(This is the fourth post on the life of Chester Tyra. See also the other posts: The Man Who Never Had a Bad Day, Think of the Difference You'd Make to the One Who Needs it, My Name is Daniel, and I Was His Best Friend Too, and What Made Him Who He Was) I've already written about Chester's generosity and hospitality, and any list of words about his life would be incomplete without including joy and fun. He knew that fun was good, and in having a lot of it, his joy became contagious into the lives around him. Everyone who knew him likely has some story to tell of having fun with him, particularly if they were kids. His daughter told me about a time when she was young and they were visiting their their cousins in East Texas during the winter. They got some very rare snow, and the kids were thrilled. (Now don’t try this at home, but) Chester went to the hardware store and bought a ladder, nailed a piece of lumber into it to hold it together, tied it to the back of his car and drove the kids around town “sleighing” on the snow. She said they had so much fun... The strongest cousin had to sit in front so that any time Chester hit the brakes they could put their feet on the bumper and prevent the whole crew from sleighing right under the car. It left bruises, but it was fun.
Much of our fun with him happened in two places: the back yard of his house, or in church. Our times in his back yard at his swimming pool were a kid's dream: a diving board, toys to play with, and he even had a dome that went over the top so that we could still swim when the weather was cool. ...And there were always hamburgers and "yeller-meated" watermelon.
In church, my favorite fun thing to do with him was to make up names to sign on the attendance register to see if we could get them printed in the bulletin the next week as having been visitors. Our favorite names were Otto J. Krunk and JoAbner Ticklebritches. Chester's legacy carries on- these two men have now visited various churches across the country.
My brother, Adam, recalls a time when he was about 5 years old, as they were waiting for the ushers to come to their row and direct them to go to the front to take communion by taking a piece of bread and dipping it in the cup of grape juice, Chester elbowed him and said, "Hey boy, it's better if you stick your hand all the way to the bottom of the cup. So when Adam's turn came, he trusted Chester's advice. He took the small piece of bread and instead of just wetting the tip of it in the juice, he plunged hand and bread all the way to the bottom of the cup. He then walked back down the aisle with his sweet-soaked hand proudly in their air, proudly looking like he'd just killed something.
Not exactly reverent, but fun. I'm determined to find some good theology in that story one of these days.
Adam also makes a good point about how having fun with Chester in church when we were young shaped us for the rest of our lives. From our very earliest memories of church, we never had to be drug out of bed to go, sit through things that we thought were boring and were really only for adults, for one reason: because Chester was there. We don't remember many Sunday School lessons from those years, and certainly not any of the pastor's sermons, but we can remember how, as soon as we walked in the building we were looking for Chester and how fun it was to sit at his side every week. It was a very effective children's ministry program that didn't even require a budget (other than perhaps for Jolly Ranchers): have adults who help kids to have fun in church.
But the most telling testament to Chester’s gift of fun to those around him came from the person who knew him best. It came the day before he died when his wife told me, “You know, we were married in 1947 (that’s 63 years). That’s a long time.” Then she said, “And it was fun all the way.”
That's the stuff of a life well-lived. If my wife is with me 63 years, and one of the first things out of her mouth about me is how much fun we had, that will have been a truly good life.
I wonder how much fun we pass up for other things, and how often it's worth it? Thankfully, I'm one of many beneficiaries of Chester's ability to not pass it up very often.