A little over a week ago a dear friend and mentor made a permanent change of address. Dr. Stan Toussaint left this world behind to move into his new digs in heaven. He had packed his bags awhile back, and, at 89 was ready to go. His body had just worn out.
Recent strokes had robbed him of his ability to speak. Polio as a child had stolen his love of running and jumping. But I never heard a word of complaint in the 40 years I knew him at DTS.
Dr. Chuck Swindoll offered the eulogy last Saturday. He met Dr. Toussaint back in 1960 when he was a student at Dallas Seminary. Dr. Toussaint was struggling to climb some steps leading up to Mosher Library. Chuck was at the top of the steps and reached out with a helping hand. Dr. Toussaint grasped Chuck’s hand as if he were reaching for a handshake greeting: “Hi,” he said. “I’m Stan Toussaint, and I’m from Hinkley, Minnesota!”
That story created a ripple of laughter last Saturday. Because we all knew Dr. Toussaint delighted in telling stories about his upbringing in remote Hinkley. I take it by faith that it’s a real place.
Hinkley has achieved a mythical status in my life. Sort of like Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon. It’s a place you long for, but at the same time want to stay shrouded in the mists, just over the next hill. Beyond GPS.
Chuck is from El Campo. Another fairly small town, down south of Houston. His early days were spent there, soaking up the culture of small-town life. You can hear it in his preaching. He weaves together stories of biblical characters who bear an uncanny resemblance to the denizens of El Campo. You don’t plant yourself in a place like Hinkley or El Campo as much as those places plant themselves in you – take root in your life. And the fruit of that plant comes out in the form of barbecue-flavored memories and a wagonload of “mirror” stories – the kind where you see yourself reflected in the tale.
Hinkley. El Campo. Oakville. Or, come to think of it – Bethlehem. Another small town that few knew or cared about at the time. But sometimes really good folks come from nowhere towns. They shake things up. Sometimes they save the world.
When I was a younger man and out to impress folks, and they asked where I was from, I would always say, “George West.” Because, you know it was a bit more cosmopolitan. At 2,250, the burgeoning population of George West was ten times the population of my actual hometown of Oakville, twelve miles and three dead armadillos to the northeast. Anywhere was bigger than Oakville.
But now I say, “Hi, I’m Reg Grant. I’m from Oakville, Texas.” I always get the quizzical look, the tilt of the head. I usually follow up with, “If you’ve ever headed south on 37 out of San Antone, on your way to Corpus, you passed through Oakville about 80 miles down the road. Blink and miss it. You ought to stop at Van’s BBQ,” I say. “You might run into Bookie or some of my other Reagan cousins, getting breakfast. Say hi to Marty (she may not be a cousin, but she’s still family) – she’ll be the one in the red chili pepper hat.” –– “Hi honey, what can I get you?” Tell her, “Reg says, ‘Hey, and I’ll be back for a Country Breakfast before long.'”
Dr. Toussaint and Chuck remind me to take pride in my small town roots. So I say I’m from Oakville. Because that’s where we’re all from. Or want to be.
Every big town started out small. And, Lord willing, that’s where we’re headed, someday. After we’re done shaking things up – and telling folks about the the small town Boy who grew up to save the world.
Hinkley. El Campo. Oakville.
Where life is slow as the Nueces, and the folks are as satisfying as bacon and biscuits at Van’s.