Rebecca West: Words & Music

Our Quest for Love

by Bob West

My thoughts go back to that day in west Tennessee when I was nine years old and I picked 210 pounds of cotton in one day. I could tell that my parents were pleased, and others were impressed. People said I was a hard worker. I began to feel that whatever acceptance and approval I received was earned by working hard and doing a good job. During the years that followed, I became a workaholic.

I still have fond memories of the years I worked for Martin Orlando during the sixties. I was proud of my accomplishments there. People were impressed and I was paid well. But I wasn't fulfilled. I didn't feel loved.

During this time I also became very busy with church work. Like Sketch Drawings in this scene from a 1998 episode of my Theophilus comic strip, I may have thought I could do enough to earn God's love.

Cartoon of Sketch talking with Brother Fairasee

What about my wife Sylvia? Why didn't I feel loved by her? Did she feel loved by me? The following 1998 Theophilus episode about the Drawings family shows what was going on in my own family during the early sixties.

Theophilus cartoon: Happy Birthday Honey!
THEOPHILUS comic strip 1998 episode: "Happy Birthday Honey"
Visit the Theophilus website by clicking here.

But things would get better for both our family and Sketch's.

In order to jog my memory I decided to read some of the letters again that Sylvia and I received on our 50th anniversary back in 2003. All of the letters were encouraging, but especially the ones we received from our children. I have decided to share a few of their memories here.

David wrote, "Mom and Dad, you gave me life. For that I am grateful. Many today think nothing of ending the life they have created prior to allowing it to come into this world. I thank you, and the Lord, that I was born healthy into a good home with love, security and every necessary provision. My sisters and I sometimes complained that we didn't have it as well as many of our friends. And I'm confident that we didn't have all of the material advantages many of them have. But we did have the things that money cannot buy and that many would have gladly traded their monetary advantages in order to have.

"My sisters and I used to bemoan the fact that some of our friends had the fun of moving all the time and we never did. Many years later, after having moved many times, I am grateful for the stability that allowed us to stay in the same home the entire time we grew up.

"The fact that you both stayed together and stuck it out even though at times I know it was difficult is why we are here today celebrating your Golden Anniversary. It also has a lot to do with how each of us have been able to make our marriages work and have, thus far, beat the odds against having success in marriage. You drilled those principles into our heads and led by example...

"You brought many preachers into our home to stay during Gospel Meetings so that we could spend time around them and be influenced by them. We learned to love and respect those who made preaching the gospel their life's work. I think that had a lot to do with my interest in preaching as well.

"Dad, I remember your occasional efforts at preaching. You would work many hours to prepare a sermon and then make us sit down on Saturday afternoon to let you practice on us. We hated it, but you thought it was important as part of your preparation. It didn't kill us. It may have even helped us. You painted many a lesson on a bed sheet to use as a visual aid. You and Mom both regularly taught Bible classes and tried your best to support the work that the church was engaged in.

"Dad, I remember you drawing Theophilus cartoons and writing articles for the Pine Hills Exhorter. I also remember "Our Religious World" which appeared in Searching the Scriptures magazine. I remember the efforts to run a home-based Christian Bookstore. I remember the work on Gospel Graphics and then Gospel Teacher magazine. I remember marching around the dining room table collating pages of the "Evolution vs. Science and the Bible" class materials. I remember typing labels for mailings. I remember that running the business was often a family affair during the evenings and weekends...

"Mom and Dad, you both supported whatever I tried to do. Mom you would often encourage me whenever I felt that life was unfair and that everyone was picking on me. You would often explain the connection between one's behavior and how they were perceived and treated by others. You explained that it could take years to build a good reputation and that it could be destroyed in a moment. If I wanted to stop getting in trouble for things I didn't do, I would need to rehabilitate my reputation and get people to look at me differently. I guess you used these events as 'teachable moments.' (It must have worked, since I remember it so well, and have tried to apply it to myself and pass it along to my children.)

"Dad, you went out of your comfort zone by agreeing to coach my fifth grade basketball team so that our team could continue to play after our coaches moved away. You borrowed books from the library so that you could learn basketball fundamentals that you could pass along to your team. It wasn't easy for you, but I know you did it out of love for me.

Bob with son David's basketball team
Coach Bob West and his 5th grade Boys' Club team.
Son David is the one holding the basketball.

"Through all of my years of athletics, you attended nearly every practice and every game. There were times when I wasn't good enough to get much playing time, but you came to support me anyway. The All-Star players were often jealous that my parents were always there and always willing to drive or whatever was needed. Many of them never had a parent at a game, much less a practice. At almost every game I had two parents to cheer me (and them) on.

"Mom, when the public schools were integrated when I was in the ninth grade, you allowed me to bring the black basketball players home from school with me for bologna sandwiches and then gave us a ride to the high school for basketball practice. This provided them something to eat after school and transportation the few miles our school was from the gymnasium.

"Mom, you were always very supportive at school. Regularly you were my Room Mother, which meant that you baked treats for us around holidays and on special occasions. It also meant that you chaperoned us on field trips.

"You taught us compassion on those less fortunate by taking us with you to nursing homes, hospitals, and the homes of the sick and shut-ins. I didn't appreciate this at the time, but that is where I learned to be able to continue to make similar visits in my adulthood.

"Mom and Dad, you both taught me responsibility and the importance of hard work. Mom, you thought I should learn how to do housework so, although my sisters did the bulk of the inside work, I was given my share to do. I was taught to clean my room, to clean the bathrooms, to make my bed, to vacuum the floor, to wash the dishes, to dust the furniture, and much more. This served me in good stead while I lived alone for many years as a bachelor. Fifteen years of marriage have enabled me to forget most of it due to lack of practice.

"Dad, you taught me to mow the lawn, weed the flower beds, trim the hedges, edge the sidewalks, shovel manure, grow a garden, and other outside work. You had me help you build the garage, build the utility shed and retaining wall, remodel the Florida room into a den, and make rocks for the rock garden, among other projects...

"I remember having no TV most of the time I grew up. Sometimes we couldn't afford one. Sometimes Dad was so disgusted with the programming that he boycotted it by not having a TV. I think that had a lot to do with my learning to enjoy reading...

"I remember Mom and Dad, with very few resources, trying to help me go to Florida College when I wasn't able to get a full scholarship in my freshman year. There wasn't much spending money, but the bills were paid and I made it through the year until I was able to secure a full basketball scholarship.

"I guess what I remember most is your devotion to God and your commitment to doing His will. You have always been willing to stand by your convictions even when that meant standing alone. You have often been misunderstood, disagreed with, and faced rejection and loss of friendship and family relationships because you would not compromise what you were convinced was right. I have not always agreed with every position you have taken, and still don't. However, you did not teach me to agree with you. You taught me to think for myself and to follow the Lord wherever I believe He is leading me. You have taught that both by word and example.

"The amount of good you have done in this world, not only in the raising of your children, but also in your befriending of so many over the years, is impossible to measure. Whatever your convictions have been at whatever stage you have been in your spiritual journey, you have been anxious to share it with any who were interested in listening. Dad, your work on the internet is impacting more people's lives than everything else you have ever done combined.

"I congratulate you both on your first 50 years as husband and wife. I thank you for being my parents and giving me the opportunities I have had in life. I wish you success in all you do in the future that conforms to the Lord's will. I love you very much.


Easter dresses made by Sylvia
A beautiful example of Sylvia's handiwork in the early sixties...
Robynne, Suzanne, and Sylvia in their new Easter dresses

Suzanne wrote, "Dear Mom and Dad, as you know, 50 years of marriage is quite an accomplishment! Even though we all set out to live 'happily ever after,' we have no idea what obstacles we'll face along the way, and it takes tremendous commitment and selfless love to 'hang in there' through the tough times. But I am so grateful to you for doing just that and doing your best to give me a loving and stable home through the years.

"Some of my favorite memories from my childhood include Dad building the shelves, cabinets, and desk in my room, Mom fixing roast beef dinners on Sunday mornings so that we could invite visitors home for lunch, having parties and pot lucks at our house with folks from church while listening to the 'Sons of the Palmettos' perform, Dad helping me to create first-class illustrations for my school reports and projects, Mom taking a station wagon full of my elementary school classmates to the TV station so we could be on 'Uncle Walt' on my birthday, Dad building our treehouse and being able to spend Friday nights in it, Mom working at a department store one year during the Christmas holidays to help Santa provide an extra special Christmas for us, Dad capturing the presents appearing under the tree on 8mm film (positive proof of Santa's magic), the weekend trips to visit the Tampa or West Palm Beach relatives, and even going with Mom to visit the shut-ins (and her responding to our objections with 'It's character building!').

"Beyond childhood, you've both been supportive through the years and contributed much to raising Larissa, Freddy, and Josiah. Most importantly, you have offered each of us unconditional love -- the most valuable of all gifts. I love you more than I can say and am so glad that you're my parents. Happy 50th anniversary -- and may God bless you with many more years together.

"Lots of love, Suzanne"

And her husband Fred Gore sent us the following letter: "Dear Bob and Sylvia,

"You have given me the two greatest gifts anyone could ask for.

"Without question, Suzanne is the greatest blessing of my life. All good things in my life have been directly linked to your gift of a godly daughter, rightly raised.

"And you have given me an example of unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness, a gift which has given me a glimpse of the love of God.

"I will be forever grateful to you for other things, but for these two things above all.

"Love, Fred"

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