Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November 2 - All Souls' Day - Arval Hearne, Father of my Father, Christian, Lover of Scripture

Arval Hearne is the father of my father and I knew him only briefly. He isn't somebody that you likely know or have heard of. Yet, today is All Souls' Day and so it is appropriate to tell the story of any of our dearly departed who have died while professing the same faith that lives within us. Arval was not a minister or an educated man but he was a Christian who proclaimed trust in a God who chose to die for you and I. Perhaps his story will mean little to you but that's okay--sometimes the storyteller needs to tell the story more than you need to hear it.

Arval was born to a relatively poor family in Pactolus, Kentucky(that's eastern Kentucky in Carter county). He had many brothers and sisters (including an identical twin named Davis) and grew up farming and taking care of the land. He was not well educated by any means--often, he and his brothers would be pulled out of their one room school in the middle of the day to go and work on a nearby farm. If somebody was looking for extra hands on the farm, in fact, they would go to Arvals' father and ask if his boys could come and help. Then, all they had to do was go down to the school and ask for the Hearne boys. There wasn't a clear distinction between the world of education and the world of work in Arval's life and this was something that would carry on for many years.

His life was full of exploration and self sufficiency. He learned young that there was no lack of work to be done in the world for the person who was willing to roll up his or her sleeves and set about doing it. Arval knew that the blessing of work was not solely the compensation one received for it but also the reward of having something to devote yourself to. In his life, he had a variety of jobs besides working on various farms as a child and young man. He worked as a service station mechanic for many years even though he had never been specifically trained for the job. He found himself willing to do it and able to perform the tasks and, so, he was hired. For a few years he drove a coal truck to transport orders of coal from the mines to their purchasers. When he had extra coal, he found himself peddling it to anybody interested in purchasing some more for their own personal use. As World War II approached, Arval enlisted in the army and eventually rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant while serving in the European campaign in Germany. Finally, he worked as a tankerman or "river rat" along the Ohio river in Northeastern Kentucky loading barges by day and night so that the business of river commerce could continue. He didn't work solely because he needed a paycheck but because the value of work had been proven to him. Arval didn't see the world broken into theory and practice--he saw a world with plenty of work to do for the person willing to work. A place with plenty of stories to tell if you knew what they looked like.

Though not all of his siblings would retain the faith of their father and mother after it had been passed to them, Arval was caught up in the story that flowed in the veins of his father and his father's father. He soon married Jessie Tyree and her faith invigorated his own. At my ordination, I had the pleasure of carrying Arval's bible and even though he could not be physically present, he was present within the great communion of saints that we find ourselves resting in. His bible was full of his own notes and thoughts and ably represented the impact of the scripture and its stories upon his life. As he aged, his life became more and more curved around the arc of the Gospel story and the values therein. He raised three daughters (Sandra, Linda, and Kathy) and one son (Larry) to whom he also passed on the faith. My father--his son--was the recipient of a bible before leaving home that reminded him not "forsake assembly."Arval knew that his son would do well to follow after the stories that had changed the lives of so many.

Arval did not only listen to stories but told them as well. He wrote songs and hymns so that others might hear the stories that meant so much to him. Further, some of my father's fondest memories of Arval involve a misty morning in eastern Kentucky while overlooking a wooded area. As the hounds chased down a rabbit, Arval would spin a tale from the perspective of the dogs. Larry would listen rapturously and Arval would craft a story that brought both of them out of their bodies and sent them searching for rabbits in the woods. As a child, I remember listening to Arval tell stories and wondering if he was making them up or if they were true or based on truth. To this day, I don't know what parts were personal and what parts were pure story.This was a trait he passed on to my father--who is a storyteller of skill and family acclaim--and something I hope to live into as I continue to mature.

Arval died years later surrounded by his loved ones and family. Strokes and deteriorating health had brought him to a place where he had to pass on over to the heaven he had wrote hymns and stories about. In doing so, he finally found rest in God with Christ and found a place where it was understood that work was more than something worth compensation but also worth doing even if only for the sake of doing it.

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