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In a small house in rural middle Tennessee lived a father Gabe, a mother Corinna, their six sons, and the youngest, a girl whom everyone called Sister. The mother was a devoted Christian; the father an alcoholic. Together they ran a country store. The oldest son Theodore loved learning. He went to school, but he also ordered textbooks (including one on Latin) from the Sears and Roebuck catalog and homeschooled himself. One year he went through three grades in three days; at least that’s what Miss Pauline used to tell us when she occasionally served as a substitute teacher in my class during elementary school (I wrote about Miss Pauline in my second post back in April 2013).

When Theodore finished all the grades available near his home in the Sycamore community of Cheatham County, he longed to go to high school in Ashland City, about three miles away. He talked to a man who lived in Ashland City and who also owed a bill at the family’s country store. Theodore asked this man if he would allow him to board at his home while he went to high school in exchange for Theodore asking his father to cancel his debt. The man agreed, Gabe agreed, and Theodore went to high school.

Theodore became an American pilot during World War I. America entered the war just fourteen years after the Wright Brothers made their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk. Those planes were a far cry from the ones the military uses today. Theodore flew bravely; he earned medals, but he was also wounded. After World War II, American soldiers received financial benefits for college. After World War I, it was only wounded veterans who received college funds. What a great opportunity this was for Theodore. He earned his doctorate in physiology at the University of Chicago, had a long and distinguished career, and was involved in the effort to end polio in the 1950s.

Gabe died young at fifty years of age. One of his sons struggled like his father did, but Sister became an elementary school principal, Jack an attorney, Fred a preacher, Bea a county court clerk, and Leland a grocer–and my daddy’s daddy. Corinne lived into old age, dying when I was ten years old. It was the first time I ever saw my daddy cry. I remember thinking that now I knew someone in Heaven.

I got to know Uncle “Doc” (our family’s nickname for Theodore) when he came back home to Cheatham County to retire. He was a wonderful example of diligence, one of the most important traits we will ever teach our children.

The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage,
But everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.
Proverbs 21:5, NASB

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  1. This is very interesting as I have just spent the afternoon trying to put together a study guide about WWI pilots for a homeschool day at a local WWI museum. It just amazes me how much was learned in the four years of that war about airplanes and how to use them. I can’t imagine being willing to get into a plane with all the things nobody knew in those days!
    I would be interested to know what squadron he flew for, or his last name, though I understand you may not want to get into specifics online.