Randy Willis | The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken

One of my favorite poems is The Road Not Taken, written a century ago by Robert Frost. The last stanza contains my favorite words in the poem: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

My life began on a Louisiana red dirt road. We didn’t have much money, but I never noticed it because no one else did either—at least those whom my family knew.

As a boy, we lived near Willis Gunter Road, on Barber Creek, near Longleaf, Louisiana. Barber Creek was as cold as ice.

One day, when I was just a pup of barely four, I decided to venture up the narrow red dirt road lined with longleaf pines to my Grandma’s house. Her home was just a mile up Willis Gunter Road and overlooked Barber Creek. I remember stopping to pick some wild dewberries. Perhaps Grandma would be so happy to see me she’d bake me a pie, while I swam in Barber Creek. No sooner had I arrived than Mama drove up in our Oldsmobile.

Now, Mama didn’t seem to be happy with me. Visions of her making a switch by slowly cutting it from a tree—I mean very slowly—and removing the twigs one by one flooded my mind. The drama of her cutting the switch was always worse than her use of it. But that did not occur that day, although I later wished it had. She looked up and pointed to an old man driving a wagon down Willis Gunter Road.

She then explained, “Ran, that old man drives up and down these red dirt roads looking for little boys. He then puts them in a gunnysack and hauls them off.” She did not say where he took them. I did not want to know. To this day, I’ve never run away from home again.

When I first shared this story with my eldest son Aaron, his response was, “He was driving a wagon? Who’d you vote for Dad, Lincoln or Douglas?”

I seldom get to walk those red dirt roads anymore.

Yet, there is another road, perhaps even less traveled than the red dirt road I trod as a boy in Louisiana or even the one Frost wrote about.

Travel this road if you will. It will change your life. It will change your destiny.

* * *

In 1829, a man named George Wilson was found guilty of six charges and was given the death sentence. However, Wilson had influential friends who petitioned President Andrew Jackson for a pardon. Jackson granted the pardon, and it was brought to prison and given to Wilson.

To everyone’s surprise, Wilson said, “I am going to hang.” There had never been a refusal to a pardon, so the courts didn’t know what to do. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and Chief Justice John Marshall gave the ruling, saying, “A pardon is a piece of paper, the value of which depends upon the acceptance by the person implicated. If he does not accept the pardon, then he must be executed.”

God loves you and, yes, He has provided a pardon for you and me, paid for with Christ’s own life-blood, but you have the right to refuse the pardon. Jesus was crucified between two thieves. One thief said yes to Jesus, but the other said no to Him. One accepted the pardon, and the other refused it.

The question to you and me today is the same as it was 2,000 years ago. Which thief on the cross are you? The one who said yes to God’s pardon or the one who said no to His pardon? I have chosen to say yes.

You have the same choice.

Come

The last invitation in the Word of God is found in Revelation 22:17: “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”

Are you thirsty? Then come. Let him who hears come. And, whosoever will, come.

That invitation is to you…it is to me…it is to everyone!

Bring your disappointments, bring your failures, bring your fears, bring your heartaches. The Holy Spirit says come to Jesus.

He loves you. He wants to save you. He will save you. Come to Jesus, and drink the water of life freely.

He suffered, He bled, He died, because He loves you. Listen to the still small voice, of the Holy Spirit, bidding you to come to Jesus. Don’t wait—come!

Look

“Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)

“All you ends of the earth” includes the Aboriginal people of the Central Australian desert. “All you ends of the earth” are those in darkest Africa. “All you ends of the earth” are the isolated tribes in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. “All you ends of the earth” is presidents, world leaders, and kings.

“All you ends of the earth” is the polished lawyer, the gifted doctor, and the brilliant college professor. “All you ends of the earth” is the prostitute, and the drug dealer, and the rapist, and the thief, and the murderer. “All you ends of the earth” is you…and me.

God’s Word, the Bible, states, “So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” Those who looked lived. Those who looked were healed. Those who looked were made whole. Those who looked were saved. They didn’t wait until they were better people. They just looked.

Jesus tells us that this is a picture of Him being lifted up on the cross. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)

That serpent represented the sin of the people. Christ was made sin for us. Will you look to Jesus—will you put your trust in Him—the One who died for your sins. Will you put your faith in Jesus—the One who shed His life-blood for you…and for me?

* * *

Some years ago my eldest son, Aaron, was in an automobile accident. His back was broken so severely that the doctors said he might not ever walk again. After fusing several vertebrae in his lower back he was able to begin the long task of healing from the spinal fusion surgery. He was encased in a rigid plastic back brace from his neck to his waist. Later, his doctor finally agreed to let him briefly remove the brace to take a shower, as long as someone was with him.

As I was driving to pick him and his brothers up for the weekend, unbeknownst to me, his brother, Josh, and he removed the brace so he could take a hot shower, in his shorts. Josh was with him but was much smaller than him at that time.

I decided to stop at the post office in Austin, when a still small voice spoke to me saying, “You need to go now.” I passed the post office and drove as fast as I could to Wimberley, an hour away, wondering what that warning was about. There were no cell phones then.

As I entered the house, I asked his mother where he was. She said in the shower. I ran to it and as soon as I entered the bathroom, he said, “Dad, I’m dizzy.” I stepped into the shower and placed my arms under his arms from his back. He immediately passed out. I told his younger brother to help me move him to a bed while their mother called 911. His dead weight was more than I could have ever imagined. We got him onto the bed without reinjuring his back. I knew if he had fallen he probably would have been paralyzed.

As I prayed, following the ambulance to the hospital’s emergency room, I noticed the symbol on the back of the ambulance. It was the American Medical Association’s (AMA) logo of a serpent wrapped around a staff. The sign of healing medicine reminded me of the bronze serpent on the staff lifted up by Moses.

Many Christians believe that’s where it originated from. But, more importantly, it reminded me of Jesus being lifted up on a cross for my son. God’s son suffered in place of my son. I can’t fathom love that great. To this day I cannot see that symbol without giving thanks to the Lord for that warning, and the shed blood of Christ lifted high upon a cross for my sins, for your sins, for the sins of the entire world. Surely, there can be no greater love than God giving His Son’s life-blood for us.

When we arrived at the hospital, the doctors gave him intravenous (IV) fluids and two bottles of Gatorade for dehydration. The hot shower, along with pain medication and dehydration, had caused his blood to rush to his feet and thereby causing him to faint.

Will you look to the One who was lifted up on a cross for you? Will you look to the Great Physician—Jesus—to heal you of all your pain? Will you look to Jesus, who took your place on a cross and died for your sins?

Choose

As I said before, Jesus hung between two thieves on a cross. One of them rejected Him, but the other one put his faith in Him. “Will You remember me when You enter Your kingdom?” Jesus replied, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Both of those men were guilty. One put his trust in Jesus, and the other chose not to. Again, the question is, which thief on the cross are you?

Now, there was a third cross that day. It was for another criminal named Barabbas, and he represents us. Jesus was crucified on a cross meant for Barabbas—it was your cross, too—it was my cross, also. Jesus bore your cross and my cross. He took our place on that cross. The just for the unjust. The Righteous for the unrighteous. The sinless Lamb of God for the sinner.

Self-improvement will not qualify you for salvation, for God’s Word says, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) Comparing yourself to others will not work either, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Doing your best cannot save you, for the Scriptures record, “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)

Ask yourself, if you could be good enough to pay for your sins, then why did Jesus have to die for you? The answer is you can’t be good enough.

Come—come just as you are. Will you say yes to Jesus—today?

There’s a Scripture that I love, and it explains things very simply.

It says, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10)

You can settle this question right now in heaven and on earth by saying yes to Jesus—accepting His pardon, just as that one thief did on the cross.
There are no prescriptive or mandated words. Praying is just talking to the Lord.

If these words are how you feel in your heart, then pray:

“Heavenly Father,

I come to You in prayer, asking for the forgiveness of my sins.

I confess with my mouth and believe with my heart that Jesus is Your Son, and that He died on the cross at Calvary that I might be forgiven.

Father, I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and I ask You right now to come into my life and be my personal Lord and Savior.

I repent of my sins and will surrender to You all the days of my life.

Because Your word is truth, I confess with my mouth that I am born again and cleansed by the blood of Jesus!

In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen!”

The most famous words ever spoken:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

“Whoever” is you…it’s me…it’s everyone. Come to Jesus. Look to Jesus. Choose Jesus.

Today!

* * *

Yes

We moved to Clute, Texas, from Longleaf, Louisiana, when I was four-years-old.

All I remember of the trip was stopping at the Stateline in Deweyville, Texas. The pouring rain awoke my sister Marjorie, and she awoke me crying because her paper dolls had gotten wet.

Daddy had gotten a job at Dow Chemical in Freeport, Texas. A.J. Jeffers was the first from the Longleaf area to leave for a job at Dow. He returned and encouraged Daddy and others to do the same. A. J.’s brother Jimmy Jeffers and Daddy’s brother Herman Willis soon followed. We all were close friends in Texas.

We also kept our home in Longleaf and often visited to work cows with my Uncle Howard Willis and his sons. I was always happy to return. I still am to this day.

Every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night we were at Temple Baptist Church in Clute. It seemed to me that everyone attended church in those days.

One Wednesday night mother was unable to attend, so I walked to church with my twelve-year-old sister Marjorie. I was only eight-years-old. I had no intention of that night being any different from any other.

I cannot recall a single word Pastor Bill Campbell said in his sermon. But I do remember vividly another voice that spoke to my mind—to my heart. It was not an audible voice. It was a still gentle voice, tender but ever so clear telling me to go forward and accept Christ as my Savior.

I recall my response to the Holy Spirit as if it was five minutes ago. “Lord, I’m too shy. I would if my mother was here to go with me.”

I felt someone touch my arm. It was my sister Marjorie who was sitting on the back row with her friends. She could not have seen my face for I was seated near the front.

She said, “I’ll go with you if you want me to.” I immediately walked with her to the front of the church and made my decision public.

I know you do not have to have an experience like that to be saved. Nevertheless, I’m so grateful for that experience for it has never left my mind or my heart.

Oh, that I would today be more still and listen for that still soft voice. Oh, that I would speak less and listen more.

Listen, He is speaking. Look, He has manifested Himself. Choose—say yes to Jesus—today. You will never regret that decision.

—Randy Willis #randywillis

“Preach Christ at all times. When necessary, use words.”

http://threewindsblowing.com

* * *

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot

#randywillis

About Destiny and In Appreciation

About Destiny and In Appreciation

Destiny is a sweeping family saga that spans four centuries. It begins and ends on Christmas Day, in 1941, at the Ole Willis Place, located on Barber Creek near Longleaf, Louisiana.

The Ole Willis Place was located on present-day Willis Gunter Road, off Boy Scout Road. There are a huge gravel pit and sand dunes next to where the house once stood.

Destiny is the story of two great nations and my ancestor’s struggle from tyranny—religious and political.

Destiny is more than a novel. It is a nonfiction novel inspired by true stories handed down by my ancestors. They depict real historical figures and actual events woven together with imaginary conversations with the use of the storytelling techniques of fiction. Truman Capote claimed to have invented this genre with his book In Cold Blood in 1965.

Destiny—A powerful epic with love stories, battles, testimonies, drama, politics, history, and even humor.

—Randy Randy Willis

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” — C. S. Lewis

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In Appreciation

I’m thankful to the many people that encouraged me to write our family’s history. My first-cousin, Donnie Willis, planted the first seed in my mind to write about our 4th Great-Grandfather, Joseph Willis. Donnie has been pastor of Fenton Baptist Church in Fenton, Louisiana, for 50 years.

I’m also thankful to my sainted grandmother, Lillie Hanks Willis. She had a treasure chest of stories about Joseph Willis and insisted I write them down.

My Uncle Howard Willis was our family’s master storyteller when I was younger. I sat for many hours mesmerized by him. His granddaughter and my cousin Kimberly Willis Holt was inspired by him too. She is a National Book Award Winner, author of When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, My Louisiana Sky, and the Piper Reed series. When Zachary Beaver Came to Town and My Louisiana Sky were adapted as films of the same names.

I’m thankful to my late cousin, and the maternal great-grandson of Joseph Willis, Dr. Greene Wallace Strother. His uncle Polk Willis and Aunt Olive Willis tended to Joseph Willis in his final years, and they shared all that Joseph told them. Dr. Strother gave his vast research to me in 1980. He served as chaplain to General Claire Chennault’s “Flying Tigers” while in China as a missionary. He was a Southern Baptist missionary emeritus to China and Malaysia.

Karon McCartney, Archivist at the Louisiana Baptist Convention, has provided much help in organizing, cataloging, and protecting my research for decades, at the Louisiana Baptist Building in Alexandria.

My fellow historian and friend, the late Dr. Sue Eakin asks me if I would help her with her research on William Prince Ford. I learned much about William Prince Ford and Solomon Northup and their relationship to Joseph Willis from her. She encouraged me to have my research adapted into a play. The play is entitled Twice a Slave and is based upon my novel of the same name. My novel Three Winds Blowing is partly based on the relationship of Joseph Willis with William Prince Ford and Solomon Northup.

Dr. Eakin is best known for documenting, annotating, and reviving interest in Solomon Northup’s 1853 book Twelve Years a Slave. She, at the age of eighteen, rediscovered a long-forgotten copy of Solomon Northup’s book, on the shelves of a bookstore, near the LSU campus, in Baton Rouge. The bookstore owner sold it to her for only 25 cents. In 2013, 12 Years a Slave won the Academy Award for Best Picture. In his acceptance speech for the honor, director Steve McQueen thanked Dr. Eakin: “I’d like to thank this amazing historian, Sue Eakin, whose life, she gave her life’s work to preserving Solomon’s book.”

And above all, I am thankful to the Good Lord. He has given me wells I did not dig, and vineyards I did not plant.

—Randy Willis

“Preach Christ at all times. When necessary,
use words.” —St Francis of Assisi

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About the Author

Randy Willis is an American novelist, rancher, and music publisher.

He is the author of Destiny, Beckoning Candle, Twice a Slave, Three Winds Blowing, Louisiana Wind, The Apostle to the Opelousas, The Story of Joseph Willis and many articles.

Twice a Slave has been chosen as a Jerry B. Jenkins Select Book, along with four bestselling authors. Jerry Jenkins is the author of more than 180 books with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the best-selling Left Behind series.

Twice a Slave has been adapted into a dramatic play at Louisiana College, by Dr. D. “Pete” Richardson (Associate Professor of Theater with Louisiana College).

Randy Willis owns Randy Willis Music Publishing (an ASCAP-affiliated music publishing company), and Town Lake Music Publishing, LLC (a BMI-affiliated music publishing company). He is an ASCAP-affiliated songwriter.

Randy Willis is the founder of Operation Warm Heart, which feeds and clothes the homeless, and is a member of the Board of Directors of Our Mission Possible (empowering at-risk teens to discover their greatness) in Austin, Texas. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Joseph Willis Institute for Great Awakening Studies at Louisiana College.

Randy Willis was born in Oakdale, Louisiana, and lived as a boy, near Longleaf, Louisiana, on Barber Creek. He currently resides in the Texas Hill Country.

Randy Willis graduated from Angleton High School in Angleton, Texas, and Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. He was a graduate student at Texas State University for six years. He is the father of three sons and has four grandchildren.

Randy Willis is the fourth great-grandson of Joseph Willis and his foremost historian.

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To learn more about the author and
the characters in this book visit:
http://www.threewindsblowing.com

512-565-0161
randywillis@twc.com

Destiny is available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1792724470

And Amazon Kindle at

Blank vintage paper framed branch of Christmas tree on wood

Randy Willis|Destiny is available Christmas Day

Destiny is available Christmas day—at Amazon at this link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1792650698

Christmas Day, 1941
Longleaf, Louisiana

Ran Willis arises before sunrise, nestles next to the fireplace, with hot coffee—as alone as the morning star.

The wind whistles through the dogtrot and awakens Julian. He struggles upright, half asleep, and rubs his eyes as he pours a cup of coffee.

“It’s our first white Christmas! Grab some firewood—please. And check on the horses, mules, and the dogs too.”

“Yes, sir, Daddy. Merry Christmas!” Julian shivers as he chips through the frozen water trough with a horseshoe. He gathers the firewood, now covered in two foot of snow. Icicles adorn the trees overhanging Barber Creek. It is cold and rather barren, but it has the loveliness of a Christmas card. And, like a Christmas card, it will hold that image in Julian’s mind for years to come.

Ran’s eldest son, Howard, driving his International Harvester truck, can be heard a mile away as it plows through the snow on the red dirt road. The family knows there will be no snowfall that will prevent Howard from delivering a Christmas tree to the homestead—a real tree, and not one of those artificial, awkwardly bent imitation trees that have no texture, no fragrance, no fullness.

“That’s a big cedar. Let me help.” Julian drags the Christmas tree out of the truck bed.

Howard’s wife Zora cries out, “I need help, too.” Ran clasps her. “Ah-ha! All my favorites: freshly baked pies, peach preserves, and okra in mason jars. Oh, my, and even your famous buttermilk pie.”

Ran’s wife Lillie collects each family member’s handcrafted decoration for the tree. “Let’s hang them.” The aroma of cedar, sugared fruit, and gingerbread brings back memories of Christmases past.

Today is Ran and Lillie’s grandson Donnie’s fourth birthday, to boot. “Can I play with my birthday gifts, Grandpa?”

“Yep, but keep the stick horse at a trot. Let him get used to this colder weather, eh? See what else Santa left you. The new game Shoot the Moon and a wooden jigsaw carton puzzle.”

Good, long-time neighbors, John and Ruth Duke, along with their two kids, Johnnie Ruth and Jerry, arrive with a pumpkin pie and two fruitcakes.

Miss Ruth always spikes her fruitcakes with a little rum. “It’s no different from using cooking sherry and, therefore, is not an affront to the Lord,” Ruth says. “It provides moisture and helps preserve the cake.”

Ran fidgets. “The better part of valor is not to mention that to Lillie. Her definition of what constitutes a mortal sin may be different from ours. Let me taste-test the cake for moisture.” He pinches off a nibble and smacks his lips in approval. “Now, indeed, that’s the moistest cake ever! I may have another slice or two later.”

Johnnie Ruth and Donnie sit on the floor. Donnie prefers Conflict, a military board game—Johnnie Ruth, paper dolls.

Howard reaches and hangs the star of Bethlehem on the tree.

“It almost touches the ceiling.” His brother Herman carved it from a piece of hickory. Christmas stockings, stuffed with nuts, candy, and fruit, hang on every available nail. Earlier, Lillie had placed books, tablets, pencils, wooden soldiers, and even a-rockin’ horse under the tree.

The children’s faces glow from the fireplace. Herman stokes the fire with a piece of pine-kindling.

The sunrise colors glisten in the snow. “Who can paint like the Lord of creation?” Lillie proclaims.

Donnie and Johnnie Ruth grab a shovel, off to go sledding from the barn. They slide down the hill to the banks of Barber Creek.

“You kids get back up here,” Lillie yells. “That’s too dangerous. Ten more feet and you’d both be frozen lollypops!”

Julian blows in his horse’s nose to calm him. It’s not the first time the animal has experienced snow, but it has been a long time, and any sudden change in the weather makes horses skittish, until they get reassurance from their masters that all is well and everything is still just fine. “The Comanche use to do this in Texas. Helps you bond with the horse.”

“I’m going to churn ice cream in my new pewter pot,” Lillie promises. She stirs snow, milk, cream, butter, and eggs. She also prepares Ran’s favorites, especially dewberry pie, along with a cup of kindness known as Community dark roast coffee.

Ran grins. “I hung some mistletoe.”

Lillie looks him in the eyes and kisses him on the cheek. “The kids.”

“We have enough to feed Camp Claiborne’s 34th Red Bull Infantry,” Ran says. The nearby U.S. Army military camp accommodates 30,000 men but does not give Lillie a sense of safety. A world war is still raging, and every American is on alert.

Lillie’s eyes sparkle. “Please play my favorite Christmas carol—O Holy Night?” Ran’s father bought him a fiddle on a cattle drive from East Texas when he was barely twelve. He spent his evenings teaching himself the fingering and bowing techniques.

“How can I refuse a woman of such virtue—and one so beautiful? Our home overflows with your sweet joy.”

Lillie hugs him. “Will it be our last Christmas with our sons?”

The snow drifts against the windows and doors, begging entrance into their lives like the events of the previous three weeks.

“There’s nothing as peaceful as Louisiana Longleaf pines covered in a fresh layer of snow,” Ran muses. “Ah, if only our world were that way.”

Ran’s eighteen-year-old nephew, Robert Willis, Jr., enlisted July 31, 1940, and reported aboard the battleship USS Arizona, on October 8, 1940, at Pearl Harbor. A surprise military strike by the Japanese Navy Air Service on the morning of December 7, 1941, detonated a bomb in a powder magazine. The battleship exploded and sank. Hundreds of marines and sailors were trapped as the ship went down.

The family held out hope, but those hopes had been vanquished a week ago, like a shadow darkening all elements of light. Rapides Parish Sheriff, U. T. Downs, along with Robert’s pastor from First Baptist Church, Pineville, delivered a Western Union telegram to Robert’s father.

Downs struggled to speak with tears in his eyes. “It has been confirmed that Robert’s entombed in the USS Arizona at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. I just can’t tell you how grieved I am to have to bring this news to you, and especially so soon after Thanksgiving. This is the part of my job that I dread the most. If there’s anything I can do for you folks, just say the word.”

Howard and Zora took Donnie to the Pringle Picture Show in Glenmora to see How Green Was My Valley. “We need to seem as if nothing has changed for Donnie’s sake,” Zora insists. “I fear that we will be one of many, many families who will receive telegrams before this war is over. Our hearts are broken, but we must carry on.”

Julian now works with the horses and mules—plenty of grain, hay, and water for them. He grooms their coats of hair and checks to see if they are sound and well-shod. He’s gentle with horses, the elderly, and children, but as tough as rawhide on men who are no-account. “I wish I could ride you guys into battle, but an airplane will have to do.”

Two stray goats, covered with ice, nudge their way into the barn. Julian jumps up to shoo them back outside. “Get out of here. You’re going to break Daddy’s deer horn hat rack I made. It’s his Christmas gift.” The goats resist but then yield when Julian gives each a swat.

Herman, quiet and soft-spoken, takes off, without saying a word—impeccably dressed, as always.

Howard and Julian help their father with the firewood. “It’s best you two find him—now! Take my Ford,” Ran insists.

They pump ten gallons of gas into Ran’s ’40 Ford Coupe at Bob Johnson’s Grocery Store at Shady Nook. “Where do you think he’s at?” Howard asks.
“Charlie’s Cafe in Glenmora is the closest—let’s try there first.”

“He just left, but not until he whipped two men for making fun of his khaki pants,” the owner tells them when they arrive.

“Did he say anything?” Julian asks.

“He mentioned, he would not be back, ever, and he preferred Boom Town’s honky-tonks. Not sure which one, but they’re all outside Camp Claiborne’s main gate. As long as that base keeps bringing in new boys who are wet behind the ears and willing to waste their pay during a weekend pass, those places will thrive. Check ‘em one by one.”

This time one man lay on the floor in need of medical attention.

“Let’s check the Wigwam, in Forest Hill,” Julian says, “before someone kills him or, God forbid, wrinkles his pants.”

The sounds from the beer joint known for live music and its jukebox shakes the windows as they drive into the parking lot. Chicken wire fencing wraps around the bandstand to keep the band from getting hit with beer bottles.

As they enter, the bartender yells. “Break ’em up before they destroy the place!” Three men are holding Herman while two others are landing repeated punches and kicks. The jukebox blares Jimmie Davis’s hit—I Hung My Head and Cried.

Herman, bleeding like a stuck pig, calls out, “Are y’all going to help me or just stand there, whistlin’ Dixie?”

“I’ll take the three holding him, you the other two. Use that chair, Howard.”

After a melee of about ten minutes, they settle with the barkeeper for fifty bucks in damages and haul Herman outside to his truck. His lip is busted, his nose is bleeding, and one eye is starting to seal shut. He refuses to show any sign of weakness or pain, although he wheezes when drawing in a breath between bruised ribs.

They arrive home in time for a delayed supper. Ran examines Herman’s cuts and bruises. “Save all that anger for the Japs and Hitler.”

Lillie brings clean towels. “My three sons fighting in the Devil’s playground and on Christmas Day! May the Good Lord find mercy to forgive you for such behavior!”

Ran smiles. “At least they didn’t go to the Duck Inn…it provides more than liquor.” She does not find the humor in his observation, as her grimace reveals.

Lillie pulls her collar up, tightens her scarf, shoves her hands deep into her pockets, turns her face and walks outside into the biting wind. “I need to gather more snow for the ice cream.”

She returns—but with no snow. “It’s suppertime.” Her words are all that is needed for family and guests to gather around the candle-lit table.

As Ran says grace, a light dispels the darkness in their hearts just as the Star of Bethlehem did long ago. The reflection in Lillie’s face, from the beckoning candle, contradicts the devastating news from Hawaii.

Ran bows his head as everyone joins hands. “Lord, we know the world will still turn, the songbirds will again make their joyful sounds, and this too will pass. Keep our sons in the hollow of Your hand. Bless this food—and bless our nation. In the name above all names—Jesus.”

American men from coast to coast step forward to retaliate against the attack on U.S. soil. In the days shortly after Thanksgiving, Julian had enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and Herman in the ground forces Army after hearing President Roosevelt’s words on the radio: “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”

Howard went with his brothers and did his best also to enlist. However, the recruiter didn’t even need to wait for the results of a physical to see that Howard had a deformity that would make him 4-F. Howard had a serious head injury, caused by a blow from a split rim truck wheel. It had exploded while Howard was filling a tire with air in Glenmora. He tried to disguise the injury by pulling a cap down over his hair and forehead, but the recruiter—who was not new to his job—pulled off the cap, surveyed the scar, and motioned a thumb over his shoulder, indicating Howard was “out” of the running. Ran tried to assure Howard he could still be of service to the nation in other ways. For a scrapper and brawler like Howard, those words brought little appeasement.

Now, as they continue to enjoy what will probably be the last Christmas as a united family for perhaps years to come, Howard stokes the flames in the fireplace with a kindling-stick from a busted chiffarobe. Ran raises his fiddle. “Join me, in the family key.” Everyone joins in.

“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

As the long day ends, Ran leafs through his great-grandfather Joseph Willis’s six-inch thick leather-bound journal written long ago.

“What would he do?”

✯ ✯ ✯ ✯ ✯

Excerpted from Destiny
a nonfiction novel by Randy Willis

Destiny is available Christmas day—at Amazon at this link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1792650698

Randy Willis Destiny a novel.jpg