Since Darla came over on a fiancé visa, we needed to get married quickly, so Reverend Clark, the pastor of the West Eaton Baptist Church, said he would gladly perform the wedding ceremony for us. Funny how a church I promised myself not to attend, has come to my rescue. Well, my time as a single man is about to come to an end, Dear Diary, so I’m cutting it short. Wish me luck.
December 13, 1981
It snowed last night, and no one shovel off the church steps. The good news is I’ve finished my hitch in the service. The bad news is, before I got out, I broke my heel and now have a cast going up to my knee. As I stared at the Baptist church from my parent’s house, Darla knew exactly what I was thinking. I smiled at her and told her not to worry and I wouldn’t over-do it. I put on a parka and placed a plastic bag over my cast. Grabbing a shovel, I walked across the road and began to shovel the snow from the church steps.
Unlike the time I repaired the church bell, the town people either saw what I was doing or heard the scraping of my shovel. One by one, men and women of all ages came out to help. Within minutes, the steps were cleared, as well as the parking lot. At first, we all looked at our handywork when we were finished. Then we turned our eyes towards each other and began to smile, not only their faces, but in their eyes as well. For a while, we stood out there, talking about whatever came to mind, then the church bell rang, reminding everyone what time it was. Some returned to their homes and others proceeded to church. As for me, I just stood there, contemplating how good people can be if they wanted to.
April 9, 2016
Today is a somber day for me. I traveled from Maryland, to New York, for the funeral of my Uncle Gordy. Though, I never mentioned him to you before, he was my favorite uncle. We spent several days fishing and sharing stories with each other. As I was growing up, he was the next best thing to having a brother, and today, I’m saying good-bye to a dear friend.
As I sat there, waiting for the service to begin, I was admiring the stained-glass windows. Rising from waist high to near the top of ceiling. Images from popular Bible scriptures bloomed to life in the form of colorful light, illuminating the interior with their presence. It was the perfect place to celebrate Uncle Gordy’s life. For most of the afternoon, friends and family members stepped forward gave testimony and shared memories they had with my uncle. There’s no question, he led a full and happy life. I can only wish that I could do the same.
January 18, 2022
It’s been a long time since I wrote to you. So much has happened since then, but today, I’ll stick to the present. It’s my birthday, but not a happy one. I have been recently diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and I have just been admitted to the hospital, probably for the last time. The pain is excruciating, still I refuse to share it with my loved ones. Darla, my two sons, and granddaughter are here with me, offering me comfort and giving all of us a chance to say our farewells. I just turned sixty-six. Not too old according to today’s standards, but I can’t complain. It’s not how long you live it’s how well you live your life that counts. As far as I can see, I’ve had many more good times than bad, and I can thank God for that, as well as the life he has given me. Well, the doctor is coming in to crank up the morphine, so I’m going to stop for now. Good night, Dear Diary, sleep tight.
February 4, 2022
My name is Caliana and I’m the Howard’s granddaughter. Today I discovered you hiding in a box of Grandpa’s belongings. I guess you were packed away after he died. I know it’s not polite to read other people’s personal journals, but considering the circumstances, I felt it was necessary.
When I discovered how much that church in New York affected his life, I went to Grandma and convinced her to have Grandpa’s funeral there. I know it’s not a Catholic setting, but I’m sure it was a hidden wish of Grandpa’s to see that church one last time, and what better way than at his funeral.
Anyways, Dear Diary, if you don’t mind, I would like to keep writing in you and continue this adventure until it’s someone else’s turn to write in your pages. I just wish to say Grandpa Howard wished to have been remembered like his Uncle Gordy, and I can tell you, he has done much more than that. He has given an unfathomable number of hours to help his Church, family, and friends, and though they may not celebrate his life, countless people’s lives have been touched by his presence. He will always be remembered, if not in name, then in spirit.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. Grandpa told me this before he died, “If there’s one lesson I’ve learned in life, it’s one may recall their past or live in the present, but no one can foresee their future. But there is one truth that can’t be disputed. Ones’ pasts serve as a compass, leading them to their destinies.”
Thank you, Grandpa, for your wise words. I love you now, and always will.