My mother's side of the family is consistent, normal; nurses, farmers, firemen, and land owners. Beautiful really, but the people with the craziness and the ridiculous stories is my father's family. Gamblers, hell-raisers and overall lovers of life, stories about them always left me slack-jawed and wide-eyed when I was a kid. With it being Memorial Day, I thought about one of my favorite Willis family legends.
My great-grandfather, Harry fell over drunk in a rose bush in the front yard of a woman who only discovered him because he wouldn't stop singing. She later married him and bore him three sons, one of whom was my grandfather. Harry's drinking was legendary, so was my great-grandmother's church attendance at the local Baptist church. Harry would be coming in from a night or a weekend of bar-hopping while Mattie had spent the same amount of time or more at church, on her knees that Harry would come to his senses. She was consistently pleading that God would provide a way for Harry to sober up.
She thought the oldest of her boys being drafted into the United States Army not long after Pearl Harbor would be enough. She was wrong. When their middle son was drafted not six months later, Harry's time inside a bottle only increased, as did Mattie's time in church. But when my grandfather, the baby, was drafted only a few months after both the older boys, Harry met Mattie on the porch of their house as she arrived home from church. For the first time in a long time, he was sober.
He only had one question: "Mattie. Is your God big enough to bring all three of my sons home from war alive?"
She only gave one answer "Of course He is Harry. Of course He is."
Now I've heard that you're not supposed to make deals with God, but apparently, my great-grandfather was clueless. He told Mattie to go back to church and tell her God that if He would bring all three boys home safely, he would never drink another drop.
Four years later, one after another, each of the boys came home. Safely.
And Harry kept his promise. He never drank again.
At he and Mattie's 50th wedding anniversary, someone offered him a margarita. He laughed and refused. All he said was "He kept His end of the bargain...I'm not going against mine."
I only remember meeting Harry a few times. He died when I was just a child. As we celebrate those who've gone before us this weekend, I am reminded that I have an ever-growing list of who I can't wait to talk to in Heaven. Harry is definitely at the top of the list.