January 20, 2017
“Come now, broken, to the cross, where Christ embraced all human loss,
And let us bow before the throneOf God, Who gives and takes His own,
And promises, whatever toll He takes to satisfy our soul.
Come, learn the lesson of the rod: the treasure that we have in God.”
Dad did not intend to leave Lustre—he did not leave because of bad memories or a dissatisfaction with his life here. He left because the memories were so good: a loving wife, four children on a small but good farm, his parent’s homestead. He left because the structure— the environment of those memories—was wrecked by forces beyond his control AND beyond his ability to understand. He left to get a new start. No one blamed him, especially not those who knew him best and loved him most. It is most fitting that he return today, to be laid to rest within one mile of his birthplace and within mere feet of his resting wife and daughter.
Let me express to you today, on Dad’s behalf, the appreciation and support he felt in those dark days and to assure you that he takes with him to his grave today the knowledge that he was truly loved by the people of Lustre. In his later years, as he withdrew into senility, it was his Lustre friends that meant the most to him and pretty much the only ones who would bring an expression of joy and familiarity to his face.
But though he left here and moved to Billings in 1970, he always remained one of Lustre’s sons. If a picture paints a thousand words, I have one for you. It was taken on the Sunday afternoon when Patty died, with my very eyes. It is a scene branded into my 14-year-old mind—one which I could never forget.
The word of our tragedy spread quickly that day, and soon the yard began to fill with cars. Neighbors, friends and relatives (including some of you) came to support Dad and our family in our time of loss. It was a horrible day. Dad was pacing around the yard, still in Sunday pants and stocking feet, having been awakened from an afternoon nap, going from shock, to tearful grief, to disbelief, then back to shock. At one point, I remember he lay face down on the grass in front of the lilac bush, literally not knowing what to do with himself. I remember it so clearly. Uncle Calvin came up on his right side. He knelt beside Dad without saying a word. Then he literally stretched out beside Dad and draped his left arm across Dad’s shoulders and held him that way for a while. That picture not only illustrates the tenderness of a brother-in-law whose heart was also breaking in empathy for dad, but in a real sense he was representing a community of brothers and sisters comforting one of their own who had suffered a hard blow.
Dad was 90 years old as of last July. That is a long life. To tell his whole life story would take a few days. He was a complex person, as we all are, and to tell his whole story would actually be impossible. But allow me tell you a little about him from a son’s point of view.
First, he loved our mom well. It seems like there should be a better way to say this, but he was expressively affectionate, a characteristic apparently somewhat rare among men of his generation. An early childhood memory I have of our family is Dad coming in for lunch, dusty and dirty. We’d hear his heavy footsteps as he went down into that dungeon of a basement where he’d wash up. Th-thump, th-thump, th-thump he’d go. Then in a few minutes he’d come up, all slicked clean. As he came in through the door by the stove, he’d say to Mom, who’d be standing there, spatula in hand, “Hey, good lookin’, what’s cookin’?” He’d come around her from behind and put his arms around her waste, but not in gentle way. He’d literally tear her away from the stove and spin her around, shouting, “She’s mine! She’s mine! You can’t have her because she’s mine, all mine!” We kids, loving it, would shout back, “No, she’s ours, she’s ours.” She would try to tell him to put her down, but she was laughing too hard to get the words out.
Then she died.
They were truly partners. It must have been the last spring before she died, that I remember them working on their taxes together. She was too weak from the cancer and cancer treatments to get out of bed, but they still worked together. Dad had his papers and receipts spread out all over the kitchen table. He would yell out numbers for her to add up. He would add the same numbers and then they’d compare. She, with her weakened voice, would call out her sum. $483.27! If they agreed they’d go on, if not they’d go over them again. Working together to the end . . .
When she died, in preparation her funeral, Mr. Clayton so thoroughly and professionally explained every step of the protocol to Dad beforehand. At one point Mr. Clayton said that after the viewing, he would remove Mom’s wedding ring and give it to Dad, just before closing the casket. That hit a nerve. Dad, already heartbroken, gave Clayton that stern look, the one we all knew so well, and said firmly, “The ring stays on her. I gave it to her once and I’m not taking it back.” Probably against Mr. Clayton’s better judgement, he honored Dad’s instruction. The lid was closed.
That incident also illustrates the second thing I’d like to say about Dad.
He was principled, conscientious and honor driven. On one hand, he was so very frugal —his answer to most of the things I asked was, “We can’t afford it.” He was awfully conservative in spending money—unless there was a principle at stake. Then money meant nothing. Sometimes this contradiction bothered me. The morning after Delores and Larry’s wedding in Billings, many of the relatives from Lustre and Glasgow met at a restaurant near their motel for breakfast. They invited us to join them, which we did. When the checks came, Dad insisted that they all be given to him—all of them. He paid the whole works. That really bothered me. When we left the restaurant, I said, “Dad, why did you do that? They didn’t expect you to do that!” His answer left no room for argument. He said, “They honored me by coming to my daughter’s wedding. That was the least I could do.”
Speaking of honor, I have another story which I have told numerous times. I have used it in Father’s Day talks and in Sunday School lessons. It is a favorite of mine because it hits on all cylinders in terms of mentoring—in terms of lessons caught, not merely taught. The main character in this story is someone most of you probably know. I do not, but for his name. It happened around 1965. I know that because we were driving a nearly new Ford Custom 500. We were at the Academy for some function, maybe a basketball game. The event was over and Dad was in the hallway visiting with other men, with me at his side. All at once a slender high school boy, probably a tenth grader, came up beside Dad, shyly but intentionally trying to get his attention. As Dad noticed him and turned his way, the young man said, “Mr. Tieszen, could I speak with you outside?” Puzzled, Dad followed him out, me right behind. When we got outside, Elmer Wedel said, “Mr. Tieszen, I accidentally backed into your car in the parking lot. Could you come take a look?” Dad and I were probably both imagining a crushed fender or a bashed in door. But when we got there, we could see no damage. Dad said, “Where did you hit it?” Elmer pointed to a spot on the back bumper. Dad examined it closely in the dimly lit parking lot, even squatting down to look underneath. There was no damage. Maybe a small nick in the chrome, but certainly not a dent. Dad thanked Elmer for showing it to him, but said, “Don’t worry about it. I never would have noticed.”
We could have just gotten into the car and gone home. But Dad, with me trailing behind, went back into the school, as if duty bound. We weaved our way through the crowd where he sought out Mr. Ben Wedel, Elmer’s father. When he found him, Dad said, “I want to tell you that you have a very honest son,” and proceeded to relay the story, how there wasn’t so much as a scratch or dent and that he would never have noticed anything. So this is a story about nothing, right?
No. This was about more than a car and a conscientious young man. There was another character in the story: me, an observing impressionable boy. What was my takeaway? Obviously, if I wanted the approval of my Dad, which I did, and if I wanted to be thought well of by other people, which all boys do, I should be like Elmer. I thank Dad for that lesson, whether it was intentional or not. It was just who Dad was.
Another story which illustrates Dad’s commitment to honor and conscience was a favorite of Nita and my daughters as they were growing up. In this one, the main character of the story doesn’t look so good. In this one, the main character is me. Some relatives from Canada—I have no idea who they were—came to visit us. They had some kids about my age and we were playing in the corral. We found a watermelon in the stock tank. Dad had bought it for the company and was keeping it cool by letting it float in the water tank. I suppose, to show off to the other kids, I lifted it out of the water and tried to rest it on the edge of the tank. But in an instant, it slipped out of my hands, and down onto the concrete. Amazingly, it didn’t split open, so I just as quickly scooped it up and put it back into the water. Sometime later Dad came out of the house, gathered up the watermelon and took it inside to cut. I was sweating bullets. You guessed it. Dad came back out of the house and yelled my name. “LOWELL, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE WATERMELON?” he demanded. Apparently it had a hairline crack and water had seeped in and it was ruined. Well, I confessed. There was no way around it, with those other kids as witnesses. He dragged me to the barn and gave me a tanning I obviously still remember. But, before I received it, Dad explained that he was not spanking me because of the watermelon. He didn’t care about the watermelon. He said he was spanking me because I tried to deceive him—that I should have told him what happened, instead of letting him take the watermelon in and be embarrassed in front of his company. He was so right. And so wise.
Also, under the heading of honor, I’d like to say something about Dad’s work ethic. My cousin Leon Toews told me a story the other day about a way in which Dad influenced him. Leon was helping us put up a steel bin, and apparently had asked what time it was a couple of times. He was getting tired or hungry. He says that Dad shocked him after his third inquiry, and with that stern look and all business voice, said, “When you are working for another man, you don’t ask what time it is. You keep working until he tells you to stop.” Leon says that startled him and actually changed his life. He credits it for cementing the work ethic he carries with him to this day. All I can say is, that is so Dad.
But I cannot say that Dad was that hard on me when it came to work. In fact, he may have spoiled me just a bit. Oh, he made me work all right, growing up. But after giving me instructions of what to do, whether it was driving tractor summer fallowing or cleaning out the chicken barn, just before he’d leave, he’d turn back to me and say something like, “If you get tired, just quit. Take a rest or go do something else for a while. Then come back and finish later.” He may have been using reverse psychology, because of course I would want so badly to please him that wouldn’t quit until I was done. Well, that is not entirely true. I learned from experience, as well. It was those times when I “took a break”—AND FAILED TO GO BACK AND FINISH LATER that caused me to, once again, get the watermelon treatment.
Dad was astute. The fact that he only completed eighth grade is NOT to say that he was uneducated. Rarely did we college educated children and grandchildren win an argument with him about spelling or grammar. He didn’t know how to diagram sentences, or what all the rules were. He just had a natural knack for it. His competitiveness in Scrabble was well known. Since his passing, numerous people have recalled to me how they and their parents remembered him as a solid player and a fierce competitor. And the thing about Dad was that in any competition, because of his braggadocio behavior, it was fun to beat him, but almost as much fun to lose.
Speaking of being educated, it was not William F. Buckley or Milton Friedman or any of my business professors at the University of Puget Sound who taught me the difference between the major economic models of the world. IT WAS MY DAD. He told me that the Soviet Union would never defeat America, except maybe in a nuclear war, because their system robbed the people of their individual freedom and their incentive to get ahead.
And it was not CNN or NPR or even J. Vernon McGee who taught me the root causes of the strife in the Middle East. IT WAS MY DAD. Just 1/4 mile east of here, as we replaced a corner post back in 1967, he asked me if I was scared about what we were hearing on the news, about Israel being attacked by its Arab neighbors (The Six Day War). I said, “Yes, kind of.” In about 15 minutes, as he tamped the dirt around that railroad tie and attached the wires, he explained to me about the modern day nation of Israel and his understanding of Bible prophesy. In fifty years, I have found precious little to cause me to tweak the worldview I inherited from my dad.
Dad was a sportsman. I did not say he was an athlete. Anyone who thinks he may have been a natural born athlete never watched him bowl. I swear he slid the wrong foot every time, even on his strike balls. Yet he beat me regularly until well into his 70’s. He just had a knack for it. Even in pool, where his form was a little better, he had a way of achieving victory over more finesse players, as his grandson Timothy well knows. He regularly beat Timothy at pool. But then, again, pretty much everyone beats Timothy at pool.
Dad had a trait which is actually quite common among us Tieszen’s: the ability to be alone—to enjoy what we do whether or not anyone is with us. I have memories of calm summer Sunday mornings on the farm, waking up to the clink, clink of horse shoes hitting the stake. Four shoes this way, then four shoes that way. He just loved to play, competing with only himself.
Likability. Dad was shy by nature—public speaking was not something he relished—but he was very personable and at ease with himself in a small group. You all know that. He loved visiting and joking with people. The caretakers at St. John’s loved and appreciated that about him. His jokes were sometimes only funny to himself and his filters, even before senility, sometimes left a little to be desired, a trait that is apparently genetic.
I remember, again in my younger years, at a Toews family gathering, as a bunch of us cousins were roving around Glasgow, the topic of uncles came up. Someone said we should all name our favorite uncle. I was honestly shocked at how many said, “Uncle Willard.” It shocked me because I didn’t remember Dad ever interacting with some of these guys. But somehow he had made an impression on them. I do remember that it made me proud and I saw him in a different light after that. And I am not just saying this. I was really always proud that he was my dad.
Often when we older people speak of Dad and his tears, we think of the grief he endured. But I have three daughters who have a different recollection of his tears. They think of his boisterous, uncontrolled, shoulder-shaking laughter, usually at someone else’s expense, and the tears running down his cheeks. He thought he was so funny—and so did they!
Resiliency: The Billings years. Dad was nothing if not resilient. After leaving the farm and moving to Billings, he adjusted well to his new life. Actually, there were things about it that appealed to him more than farming had. He got a job at the Sorenson Feedlot south of Billings, managing the feed mill, and later, he worked for School District #2 in its supply warehouse. Though I was never comfortable with him having these jobs (they seemed beneath him somehow), he never complained. He seemed to like getting a regular paycheck and coming home early, leaving work at work.
He remarried and he and Jody had over thirty years together. Many of you were in their home. They and their blended family had many, many good times together. Thanksgivings and Christmases were a blast, as we held pool tournaments, played board games and ate huge meals. During the college years, there would sometimes be eight or ten cars at 3729 Heritage Drive and they all belonged to family. It looked like Grand Central Station. These were happy years. I am certain he would want me to tell you that.
Security. Security is a fragile thing. Whether in human relationships or in material wealth, what can take years to establish, can be crushed and destroyed in much less time, sometimes depending on circumstances beyond our control and sometimes depending upon the voices to which we listen. In Dad’s long life, he experienced wide swings in both categories—and at the hand of both causes. Dad takes with him to his grave today mysteries and secrets we would give anything to unlock. But we won’t. He also takes questions—theological questions about suffering and loss—to which he never did find answers. Now he has them. However, his life, by example, offers us, his descendants, many lessons, if we will but learn from them.
“Oh, living Christ, shine forth and be a blazing warning by the sea,
A signal where the sailors cling to life through reefs of suffering,
And need the blast of light and bell: beware, what here beneath may dwell.
Beware of subtle, shrewd assaults, a half truth may be wholly false.
Beware of wisdom made in schools and proverbs in the mouths of fools.
Beware of claims that rise too tall: “The upright stand and wicked fall.”
Beware the thought that all is vain; in time God’s wisdom will be plain.”
As 2017 opened, we knew the time would soon come for us to say “Goodbye” to our dad, father-in-law, uncle, and grandfather. That time has come.
“Dad, to you we say, ‘Goodbye. You were a very good man, and we salute you.’ ” I will end with this, by John Piper, and urge us all to—
“Behold the mercy of our King, Who takes from death its bitter sting,
And paints with crimson earth and soul until the bloody work is whole.
What we have lost God will restore— that and Himself forevermore.
When He is finished with His art: the quiet worship of our heart.
When God creates a humble hush, and makes Leviathan his brush,
It won’t be long before the rod, becomes the tender kiss of God. *
*This and prior verses herein are taken from “The Misery of Job. The Mercy of God” by John Piper. This long poem has been very meaningful to me in the last ten years or so since my daughter, Jessica, gave it to me as Christmas present.