Friday, January 25, 2013

what's your story?

Just as I was pulling into my Uncle Dean and Aunt Brigitte’s driveway at five minutes to six on Saturday evening, my uncle came out his front door. He wasn’t walking real fast. He had a nasty fight with colon cancer the year before. But he was wearing a sort of a ‘I don’t laugh at my own jokes’ sort of look. “You’re five minutes late,” he told me. He directed me where to park and brought me into his house where I was greeted by my Aunt Brigitte. “It’s so good to see you,” she said as she pulled me in for a hug. “You should have brought your son David. He was such a sweet boy.” She showed me his wedding picture on their wall. “Isn't he beautiful?” she said. “And so is his wife.” She told me they were taking me out for supper and had reservations at 7 pm.

We walked into the country western restaurant at about 6:30. The wife of the owner gave my Uncle a hug. She then gave my aunt a special hug, and quietly shared with her some bit of information that women in the know always seem to be sharing with each other. “Happy birthday, Dean,” said the waitress as she brought us to our table. My Uncle acknowledged the greeting as he teased her about the name on her shirt. “That’s the name of the band that is playing here tonight,” she said. “I can bring you over to take your picture with them.” She said to me, “They are really good. Have you seen them on TV?” I couldn’t remember that I had, and her attention went back to my uncle.

I was asked about David, and my mom (my uncle’s sister). They both were very concerned about my mom. They asked what I was going to be doing. I told them I was hoping to write a short biography of a friend of ours. I gave him some of the details of Henry Sardina’s life and my uncle asked me if that was all there was to it. “You’ll have to read the biography,” I said. My uncle suggested that maybe his life would make a better one. I agreed with him that he had lived an amazing life. Then my aunt said, “I have a story too. I will tell it to you.”
Throughout the dinner, different ones would come over and wish my Uncle a happy birthday. “Does he get a cake?” I asked. “We have something for him,” the waitress said. The owner of the restaurant came over wearing a shirt embroidered with the name Lannie. He also wished my uncle a happy birthday. My uncle could no longer take it. “Larry,” he said to the owner (whose name was Larry) “Why is everyone wishing me a happy birthday?” Larry shrugged his shoulders. “My birthday’s in May,” said my uncle. The waitress came by and he asked her. “It’s on your reservation,” she said. “It says ‘Dean/Bir’ (Dean/Brigitte).
When we got back to their house, my aunt said my Uncle was going to bed. “He goes to bed early since his cancer,” my aunt told me. “Now I will tell you my story.”

She was born into Nazi Germany and her father was a chief engineer on Germany’s hydroelectric plants. She was an only child and when she was six (1940), her father tried to find a place for her and her mother outside of Berlin because of all the bombing. They moved several places, all of which became dangerous as the Russian army was moving down, so they moved in with her father into the underground bunkers in Berlin. One night the Allies firebombed, and for days everything outside their bunker was in flames. In the ensuing years her mother discovered an affair of her father. She divorced him and her father married his mistress. This left her mother without money. Brigette was sent to boarding school in Switzerland.  At age 11, she went on a cattle-like railroad car to visit her mother’s family. The trip took two weeks. When she was dropped off at her destination, only coincidentally did her grandmother see her on the sidewalk and brought her ‘home.’
After the war, all of Germany was desperately poor. Brigitte went to England to work as an au pair, but the situation was deteriorated to the point where she had to sneak away in the middle of the night. She walked to the headquarters of the international power company that then employed her father. The first person she met there knew her father and needed an au pair. Several months later she met this shy American soldier on a train when she was travelling to meet her German fiancé. It was love at first sight. “Everyone loves Dean,” said Aunt Brigitte. “He was such a quiet boy.”

“That’s my story. I hope you don’t mind,” she said.
“I’m glad you told it to me,” I said,
“I think my early days made me ready for anything," she told me.

I'm guessing about everybody in the little town of Murphy, NC know my Uncle and Aunt. My uncle makes fun of everybody he meets. Even though he's old, even teenagers (maybe especially teenagers) respond with amusement to him. And my aunt is so friendly and so poised and so likes every person she meets. But few people know my Uncle was an oil company executive who lived all over the world overseeing drilling projects. On an island 50 miles off the coast of Vietnam, he worked with the United Nations to find safe haven for 5500 Vietnamese boat people after the collapse of South Vietnam. At a drilling station in Saudi Arabia, he worked with the CIA to move stinger missiles to the rebels in Afghanistan to shoot down Russian fighter planes. Few people in Murphy know the life stories of my Aunt and Uncle. Unlike the stories of most of us, they have big stories. But like all of us, they want their stories to be heard.

It touches my heart to know the Lord knows and is interested in every detail of my life story. David tells us in Psalm 139: "You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You are acquainted with all my ways."

Nathanael was incredulous when the Lord Jesus said on meeting him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile." "How do you know me?" he asked. "Rabbi, you are indeed the Son of God!"

I think part of our job as Believers is to be listeners of life stories. In this curiously anonymous age we live in, people have stories they want someone hear. Like our Lord, we are interested; and like our Lord, we are concerned. And when that person is ready, we need be ready to share with them the life (and death, and resurrection) story of our Savior.

ometimes when one Have you heard any good stories recently?


  1. I agree that everyone has a story and they appreciate it when we are interested enough to listen and care.

    I also agree that the greatest story to share is the story of Jesus.


  2. Wow! Amazing story - I think you'll have plenty of fodder for two more best-selling novels after you've finished Henry's story. I'm constantly amazed at how interesting peoples' lives can be if you'll just sit down and listen to them.