“Death Strikes Thrice”

69 years ago today, on Monday, August 1, 1949, the front page of the local newspaper in Lumberton, North Carolina, highlighted the opening of the town’s tobacco market on the following morning and included a map of other tobacco markets throughout the Carolinas and Virginia. There was also an update about the planned restoration of Tryon Palace, which was the official residence of the royal governor in New Bern when North Carolina was a royal colony under King George III. Another long article noted the death of J.C.B. Ehringhaus, who served as the Governor of North Carolina during the Great Depression and “often said he was proud of the fact that no public schools had to close during [that] period and teachers continued to get their pay.”

That front page also had a brief article from the Associated Press. Earlier that same day in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, someone who’d been a rural teacher before the Great Depression had “died of a heart attack just after she arrived at the home of her parents.” Her mother had died at 6:00 a.m. that Monday morning, and her father had died over the weekend on Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. That former teacher was my grandmother, Clara Tucker Willard. She was survived by my granddaddy, who was a tobacco farmer, and their eleven children, including my daddy, who turned 15 years old days later. Surely this was a death caused by the emotional stress of a broken heart, weighed down by unexpected grief. It’s such a sad story to imagine.

The next day, on August 2, a double funeral was held for my great-grandparents at Union Cross Moravian Church. That’s also the congregation where I was raised in the Christian faith and where my daddy, like his grandparents, is buried in God’s Acre, which is how Moravians have referred to their graveyards since coming here from Germany in the 18th century. Then, on August 3, my grandmother was buried in the graveyard of the Primitive Baptist Church in High Point, North Carolina, where my granddaddy would be buried. May they rest in peace, and rise in glory.

Because of my grandmother’s Moravian heritage, my daddy and his ten siblings grew up listening to the radio broadcast of the sunrise service at God’s Acre for the Salem Congregation in Winston-Salem early on the morning of Easter Day each year. On their tobacco farm on Willard Road in Guilford County, they would’ve heard the voice of a Moravian minister proclaim in the darkness that the Lord is risen, and they would have heard brass bands playing antiphonally throughout God’s Acre as the gathered crowd walked there from Home Moravian Church.

Finally, they would have heard over the radio that great throng singing chorales like this one about their Christian faith as the sun rose brilliantly in the eastern sky:

I give thee thanks unfeigned,
O Jesus, Friend in need,
For what thy soul sustained,
when thou for me didst bleed.
Grant me to lean unshaken
upon thy faithfulness,
until I hence am taken,
to see thee face to face.

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