Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by Rev. John Farmer

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My Grandmother’s Window

Seven years after pastor Fred Claybrook started the Baptist work in Irvington (1891), Grant Colfax Tullar (1869-1950) was the musical evangelist assisting in a Methodist Episcopal revival in Rutherford, N.J.

Tullar was born when Ulysses Grant and Schuyler Colfax were president and vice-president. In Tullar’s day, it was customary for a musician to accompany traveling preachers to create such music as could be offered fresh from the harp. He wrote, played and sang the tune for that night’s meeting. His hymn was: “All for Me the Savior Suffered.”

Carrie E. Breck (1855-1934), a Presbyterian homemaker, had sent two of her poems to Tullar, one of which more perfectly fit the tune previously constructed. Tullar placed her poem with his song. It was first published in his Sermon’s in Song, 1899. The union of poet and musician first appeared in 1921, in Kingdom Songs. The hymn grew in popularity and entered our hymnals in 1956.

“Face to Face with Christ My Savior” is based upon First Corinthians 13:12: “Now we see but a poor reflection… then, we shall see his face.”

Age forced my grandmother to give up housekeeping. She moved into a new home built by my uncle with dad’s help, on the southwest periphery of Richmond’s old Chesterfield border. The guys actually made the imitation stone blocks in molds of four and six up. They had been working on the home for a couple of years before the first course of block rose from the gravelly hillside.

Now there was a girl cousin living with my grandmother. I’d been sent to live with my mom, step-dad and little sister, Jo, in a post World War II asbestos haven called Castle Heights, now neighbor to the Philip Morris cigarette plant along Interstate 95. Daily I walked up Ruffin Road, across Petersburg Pike (at stop 10) over a couple blocks to attend the Summer Hill Elementary School. Then the following year my folks introduced me to the Fork Union Military Academy.

My uncle’s new Tanbark Drive home was so special to me because my grandmother Lida Doughtie Farmer lived there. The home was lovely; the gardens handsome.

From grandmother’s window you could see off into the valley, across the back of the lot, which sloped down to a creek. Up the far hill ran a railroad track. My uncle, Nicholas Allen Vaughan, had dammed the creek and lined it with river rock. He had built a fun cookout house where he and brother Manchester Lodge Masons and the men from Webber Memorial Baptist Church would gather to cook Brunswick stew. He had also built the first in-ground blue-walled swimming pool I had seen. I learned to swim there by being thrown in.

When Grandma Lida wasn’t playing the piano, cooking or writing to her sisters back home in Holland, Virginia, she was standing at her window peering off toward the confluence of the pool, pond, creek and hill. She had the hymn “Face to Face” typed on a small bit of paper, folded in half and tucked along the lower window edge.

One morning while grandmother was standing at her window I asked her what she was always looking at? I mean, for a wee lad, a lot with pool, pond, creek, train and cookout house was amazing eye candy.

She told me that she was looking at Jesus and remembering her young life in Nansemond County, her travels to Centralia, the handsome mail carrier, later a butcher, with buggy and sorrel mare, whom she’d married. She was looking back at her five children and their three kids. She was inventorying blight and blessing, looking into the face of Jesus and singing the hymn.

She’d first heard “Face to Face” at a revival service held in the old Weatherford Memorial Baptist Church, then across Hull Street from granddad’s former butcher shop. There Midlothian Turnpike and Hull joined as Hull tumbled off downhill to US 1.

Her daughter (my aunt Beulah Vaughan, mother of Sandra, that girl cousin) once recorded the hymn for a Sunday evening radio meditation program sponsored by the Joseph Bliley Funeral Home, then at Third and Marshall.

Face to face with Christ, my Savior, face to face – what will it be, when with rapture I behold him, Jesus Christ who died for me? Face to face I shall behold him, far beyond the starry sky; face to face in all his glory, I shall see him by and by.

“Only faintly now I see him, with the darkened veil between, but a blessed day is coming. When his glory shall be seen. Face to face I shall behold him, far beyond the starry sky; face to face in all his glory, I shall see him by and by.

“Face to face, O blissful moment! Face to face – to see and know; face to face with my redeemer, Jesus Christ who loves me so. Face to face I shall behold him, far beyond the starry sky; face to face in all his glory, I shall see him by and by.”

Now well into my sunset years I can more fully appreciate what grandmother saw from her window. Singing her song and looking for Jesus has made many a rough day tenable for me. I actually believe that searching for his face makes my life more purposeful.