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Grandpa Thure Cerling, Part 2: a faith based story from the Story Powerline
Tuesday, August 4, 2020 by Becky Cerling Powers

Yesterday’s story: My grandfather Thure (pronounced Turry) Cerling grew up poor and scrappy in Chicago in the early 1900s. Although he had to quit high school to help support his family, he was determined to become a millionaire by the time he was 30. He started a construction company and met his goal. But then came the Crash of 1929. He lost his fortune and more. He was over his head in debt. His story helps me understand what Jesus meant when he said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.”     

Thure was 34 years old with a wife and five children. Many businessmen filed for bankruptcy in those days, and Thure could have done that too. But he felt he should pay his debts in full, trusting God to help him. So he set to work with a new goal: to survive with his family in a way that honored God while paying off all his debts. Somehow.

He scrounged for work. During the worst times, he slept in his Chicago office on week nights because he couldn’t afford daily transportation from Chicago to his home in Elmhurst. At week’s end, he walked the twenty miles home.

He made a point not to work on Sundays, though. That was his day for worship at church in the morning and for playing with his children in the afternoon.

His family ate a lot of beans and oatmeal, and they did what they could to put food on the table. They planted a big garden on the vacant lot he owned next door, and they fertilized it with kitchen scraps and ashes from the coal furnace. They raised chickens. They learned to harvest “weeds” like dandelion greens for salads and Lamb’s Quarter to substitute for spinach. Thure’s oldest son – my Uncle Chuck – hunted pheasants, rabbits and squirrels for meat.

During the Great Depression, both my grandparents rediscovered the power of their childhood faith and the importance of passing on sound values to their children. More than once, after her children were grown, Grandma remarked, “It’s a good thing we lost all that money. It would’ve been bad for the boys.”

Grandpa died when I was 18. But ever since my siblings and I grew up and started our own families, watching my brothers relate to their children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren always made me think of Grandpa. The way they joked and kidded around, their pleasure in simple activities and conversations, their easy way of taking firm control when discipline was needed…it all reminded me vividly of the way my dad and uncles and grandpa played with us and kept us under control when we were kids.

My four brothers continue to remind me of Dad and Grandpa in other ways, too. They are hard workers – almost workaholics, except that they do seem to know how to relax and enjoy their families. They’re inventive, adventurous and resourceful -- good providers who do well in their work yet still put the needs of their families ahead of their career ambitions. They all struggle with – or cave in to – perfectionism. Yet they can see the jokes in life and laugh.

Our two sons are the same way. They’ve grown up, married, and given us our precious grandchildren. They relate to their children and us and the world beyond their families with the same values as Grandpa Thure, the great-grandfather they never had the privilege to meet.

A father holds great power to influence his children and his grandchildren for health or for harm. Whether a man accepts this or refuses it, the power remains. His values, his priorities, his choices will shape the lives of generations, as my grandfather’s did.

Today’s prayer: “Lord, I want to leave a legacy of peace and integrity for my children and grandchildren. Please help me be an example to them of someone who hungers and thirsts to be right in God’s eyes. In all I do and say today, direct me to the fulfilling of Your purpose for all of us. Amen.”

© 2020 Becky Cerling Powers

Reprint with attribution only

For the next few months I will be posting stories that help us understand the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mountain. For faith-based family stories to share with friends and older children, check out my books: Laura’s Children: the hidden story of a Chinese orphanage and My Roots Go Back to Loving and other stories from Year of the Family in the Bookstore.

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