In 1985, we moved to Abilene so I could attend graduate school. Jan did not have a job and I did not either. The only certainty we had as we packed our few belongings into a rental truck was that I had an 80% scholarship for the master’s degree program that I had been accepted into at Abilene Christian University. We had enough money saved for a month’s rent and groceries.
On a Monday morning in April of 1985, we drove into Anthony’s Fina and Wrecker Service to return the rental truck. Wade Anthony was man that handled the contract. He was friendly and immediately engaged me in conversation. His wife, Bea, normally handled the rental truck aspect of their business, and he ran the full service Fina station that catered to oil field customers. His brother, Robert, ran a wrecker service out of the same location. Wade and Bea’s son, Dub, was also an important part of the business. As it turned out, Bea was at the dentist that day and they were busy. During the course of our dialogue he discovered I had spent 4 years during my undergraduate studies working in an old fashioned full-service Texaco station in Lubbock. He asked me: “Do you think you could learn to rent these trucks?” And then he asked: “Would you be willing to help my brother with the wrecker service as needed?” I eagerly said yes. I became a part of the Anthony family on a handshake that morning.
I spent the majority of my time in a small building inside the fenced in yard where wrecked cars were stored. I sent Penske Rental Trucks all over the nation from Abilene, Texas. Dyess Air Force Base moving personnel around kept us busy. I was also the “night man” in the service station staying by myself for the last hour or two to clean up and wait on the final customers of the day. And I occasionally helped Robert make wrecker calls.
Every day at Anthony’s Fina and Wrecker Service we sat down to a family style meal at lunch. Everyone brought their own brown bag, but there was always lots of sharing. Bea loved to discuss the abstract concepts I was learning in class over lunch. But Robert and Wade kept my feet on the ground. Their minds were drawn to the concrete and not the abstract. They were more inclined to discuss the people aspects of church life that I seldom if ever heard in the classroom.
A conversation I had with Robert over one of those lunches has stayed with me for nearly 30 years. It seems that Robert’s preacher was not as friendly as Robert thought a preacher should be. (The truth is that Robert’s preacher was an introvert.) Robert told me: “He won’t speak to me in the hallway at church.” There was really no excuse for this behavior, because Robert was usually there hours before anyone else preparing communion trays. Robert proceeded to tell me: “When you get your own church you be sure to speak to the members.” (By the way, that is a direct quote.) I laughed so hard at the time. Robert was a very plain spoken working kind of man.
Robert was right. Being friendly and cordial with everyone that comes to worship on a Sunday really is of utmost importance. On the days I just don’t feel like “speaking to the members”, Robert’s words ring in my mind. I do try really hard to be friendly, engaging, and open. And I didn’t learn that in school. I learned that from a man who earned his living towing cars. He was an honest man of integrity.
I enjoyed working for a family that treated their customers with respect and dignity. Earning a master’s degree in biblical studies prepared me well for ministry, but my time with the Anthony’s also prepared me to serve people. And most of all I have really tried hard to “speak to the members.”
Robert passed away last Monday. My mind has drifted back to our daily family style lunches the past few days. I miss those conversations. You never had to wonder what was on Wade or Robert’s mind. They taught me a lot about life and they treated me like a son. I miss Robert. I love all of the Anthony’s. They will always be family to me.