Happy 100th Birthday, Dad! The Breeze Still Blows

I’ve been anticipating this day for a year.  October 5, 2018 marks the 100 year anniversary of my father’s birth.

Marion Ray Thomas at age 2.

“Happy Birthday, Dad!”

I called him “Daddy” most of my life. Marion Ray Thomas. Born on October 5, 1918 and died on July 26, 2004 at the age of 85, nearing 86. I miss him. In his latter more quiet years, I heard him exclaim numerous times, “Oh, I’m just a happy boy!” Dad faced many troubles and stressors, and often responded emotionally, but always found equilibrium, returning to his “happy boy” position in Jesus.

Dad was a gardener, grocer, factory worker, public school teacher, Brethren preacher/church planter, poet, letter-to-the-editor writer, and writer in general. I’ve been reading some of his journal writings and poems.

Sometimes, he wrote on any paper he could reach. Around the year 2000, he handed me a 9 x 12 inch sheet of pink construction paper on which he had written what he wanted included in his funeral service. Pink construction paper. Hmm. I’m sure it was handy when he wanted to write down these ideas. The list included hymns he wanted us to sing. The service had to be at his church, a Brethren church, and he wanted his body there, an open casket. He wanted a happy service, no mourning. After all, as he emphatically informed us, while his body would be there in that box, he’d be in heaven, dancing!

I’m much like my dad in this pink construction paper way, and it frustrates me, but so it is. I have a thought and write it down on whatever. I have many journals and files,  but they’re just not always handy, and unlike Daddy, I dread using my hand to write (because of hand stiffness, pain, and loss of fine motor fluidity). Praise God for the ease of a modern keyboard! But if I need to jot down a quotation or some ideas as memory prompts, any paper’ll do, and organizing them, who knows…..

The pink construction paper way is only a sidebar to Dad’s writing (as well as mine). His typewriter was very important to him for creating church bulletins, composing poems, writing letters to lots of people as well as to the newspaper, and shaping his sermons.

Marion Ray Thomas at about age 20.

Dad also wrote by hand, and did so much longer or later in life than I’ve been able. I have a deep box full of Dad’s handwritten sermons from the 1960s and maybe ’70s. I’ve only read the top sermon. Embarrassing. I also have numerous files of his writings and poems. We have his published poems and a book he wrote with many of his letters and poems. We have journals and calendars that he kept. I’m trying to pull them all together and go through them. A little at a time. It will take years.

First, I’ve been reading a special journal he composed back in 1996 when he was turning 78. I gave him this journal and asked him to fill it in. We all need to do one or two of these at some point. This journal is called Grandpa’s Daily Book of Memories.

I wanted to have a 100 year Birthday party today, here at our “new” house in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s a warm, inviting home. But plans did not work out. So, yesterday, two cousins and I talked for over two hours on the phone about Dad/Uncle Marion. I read pages from this book of memories, and then we talked about what we were learning, adding our own pieces to the pictures.

This morning, I sent a group email to the family, inviting them to submit “snapshot” memories of Dad/Marion as bullet points which I will collect and collate. We did this last year when my mom turned 100. She died in 2008. The email interaction was easy to do from anywhere, did not take much time, and brought us together as a family with laughter, tears, and love. So, we’ll do this again over the next few months.

You may want to do some of these things to help your family remember and share your heritage. (Sure, this is now done on Facebook, but I avoid Facebook.) You have roots. I have roots. As we approach the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, these seasons present an ideal time to consider, contemplate, and appreciate our heritages.

Dad wrote that his memories “forever breathe within my brain”. By His recording of them, they can also breathe within my brain, bringing their life to me. I will waft some narrative your way.

Marion, age 10, with his two sisters, Miriam, age 8, and Lois Mae, age 1.

Until I am tired of this blowing wind, or until I note that you’ve had enough breeze, I’ll keep this door open.

I also have my father’s last Bible. His handwriting is all the way through it. He underlines, draws arrows,  and adds comments. His comments include exclamations: “Hallelu!”, “Yes”, “Remember”, “Hear this”, and “Know this”. In Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking our own assembling together…but encouraging one another…”, he underlines “encouraging one another” and adds in the margin, “A part of worship —– Hear this.” I smile at this. The various ways I encourage you and you encourage me is worship of God. I think this is a good description of the life my father lived.

“Know this”, Dad writes next to Romans 5: 19: “For as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Jesus’ righteousness (right standing with God) is our righteousness. Does this encourage you?

Proverbs 23:4-5 gives instruction about wealth. Dad writes next to the passage: “Money goes; Jesus stays.” Does this encourage you? “Money goes; Jesus stays!” I sigh and smile. The temporal perspective is met by the eternal Balm, and there is joy.

Next time, I hope to tell you about a little boy, Marion, born at home in 1918 while his father, Jason, was away in military service and didn’t get to see him until he was three months old.

Helen Thomas sent this picture postcard to her husband, Jason, who was still away on military duty and had not yet seen his son, Marion.

Jason and Helen lived on a farm south of Findlay, Ohio, a farm that Helen had inherited while still in her teens, but in 1928, tragedy comes to the family. Their survival story is also a joy story.  Grandpa’s Daily Book of Memories tells much of this story. It is a good story to encourage us. Just what we need.

And “the wind blows where it wills….”




Categories: Biography, Christian Reader, Spiritual Growth | Tags: | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Happy 100th Birthday, Dad! The Breeze Still Blows

  1. Martin Zuidervaart

    The breeze coming through the open door is brilliant imagery, Karen, for both the spirit of your father and God the Spirit–blowing where it wills. I welcome its blowing my way with regularity; your ongoing honor of parents is inspiring and comforting in midst of the hatred and smearing of others by so many both in the local church and our society at large (The Kavanaugh Hearing). I also admire your clever integration of the pink construction paper to offer insight into your own soul. The photographs are helpful as well to encourage your blog readers to hang around for awhile as you develop the narrative of your father’s legacy. Another “happy boy,” Marty Z.

    • kltolsen

      Thank you, Marty, for your kind and detailed response. I’m glad to share my heritage with others, trusting that the Spirit will breathe through it. And I’m so glad that you are another “happy boy”!

  2. Carolyn Wilkins

    What a beautiful tribute to your Daddy. I think you are so much like him and he would be extremely pleased with the way you share your love of Jesus and His beauty that surrounds you. Even in the midst of suffering, you see the glorious!! What a legacy your earthy father left you that leads you right to your Heavenly Father. As always, thank you for sharing your heart. Carolyn

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