Turning Beer into Furniture
Clear November skies chilled by Michigan’s fall winds made early November 1970 seem normal. But it was anything but normal. Thirty-four years ago today, we buried my forty-five year-old Daddy. Everyone kept saying, “He was so young.”
I thought—he wasn’t really all that young. But I was only seventeen.
Tonight my eyes strain to see his copper colored skin, his blue-black hair, and big, broad smile. I think hard and can almost hear his voice, including that persistent clearing of his throat. Thanks to Lucky Strikes, he always cleared his throat, especially when he gave the concluding remark to any discussion at our family dinner table.
When I sit at the dinner table with my boys, I can imagine him sitting with us listening to them, proud of their thoughtful funny repartee. Proud of their passion for Jesus and justice. Ready to clear his throat and make the culminating comment.
Herbert Taylor Choate possessed a zest for learning, for excellence in the performance of any task, and for placing life’s priorities in good order. First, God. Next, family. Third, education and career.
He was only seventeen he left the Cherokee community of Bunch, Oklahoma, joined the navy, and saw other boys throw flames into caves on Iwo Jima. He buried one brother. His other brother came home a boxing barber from the Burma Road. He died a premature death a few years later. Herb came home smoking and drinking hard. For years alcohol dulled the memories. Often sleep came with grinding teeth and nightmares. Deeply inhaling a freshly lit cigarette calmed his nerves. I can still see smoke curling from his lips.
Married, with one little girl, and me on the way, he put his LORD on in baptism, and left the booze behind. Taking to heart the grace of God, accepting the love of my mom’s family and the fellowship of the Van Dyke Church of Christ; he embraced a new lifestyle. Of course, even as a deacon, he still joined all other men for smoke between Sunday school and church.
Someone once asked him, “Herb, do you believe God still does miracles today?”
He said, “Well, I tell you what, I saw Jesus turn beer into furniture.”
I don’t know exactly why he had a heart attack on that November night, but I can make an educated guess. I often think—if he had known that hard drinking for those eight years and smoking for so many more would have kept him from spending an autumn evening around the dinner table trading stories and solving world problems with his grandsons, he would have stopped long before he did.