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      Nurturing people in the image of God since 1868.                                                                          POB 397/520 Dry Creek Rd./Smithville, TN

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THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Todd W. Van Beck tells the story of how many years ago he worked for a man whom today he calls a great American funeral director. His lifelong motto was "Families first, no matter what," and he lived this with a consistency that few men ever achieve. The funerals he conducted were flawless, and people genuinely admired and respected him. He was a grand person. However, one of the most interesting mysteries which accompanied this man was his "little black book." It was a small black book with a lock on the cover. It looked as if it were very old, and it was his constant companion.

If you went to his office, you would see it lying on his desk. At funerals, he would pull the black book out and scribble brief notations in it. If you picked up his suit coat, you could feel the black book in his coat pocket. You can imagine the gossip by the staff and speculation around the funeral home coffee room as to precisely what was in the book. I remember on the first day I worked, I very seriously asked a co-worker what the book was for, and he responded with a very mysterious glance, then replied, "He keeps his list of girlfriends in the book." I was stunned.

Later I asked the receptionist about the black book. Her response was that it was where he kept the list of the horses he bet on at the race track. Again, I was stunned. My boss was a womanizing gambler! I just couldn't believe it. For nearly three years the mysterious saga of the little black book continued - all the time, the stories, gossip and intrigue getting more and more spectacular and ridiculous.

Then suddenly one day, while conducting a funeral, my boss, this great funeral director, had a massive heart attack and died. Four days later, we had a grand funeral for him - he was laid out in a solid bronze casket, flowers were everywhere, and when we took him to the church, the place was packed to overflowing. And there sitting in the front row was the governor himself. I was standing in the back of the church watching the flower truck, sobbing as the minister went on and on about what a great man my boss was and how just knowing him made us all better people. I couldn't have agreed with him more.

Then the minister asked my boss's widow to come up and talk about her husband's character. I thought, Now this will be beautiiful,  as she rose to walk to the pulpit. It was then I saw she was carrying his little black book! My tears of grief instantaneously turned to sweats of terror. She walked to the pulpit, stood with complete dignity, looked at the assembly and said, "Thank you all for being here today. I want to share with you a secret about my husband's character."

I thought, Oh no, here it comes! Why doesn't she leave well enough alone? She continued, "You see this small book. Most of you know he carried it with him constantly. I would like to read the first entry of the book dated April 17, 1920 -Mary Flannery ... she is all alone. The next entry August 8, 1920 - Frederick W. Pritchard ... he is all alone. The next entry November 15, 1920 - Frieda M. Gale ... she is all alone. You see when he made funeral arrangements or saw somebody at a funeral that he knew was all alone, he would write their names in this book. Then, every Christmas Eve, he would call each person and invite them to share a wonderful Christmas dinner at our house. I want you all to know that this was the true character of my husband; he was concerned, compassionate and caring. This is what the little black book is all about, and I also want you to know that this being 1971, he did this for fifty Christmases."

There was not a dry eye in the church. Now, more than thirty years after his death, I look back at the inner spirit that motivated this man to do what he did. May this spirit of warmth and compassion guide each of us in our relationships with others. Do You have a little black book?

For His Cause,
Tim Woodward