This is My Story and I'm Sticking to It

By Thomas A. Snyder

Grandfather Snyder died in 1924, twenty years before my birth. It was a long and painful process, dying of cancer, when no one was allowed to say the word. I know him only through my father’s stories and a single picture of him which survives. He is seated with my square-jawed, taciturn grandmother (let’s cut her some slack: she bore a child every two years for twenty years, eight surviving to adulthood, my father the youngest). Aaron Snyder gazes from the sepia photograph through kindly eyes over an enormous walrus moustache. He was a farmer and the carpenter who framed the windows for the school from which my dad graduated in 1920. He made sure that Beebeetown, Iowa, was included in the circuit of the travelling Methodist preacher. He was a gentle spirit, from what I have heard. Biography is story at its most personal.

As a teenager, I remember my dad’s recounting the most difficult thing my grandfather ever said to him. Herb stayed out all night with his friends. Near dawn, trying to quietly let himself into the house, he found his father bent over in the kitchen chair tying his workboots for morning chores. Dad said, “My father looked up and simply said, ‘Good morning.’ I will never forget that”. Nor have I forgotten that story of father and son. Story shapes values.

Herb Snyder spent his life as a salesperson: groceries, meat, as a gas station owner and car salesman, new and used. He was an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary work ethic and exalted standard of personal service. If you purchased a car from him, he would call after a month, ask you about its condition and performance. If anything were awry, he would come to your house, leave his car, take yours to have the issue remedied, then return it to you. This is the story I tell about my father to our sons: “This is what your Grandpa Snyder was like. It is who he was and how he lived. Whatever your vocation, service to others tops the list. Then people will tell stories like this about you.” One son serves others as an IT specialist; one teaches English. I think they are on the way.

Snyder men are incurable romantics. I learned that from my dad. He loved my mother unconditionally, and he let me watch. I see our sons love their wives, commit to them, gift them, cherish them. Maybe Grandfather Snyder did that, too, with my square-jawed, taciturn grandmother, even in their Victorian household, and the lesson was not lost on my dad. Some stories are simply lived, not told, least of all explained.

Two weeks ago I climbed on the rocks at Lakeside with our eight-year-old grandson, Thomas. Perched precariously over the Lake Erie shore (note to self: no rock climbing in sandals…), we were exploring an inscription carved in the limestone - what on earth kind of tool was used for this!?: 9-2-29. “Wow, Thomas, that was 1929! How many years ago was that?” Furrowed brow, calculations in the head, using “strategies” as they call them now: “84 years”, he says. “Excellent!” High fives. Nana, on the walk above, snaps our picture: my arms are around Thomas, faces touching, his arms are outstretched in the setting sun. Will Thomas and I look out from that picture to our descendants someday? Will someone detect a generational love story, a system of values, a way to be in the world? That is my prayer.

And, speaking of prayer, why a memoir like this in a seminary magazine? First, it is a story which has shaped me, in which I am immersed, and which I seek to pass on. Second, through its various facets and nuances, foundations are laid, values transmitted, identities established, behaviors formed, life patterns influenced, ethics grounded, relationships celebrated, the future envisioned. And it is all part of a larger story.

There are none of our stories that do not intersect with the story of the love-crazed God, who creates and recreates, forgives and guarantees second chances even when we stay out all night and slink back at the crack of dawn. This Parent who suffers on our behalf and sends the One who completely re-presents every foundation, value, relationship, ethic, standard of being in the world, of service and sacrifice, of faith, of the ultimate reality of Love. Jesus told stories because he knew he was part of this eternal love story.

If our family story shapes who we are, how much more does the sacred story reveal our chosenness, personhood, our belovedness, our absolute value and place in the larger family of God? My final prayer is that each of us will know the security of our place in this holy family. With Jesus, and each other as sisters and brothers, how can we not know who and whose we are when we hear this story again and again? More than that, when we dare to live the story, and let the world catch us doing it.