By Mike Willis
On 28 February 1981, Mr. and Mrs. O.J. Willis celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in Groveton, Texas. Family and friends met together to mark this special occasion. Five of the seven children born into this family were present to celebrate the occasion. Some 125-150 guests were present.
The occasion was especially significant to me because Wilhelmenia and Onan J. Willis are my parents. In a generation which is marked with so many problems affecting the home and family, I feel quite privileged to have been reared in the home of two parents with a commitment to each other which has lasted for over fifty years. Many marriages are entered lightly without the commitment which will endure the problems which test any marriage. There are many other families with the same commitment but have seen the marriage severed by death. To have this commitment enhanced by the honor which was given to God, Christ, and the church made this marriage and the home established thereby an especially good environment for us to grow up in. What a privilege we have been given to have Christian parents whose marriage has lasted over 50 years.
Seven children were born to Wilhelmenia and Onan J. Willis. The first three were boys, Homer Cecil, Donald Fred, and Lewis Burton. Then followed two girls, Ouida Jean and Karen Sue. Next I was born, followed by a younger sister named Barbara Madge. As soon as each child reached maturity, each was baptized into Christ, not because of family tradition (so far as I can tell), but because of a faith which was passed down from the parents to the children.
One of the joys which comes with being an editor is the privilege of eulogizing those in one’s family. Our readers are just going to have to bear with me for this week as I pay tribute to two of the most important people on this earth – my mother and my father.
A Stable Home
Some of the things which were most important in my home were things that I have only recently begun to appreciate. For example, I never remember hearing either my mother or my father say to the other, “I am going to get a divorce.” There were times that they did not agree with each other, I am sure. However, their commitment was deep enough to each’ other that they were willing to work through those problems together.
Times were rough financially for everyone in East Texas when my father was raising his family. The depression was far from over when Mother and Dad married. They raised their family through some of the hardest financial situations ever faced in America. My parents were extremely practical. I doubt that they ever wasted much money. The cars which they bought, the clothes which they wore, the house in which we lived, and any other things which they bought were geared to the need. They had little concern with “keeping up with the Jones family.” The principles of thrift which they taught us have been of tremendous benefit to me in raising my own family.
In spite of the severity of economic problems, I remember very few family problems caused by financial arguments. I am sure Mother and Daddy must have disagreed about such matters, but they never developed into major problems. The children were taught to bear their share of the financial obligations. From the time I was small, jobs were given to me for me to do. I fed chickens and gathered eggs, chopped wood, mowed lawns, and worked in a grocery store, not for monetary profit, but to help the family with the work which had to be done to keep it going. I can remember the times when my brothers worked outside the home to help the family buy the things which were needed. I have never resented this, nor have any of my brothers or sisters ever complained about mistreatment at the hands of Mother and Daddy. I am sure that these things drew us together.
“There Every Time The Doors Were Open”
Another aspect of my family life which I remember and treasure highly was the commitment which my parents had to God. From the time that I was small, I can remember going to church. We were one of those families which was there “every time the church doors were opened.” As a matter of fact, many a time my mother or father opened the door, swept the building, prepared the communion, led singing, taught the Bible class, led prayer, or served in whatever other way they had the capacity to serve.
I can never remember engaging in a discussion with my parents regarding whether or not we were going to go to worship services on Sunday evening. I can never remember telling them that I thought I was old enough not to have to go to church. I can never remember them sending me to church with someone else when they were capable of going themselves.
I can remember, however, the nights when my father would come home late from work, quickly eat his supper meal, take a quick bath, and pile all of us into the car to go to services. I can remember the many times when we attended the gospel meetings in the area. I can remember the many gospel preachers who “fought for survival” to get food from our table. I can remember the many occasions when song books were opened at family gatherings and praise was given to God in the living room of our house.
I am sure that each of these things contributed to the spiritual development of the children. Each of us grew up knowing what to do to be saved, the nature of the Lord’s church, God’s laws of morality, and other matters of divine revelation. It surely must have had some strong influence in all four of us boys becoming preachers and in each of the girls becoming and marrying Christians. Whatever sins each of us has committed since becoming a Christian cannot be attributed to ignorance based on the failure of my parents. They thoroughly discharged their responsibility in making sure that we had the opportunities to know God’s revelation.
Discipline When Necessary
Another aspect of my family life which I remember quite well and continue to appreciate is the discipline which was given to me by my parents. By discipline, I mean more than spankings, although there were not a few of them in a home with seven children. I refer more to the training which we received to inspire each of us to do our best. Somehow, my parents were able to encourage us to do our best without making us feel driven. I never remember them nagging me to do homework or the chores which had to be done. Yet, there were few occasions that any of us left these undone.
When spankings were necessary, they were freely administered. I remember quite well a “switch tree” which grew just outside the back door. My mother frequently made us go cut the instrument of our own correction. We were never abused in the spankings which we received. I can never remember getting a spanking just because one of them was having a bad day. I do remember getting one spanking which I did not deserve; as soon as my father realized his error, he came and apologized to me for spanking me. Of course, there were some occasions when I deserved spankings that I did not get, so I had to figure that the scale somewhat balanced itself on that day.
I shall never forget one particular lesson I learned regarding controlling my tongue. I had called my brother a bad name. He gave me the opportunity to take it back and I called him that name again. He told Mother and she washed my mouth out with soap. She taught me to have clean hands, a clean heart and a clean tongue!
My parents were able to teach us the respect for their authority which was due to them. We were taught to “honor thy father and thy mother.” They never allowed us to talk back to them; hence, no one ever thought of raising a hand against either of them. My mother was just as capable of administering discipline to a fourteen year old teenage boy as she was a three year old toddler. She did not hesitate to give what was deserved for fear of being struck back by the teenage son. All of us knew better than to try that. Consequently, I suppose that if my mother thought one of her children needed disciplining today that she would not fear that any of us would raise a hand to stop her. We respect both of our parents too much to raise a hand to strike either of them.
I am sure that there are many other things which my brothers and sisters would like to add to what I have written. Space would fail us if we tried to say all that should be said and our readers would soon become bored. However, on the occasion of the celebration of fifty years of marriage, I thought some notice deserved to be given the event. May the Lord richly bless them in the final years of their lives and marriage to each other.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 18, pp. 275-276
April 30, 1981