Today every flag in America is flying at half-mast in of honor the Gipper, former President Ronald Reagan, a tribute fitting, of course, for a man who for eight years held the presidency of the world's most powerful nation. But each time I rode by a flag today, I pretended it was also at half-mast for my mother's last living sibling, Uncle Bill. We attended his memorial service at a small funeral home chapel in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
My grandpa, Uncle Bill's father, born in 1869 and named Prince Albert, passed this distinguished name on to his son. These men were not named for the tobacco, but for the actual prince, the husband of Queen Victoria. So my mother's brother, born in Dardenelle, Arkansas in 1922, became the ninth of ten children in a early 20th century yours, mine, and ours blend. Unlike most of the late 20th century blended families, this family was engineered by a combination of natural disaster and a sense of biblical responsibility. Lettie Brown Johnson Evans lost her first husband, Dimmit Evans, in the Flu Epidemic of 1918. Reminiscent of the kinsman redeemers of the Israelites, Lettie Brown Johnson Evans, Uncle Bill's mother, was rescued from her lonely state by Dimmit's widowed older brother, the aforementioned Prince Albert Evans.
So when did Prince Albert become Bill? Nicknames evolved in the Evans family somewhat like they did in the Cherokee community where my dad grew up. Traits observed in children led the elders to assign them a name. Toddling Prince Albert moved at a pretty quick pace. I am sure all babies seemed pretty quick moving to Prince Albert, the father, seeing as he was in his late fifties already! At any rate, Prince Albert, the toddler, was dubbed, "Wild Bill."
My mom, Emma Jo Evans Choate, can recount many stories about the rough and tumble days of their Arkansas youth, but the innocence of that youth was cut short by the call of Pearl Harbor. When Prince Albert the younger signed up with Uncle Sam, he signed in as Bill Evans and no questions were asked. He went to war with the hundreds of thousands of others of his generation and survived the horrors of the South Pacific theater including Okinawa and the Philippines.
Bill came home in 1945 and the burdens of being Wild Bill, Private Bill, husband Bill, and father Bill challenged his being. There was warfare for his soul, and for many years he wandered through the maze of life without committment to the LORD. I remember my mom, his baby sis, praying aloud EVERY night of my life, "Lord, please, help Bill to know that the best thing in life is pure and undefiled religion before you." My mom tended to utter certain prayers in King James English. Note: King James of England preceeded Prince Albert and Victoria by about 250 years.
So, through the 50s she prayed. In the 60s she prayed. Today my cousin J.D. Cash, eulogized Uncle Bill, saying that Uncle Bill's baptism in the 60s was a start, but Uncle Bill's life lacked the peace and the practice that one might want for his life in Christ. Mom still prayed that same prayer all through my high school years.
It was in 70s that Uncle Bill began demonstrating the new life of the spirit he had been granted. He finally put on the full armor of God.He repented publicly of his his ways. He gave up destructive habits. He began to worship with Christians. He renewed his devotion to his immediate family and to his extended family. Over the last thirty years, after the untimely death of his son, he took great care of his grandaughter. He provided heroic care for his wife, and for his widowed sisters in their old age. He repaired their cars and cut their grass. Uncle Bill drove them to doctor's appointments. In their later years, he feed them lunch at the nursing home and packed up their houses when they passed away.
So Toddling Prince Albert became Wild Bill. Wild Bill became Private Bill. Bill Evans became grown-up citizen, husband, and father. He struggled. He missed many years of blessings.But he became a New Creature. Through many "dangers, toils, and snares" by God's grace,he showed himself one who understood "true religion." He kept himself "unspotted from the world and cared for widows and orphans in their affliction."
This week, the world says goodbye to a popular US president. Today, our family said goodbye to a prince, not just in name, but in reality. He lost some battles, but by the grace of God, he won the war. A child of the King. Prince Bill.