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In this story from January 1959, the beloved singer and actor shares how his dad's joyous faith impacted his own life.
Dad never tried to make us “good” through fear. “You’ll have to be good through love, or ‘twont go more’n skin deep,” he said.
Our church life was really happy too. We prayed and sang and listened to Bible readings and sermons with great fervor. And then we had socials, dances, ‘possum hunts, hay rides, and we did all this with great fervor, too.
I came by hymn singing just naturally, the same way I came by my faith. I grew up with it. My folks made it a part of everything we did every day, and that made it personal and practical as well as natural.
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I married my wife, Betty, during World War II when I was a bombardier in the Air Force. When the war was over we were back in Bristol, and me with no job in sight. We decided to try California, still with no job.
It wasn’t easy for a while, but neither of us lost faith in God. Nor did I lose faith in myself. I seemed to have a voice, a talent, but I had to appreciate where the talent came from, to be grateful for it, to share it–and that’s the way it worked out.
Betty and I have two sons now: Jeff, eight, and Brion, five. Life moves so fast these days that it takes some doing to get the boys out where they see God’s bounty natural-like, instead of processed and packaged at the super-market.
But it’s got to be that way every so often if they’re to get that direct, personal feeling about it. So we have a place at Clear Lake where there’s lots of fish, and a ranch nearby where we raise cattle and watch things grow.
Not so long ago Brion gave good evidence that he’s getting that personal feeling. He was received, in a baptismal ceremony, into the First Methodist Church of North Hollywood, our present church home. T
he whole event impressed him, including the certificate he received giving date, church name, minister and other particulars.
Reporting it later he said: “I didn’t cry. I stood up there real good. The minister put water on my head and, oh ...” suddenly his face lit up and he produced his certificate. “Look, I got a letter from Jesus.”
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So far I haven’t been able to lure my dad to Hollywood; his roots in Tennessee go too deep. He’s retired now after 39 years in the postal service, and has even more time to hunt and fish.
He isn’t much interested in the money I’m making, or how many of the guest stars on my television show I call by their first name. But he wants to know, have I been to the lake? How is the farm?
What he’s really asking is, has “gettin’ me a horn that blowed” made me forget what I learned from him back there in Tennessee?
And I can honestly answer, no. For what he taught me has made it all possible.
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