A Daughter’s Memories
I now live in the home my father, Rousas John Rushdoony, lived in for the last 26 years of his life. It is a photo album of days shared with a remarkable father and it holds many physical remnants of his life.
His father’s desk still sits in one corner and his mother’s dining room table is in another corner. An old photograph of Cornelius Van Til still hangs by the front door next to shelves containing many of my father’s books. The last Hagar the Horrible my father clipped from the Sunday comics and taped to the refrigerator is now framed and hanging in my hallway. The corners of my home are filled with many of his belongings, reminding me daily of his love and devotion to his family and keeping him alive in the stories I now tell my granddaughters.
We are a family of collectors. It seems to be an inherited Rushdoony trait. The house once overflowed with my father’s countless treasures: gifts from all over the world, from supporters and friends, finds from garage sales, numerous piles of books and scraps of paper (many containing bits and pieces of poetry my father had written) or folders with notes and articles written on them. Artists who knew Dad gave him a treasury of paintings and artwork; years on the Reservation left wonderful Indian artifacts and others bequeathed to him oriental pieces. There were furniture and knickknacks from his parents’ home and from our home in Santa Cruz as well as many souvenirs from his travels.
There were no empty shelves or corners in my father’s house. Books and papers were piled in seemingly unorganized heaps, and yet my father until almost the end of his life could locate any given book, item, or article even among the thousands of books in his library. There were photographs everywhere of friends, supporters, and family members. His house echoed his past and yet the faces of the future were there too in his grandchildren, his growing number of great-grandchildren, and in the faces of Chalcedon’s supporters and those who came to visit him. Dad enjoyed his possessions because of the memories they evoked. It took my brother, Mark, over a year to sort, move, and distribute this lifetime of collections.
My father’s house held a wealth of memories and snapshots of our history as a family. A simple question about someone or something could lead to a long and wonderful retelling of a memory or even a joke.
His stories were full of family history, the pride he felt in his family, people he’d met, and the many he called friends. His stories revealed aspects of his life and many showed us the hand of God working in his life and the lives of our grandparents. One picture gave us the story of a beautiful Armenian girl who would become our grandmother and her betrothal to a handsome and intelligent orphan. Their engagement was arranged to guarantee my grandfather would return to Armenia from Edinburgh, Scotland, when he finished his education.
An old faded rug in the living room recalled the story of his mother and father’s escape from Armenia and the genocide committed by the Turks. The rug was one of the few possessions my grandparents brought to this country. It had been hastily thrown on the back of a partially lame mule a soldier gave them when the Russians began to retreat from Armenia, forcing them to flee. This same mule helped save their lives and the lives of other Armenians when my grandfather used it to ferry many across a swift river before the Turks descended on them and killed those he was unable to get across. Each step of the way they faced peril, but God had a future purpose for them and their yet unborn son. Their suffering and trials led them to the United States of America where my father could learn and write freely the things God laid on his heart.
My father loved large, noisy family gatherings where he spent hours sharing his stories and wisdom with us. He loved the noise of his children and grandchildren talking, laughing and sharing, and would often sit back listening to their chatter, smiling. “Very good, very good,” he would repeat. He understood that his legacy would continue in their lives. The first few family dinners after he passed from this world were very quiet in comparison, and I can remember sitting there wanting so badly to hear one more story, one more joke.
My father’s library was also a storehouse. It held a wealth of unpublished articles, books, and small treasures that we, his children, took great pleasure in finding. We each claimed one of the pens we had so often seen him dip into the inkwell as he began to write. We were delighted to find he kept a file for each of his children that contained cards we had sent him over the years, drawings we had done as children, along with papers we had written for school.
He kept letters and cards from family members who had long since passed into heaven. Many of these letters held stories and events from our childhood that would have otherwise been lost. My father wrote his parents almost daily and his father too wrote frequently. These letters are some of my most valued possessions because they are literally a record of our childhood written by two loving, proud, and godly fathers.
My father’s libraries were always a special place we entered with the reverence of church. In Santa Cruz, Dad’s library was at the back of the house in a beautiful room with parquet floors and a large bay window that had a window seat. There were rows and rows of bookcases with aisles just narrow enough to walk through. It was a place of refuge for me. As the oldest daughter I spent a lot of time helping and watching my little brother, Mark (a handful, I might add), and three little sisters, Joanna, Sharon, and Martha.
Dad understood that I sometimes needed to have time away from them and would help me hide between the rows of bookcases with a book to read. It was there, hidden in his library, I read Moby Dick, David Copperfield, and many other classics from his library shelves with Dad sitting just a few feet away sharing my secret. It was there too that I learned one of Dad’s sweetest and most endearing habits. Often as he sat writing he would absentmindedly repeat the names of those he loved. What a joy it was for me to hear him softly repeat “Rebecca, Rebecca” as he worked.
When my siblings and I were small, Dad would often borrow small toys that we found special and set them on his desk. They would sit there for a time and be returned or disappear into the niches in his library. Many of them were packed away and moved from house to house, finally finding a place in a drawer or tucked away on a shelf in his library here in Vallecito, California.
What a joy it was to find these small remembrances of our childhood in his library. For me, finding several of the tiny wooden Chinese and porcelain figures I loved as a child brought a flood of memories of happy times spent with my father and the joy of finding a childhood treasure. With each treasure we relived the memories, laughed, and shed tears of joy and thanksgiving for the loving record he had kept for each of us. Small treasures and letters which would have been lost are now mine again to share with my granddaughters. They are time capsules of a father’s love. He was not a man who sought wealth, but he did leave behind for his children a record written and physical of the life God had blessed him with.
During the 1950s and early 1960s Dad would take us to San Francisco each year. He would take us through the De Young Museum, pointing out things he found of interest and teaching us what was art and what was not. He treated us to tea at the Japanese Tea Gardens and shared stories of his life in San Francisco. Our last stop would be dinner in Chinatown at a restaurant owned by the family of someone he knew when he worked at a local church during his college days. Our excursions as children revolved around my father sharing his history and teaching us what to value in our lives.
Old friends were never forgotten and my father stayed in touch with even friends from his childhood. Some of their children came to visit him. The daughter of an old girlfriend got in touch with my father some years before his death and related how she had often heard her mother speak of him in glowing terms. Her visiting sister noticed a book that was written by an R. J. Rushdoony and commented to her sister that the book had to have been written by Johnny Rushdoony from Kingsburg. She had, without realizing who the author was, purchased the book. That led to a visit and many letters and phone calls back and forth over the years between my father and this family. Dad thought of them as an extension of his family. There were many he included in his life this way.
My father’s generous and warm spirit appealed to children as well as adults. One year on the day after Christmas he had a houseful of visitors. It had been a busy Christmas season, with family and numerous visitors in and out all week, and as he was prone to do, Dad drifted off to sleep in a chair as those around him chatted and children played at his feet. Dad was in a bright red vest Mother had made him which looked wonderful with his white hair and beard. One of the children, a boy named James, leaned over and whispered to me, “I know who your father is!” Bewildered, I asked what he meant. “He’s Santa Claus,” was the answer. “That’s why he is so tired.” In some ways he was right. In my life and in that of many others, my father’s life, writings, and generous heart have been immeasurable gifts that still continue to bless and teach.
My father taught us a verse when we were very small which we repeat at each of the many family birthdays we celebrate each year and part of which was written on his 80th birthday cake:
“Many happy returns of the day of thy birth, may sunshine and gladness be given. May our Heavenly Father prepare you on earth for a wonderful birthday in heaven.”
This verse speaks to the essence of my father’s work. His goal was to help us understand our earthly responsibilities by teaching us what God expected and required of us. His books remind us of the importance of God’s law, its purpose, our obedience to it, so that we might one day be prepared for the work God has for us in His Eternal Kingdom and for our “wonderful birthday in heaven.”
Topics: Family & Marriage, R. J. Rushdoony, Christian Reconstruction, Biography