He was born Terrance Junior, the oldest of the three kids, so he was Junior to his parents and his little brothers. Nice family, my mom said. I was just a baby when we moved next door, so I don’t really remember Mr. Terrance. But Momma always said they tried to help us out when they could, what with Momma on her own and a baby on her hands.
Momma told me Mr. Terrance worked three jobs to keep the family going, and she figured his heart just gave out even though he was only 42. Junior was 10 at the time, and that’s when folks started calling him “Big Daddy.” He was nearly 10 years older than me, and I never knew him as anything but. Back in those days, nobody thought anything about an unusual name. You just looked at the person and didn’t worry if their name was new to you.
When anybody met him, he would say softly, “Jus’ call me Big Daddy.” And then he’d smile and everyone knew he was all right.
And of course he was big, pushing six feet by the time he turned 12, and he topped 6 foot four by 16. Big Daddy. He wasn’t gangly either. He was built thick and was stronger than most of the men in our town. He was always good to me. I wished he was my big brother, but I never said anything to him about it.
Now Mr. Terrance had worked construction, done odd jobs, and was the janitor for a couple small businesses. Big Daddy would have taken over and I believe he could have handled it all even as a kid. But somebody offered him a job out at one of the big farms the next town over. He really took to it, and since he could outwork most everyone else, they’d liked having him. He told me one time he hoped to get his own farm one day. He’d head out before dawn and didn’t come back till it was dark.
He continued that way till I was in my early teens. We weren’t friends exactly, but being neighbors, I did talk to him from time to time. He seemed like a solid, steady man who just needed an opportunity. Well, I guess his opportunity came in the form of a distant cousin whose family moved to our area. Her name was Cecily and she was instantly the prettiest girl in the town. She was closer to my age than his. But I knew from the first time they laid eyes on one another that nobody else had a chance with her.
They both went to our little community church, and it seemed like they were always together. She was pretty and petite and he was shy and strong, and they fit together just fine. In those days, girls often married real young, and if the couple was ready, everybody supported them no matter what the age. Big Daddy and Cecily had the nicest, happiest, wedding anybody could remember.
Big Daddy used to talk to me about having lots of kids. People wanted big families in those days, since most everyone worked the fields or if they were lucky had their own little farm. More babies meant more cheap labor. But Big Daddy had a warm light in his eyes when he talked about children, and I always thought having lots of kids meant more to him than just a workforce.
Well, everybody figured he and Cecily would have 4 or 5 little ones before Big Daddy turned 30. But it just didn’t happen. They always seemed close, kind of lovey-dovey, you might say, so I felt sure they loved one another enough. But no babies.
By the time a lot of folks their age were grandparents, it was still just them. I wondered if Big Daddy was feeling embarrassed about his name. After all those years, he was still nobody’s big daddy. I never heard anybody make a joke about it though, and it wasn’t because Big Daddy could have knocked them into next Tuesday. We all just felt bad for them.
They still went to our little church. And it was about that time that Big Daddy had a vision. Now in our church it wasn’t uncommon for some folks to talk in tongues. Occasionally they might fall down, overcome by the Spirit. It was usually the same few folks, and nobody minded. But Big Daddy didn’t talk much at all, let alone in tongues.
But that Sunday Brother Clemmons was leading the singing, and some folks were standing and swaying, and I happened to look over, and there was Big Daddy, his big hands ‘way up in the air, eyes closed, and he seemed to be humming to himself. He didn’t fall over though, which might have taken out the whole pew.
Afterward I heard him talking to the Preacher. He said, “God said me and Cecily got to head out. We’ll pack tonight.” “Where you going?” said our minister. “The Lord didn’t say. Jus’ head out and He’ll show us when we get there.”
Soon everybody heard about the vision and them leaving, and the next morning when they came driving their little wagon, we all lined up on the road to wave them goodbye. Cecily looked sad, and shyly raised her hand. I have to admit that Cecily was still a looker, though she was pushing fifty. Big Daddy looked pretty much the same, with a slow smile and waving his big hand as he passed.
Well, that was the last time I ever saw them. But from time to time we’d get word. In those days letters came slow, so you might not hear about old friends or family but once every few months. It might have been five years before we got any real news. Somebody’s grown son had moved up there, and came back for a visit. He had evidently run into Big Daddy and Cecily and spent some time with them. A bunch of us gathered at the church to listen to him tell us about our friends. They had done well, he said. Had a big old farm of their own by then, and Big Daddy was hiring field hands to help him work it.
But the most interesting thing was that Big Daddy had had him another vision. Seems that this time the Lord told him he was in for a new name. I was just thinking to myself, I hope the new name doesn’t call attention to their family situation anymore. And right then the storyteller said, “God said his name was going to be Patriarch.” He said it real slow, but I had no idea what that meant. The Preacher said it was worse than Big Daddy.
And apparently the Lord told him he was going to have a whole lot of kids. Now I don’t want to doubt the Man Upstairs, and after all, the first vision turned out so good, but neither one of them is getting any younger. Cecily must be, well, past her time.
Okay, that’s pretty much the story of Big Daddy who I guess I should call by that new name. Patriarch. Except there’s one more bit of news. That same son who was living up there, well, he wrote a letter to his folks, and they shared it just last week.
Looks like Cecily is in a family way.
I’m thinking of asking the Lord if He’d give me a new name.
Note: “Abram” means “exalted father,” and “Abraham” means “father of a multitude.”