Munn D. MacLachlan, my Grandpa Mac – affectionately known by many as “Mr. Mac,” died November 26th, 1999; the Friday evening after Thanksgiving. He’s buried at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Il. Tomorrow will mark exactly fifteen years and six months since his passing.
Grandpa Mac was a Marine who served in the Pacific Theatre during World War Two. I don’t know much about his time in the service he didn’t speak much of it to me, perhaps because I was so young. I do know that he had a sword and a Purple Heart, but neither were ever prominently displayed.
Though not talking much, to me at least, of his experience Grandpa Mac was fiercely proud of his country and patriotic. There is a picture of us when I was a toddler and he has me waving a miniature plastic flag.
We never missed a Memorial Day Parade which began in front of his house, together we’d stand proud as the flag passed.
One of my favorite Mr. Mac stories is of how my mom and aunts met him. My Grandma Pearl was a single mom, raising four girls by herself. She worked full-time, volunteered, and had to manage a household. She and Mac were serving together on a committee and he took it upon himself one Saturday to drive thirty minutes to my grandmother’s house and mow the lawn. My Aunt Thelma freaked out at this older, tall and lanky, stranger cutting the grass.
A few years back rummaging through some of his belongings – with Grandma’s blessing – I came upon a biography written by Grandpa’s niece that included letters he wrote home to his sister and mother. Years removed from reading it what stands tall in my memory is his affection, concern, and warmth for the letter’s recipients. Grandpa didn’t shy from sharing about, and sometimes making light, of his situation but his chief concern was his family. This is how I remember him best, caring first for others and then, maybe, himself.
After he was discharged from the Marines in 1946, Grandpa Mac started studying. By 1959 he had earned a Bachelors of Science and a Master’s Degree in Nursing Administration from DePaul University. He served 31 years, until his retirement in 1982, for the Illinois Departmental of Mental Health in Elgin.
My parents divorced when not only my sister and I were but they too were very young. At that time Grandpa Mac and Grandma Pearl helped my mom shoulder the difficulty. Courageously, my mom began putting herself through nursing school like Mr. Mac before her had done. “Not providing for your sister and you was never an option,” Mom told me once.
Maybe I was five but one of my earliest memories is of Grandpa Mac and my mom. We were in my grandparents finished basement in front of Grandpa’s bookshelf and his eyes were radiating pride as Mom talked about her education; he agreeing with her when she realized, “The more I learn the more I recognize how much I don’t know.” Mom finished nursing school and worked as a nurse for years. She started law school when I started high school. She graduated at the top of her class and never missed a single extracurricular event of ours and she made dinner every night.
Grandpa Mac’s bookshelf is a monument looming large in my imagination. On its shelves nursing school textbooks from the 50’s; biographies of his favorite president, Abraham Lincoln; a statuette of a Roman centurion riding a chariot; and a seemingly never ending selection to my child’s mind. When I was six and finally allowed he walked me down Washington Street, past the Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, past the fire station where he volunteered packing and delivering meals to seniors in town (my sister, Caitlyn, and I often as his helpers), to the Ella Johnson Memorial Public Library and registered me for my first library card.
As the story goes I was born on a Sunday and the next Sunday I was in church and I never left. Each Sunday my family would go to First Assembly of God in Elgin. I’d sit with my parents in the middle of the center section in the sanctuary, but up in front to the right would be Grandma Pearl and Grandpa Mac with the Special Touch Ministry. Every week they would help pick up and care for adults from a nearby nursing home who had mental and physical handicaps. They’d help them sing and clap along to the praise music, pray with them, help them if they had any needs during service.
Grandpa Mac devoted his life, his career, his retirement, his worship, his family to serving – like or because of Christ on the cross:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship… For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned… Let love be genuine.
Romans 12.1, 3, 9a ESV
Two weeks ago I gave my wife, Alyssa, a tour of my grandparent’s house. Today in the front yard is an evergreen Grandpa Mac planted when my oldest cousin, Anthony, was born. Now it stands over twenty feet tall, encompassing most of the front lawn, towering over that familiar yellow raised ranch on Warner Street.
Visiting brought to mind the Christmas tree in the front window as all thirteen grandchildren would circle around “Santa Clause” as he handed out gifts; Grandpa “just resting his eyes” as I watched Saturday morning cartoons; him singing, “Ohhhhh! My mother-in-law she is dead, she got caught in a folding bed…” or “My bonnie lies over the ocean…” He was always singing or humming, whenever he’d see Caitlyn he’d sing,”You are my sunshine my only sunshine.”
If marrying Alyssa was the easiest choice I’ve ever made, and it was, than the second easiest was naming our first born son: Atticus Mac.