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By Conrad H. Wilcox
DCGS Publications Committee Chairman
Interviewed By My Grandson – A Thought Provoking Experience
Most of us grandparents have had the interesting experience of being interviewed by one of our grandchildren for one of their class assignments. Usually this relates to our roots, family life and early activities. These are valuable and helpful not only for the grandchild in completing an assignment, but for us since it forces us to seriously think through our family history, goals, values and beliefs. Here is how an actual interview went when my grandson came to me with his list of prepared questions:
1. What is your ethnic background and how did it affect your opportunities, choices, decisions?
I guess you’d have to call me a basic American since all of my immigrant ancestors came to this country so early. Most of them came from England. I did have one German line, a couple of Dutch or French Huguenot lines, a couple of Irish lines and a Scotch-Irish line. So, I sensed no affect on my opportunities and choices for being in a specific ethic or minority group.
2. What were your parents and siblings like and what was your relationship with them?
My parents were wonderful people and I had a good relationship with them. Dad was quiet but firm and Mom was more of an extrovert. Most of the time I tried to be obedient to them. Dad would take me fishing with him and that developed an early interest in that as a hobby. I was the oldest of five children. I had three brothers and one sister. We were all fairly close together in age so were each others playmates and got along pretty well. As the oldest I was the leader most of the time.
3. Describe your childhood and teen years.
I was born in the middle of a bad snowstorm in Racine, Wisconsin. My mother always said that the snow came up to the telephone wires. The blizzard kept us from going home from the hospital and I was there 11 days. My first bath was something else. Being cold outside, Mom wanted the furnace turned up. She soon began to sweat. Dad looked at the thermometer and it was 103 degrees! When I was 3 or 4 years old, my Dad brought home a present in a paper bag and wanted me to guess what was in it. He said it was what I wanted most. I said it was bananas. Then he put it down and out crawled a live puppy.
I went to a one room country school house when I started first grade at age 5. Dad was the Pastor of the Church next door on the highway. One incident that I vaguely remember was when a family from the church was in an automobile accident and they were brought into our house all bloody and injured. I think that that early experience gave me later psychological fears of blood, etc. That part of Wisconsin near Racine had a lot of Danish people, so the people from our church used to call me "the little Dane". And I said, "no, I a big Dane".
When I was five we moved to Horseheads, NY. It got the strange name when in 1779 near that spot, General John Sullivan mercifully disposed of his pack horses worn out by faithful service in the campaign against the Six Nations of the Iroquois. The first white settlers entering the valley in 1789 found the bleached skulls and named the place "Horseheads". At age ten we moved to Hornell, NY. I enjoyed all sports and soon began playing the trombone in the High School band. I remember when we marched and played for the football game. Because the trombones marched in the front row, my slide got hit by one of the majorettes twirling her baton.
4. How was school?
We had a good school and teachers. I did pretty well with grades and
enjoyed most of my classes. Because Dad was a minister, we did move a few
times, so I went to school in three different areas. The move to new schools
was a scary thought but I usually managed to adjust in a short time.
5. What did kids do for fun?
I was mainly involved with sports. Every night during the fall we played tackle football in our side yard without any kind of pads or equipment. During baseball season my buddy and I played "catch" every night after school. We also did a lot of family games and church parties.
6. Who was your role model / hero as a kid?
My heroes were the Brooklyn dodgers of the National League. But, sad to say, they lost the 1941 World Series to the nasty New York Yankees. Both of my parents were born and raised in Tioga County, PA. Since I stayed on my grandparent’s farm in Covington, PA every summer helping grandpa with harvesting the hay, my grandmother became a real role model for me. She patiently taught me what it meant to love God, how to study the Bible, how to work hard, and how to live a clean and decent life.
7. When did your family immigrate to the USA?
All of my ancestral immigrants came to New England or New York in the 1600s. At least six of my direct line grandparents were on the Mayflower including Governor William Bradford, John Alden and Priscilla Mullens. My Wilcox immigrant was Edward Wilcox an Indian trading post partner of Roger Williams in the founding of Rhode Island in the early 1600s. He was likely the first white settler in Rhode Island. My Wightman family immigrants came to this country after Rev. Edward Wightman, my 10th great grandfather, was burned at the stake in England in 1611, for his beliefs in the Bible.
8. What is your strongest family value?
Our family not only worked together, played together and cried together, but we prayed together and read the Bible together. We believed that we should be honest and fair with each other and help each other in time of need. Probably the greatest value was love; love for each other and love towards God.
9. How was your career chosen and what jobs have you had?
In my earlier years, I had quite a few interesting part-time or summer jobs when I dug ditches, was a carpenter’s helper, worked on a Coke truck, worked on ships as a longshoreman, cleaned houses, washed pots and pans and sold Encyclopedia Britannica.
In grammar school I began to realize that God had a plan for my life. In high school I made a decision to serve God in full-time ministry. In college I began to sense that God wanted me to consider overseas missionary service. So, as a young couple with two small children, we went to Venezuela as missionaries where I worked in church planting, teaching and radio work. We felt that God was using our interests, gifts and training to quietly guide us to take the message of salvation in the Bible to a country that didn’t have as much opportunity to hear it. I have also been a minister in three churches and more recently have been a missions representative and a missions education consultant to churches.
10. Did you have a lucky break?
Luck probably isn’t the best word to describe the many great things
that happened in my life. Since I had committed my life to Christ, He has
promised to help me and guide me at every step and decision along the way.
So, it has been a real adventure to see all of the wonderful things that
God has worked out in my life.
11. Talk about your marriage partner and how you met?
I met my future bride at college. She had a Swedish ancestry and all of her grandparents came over on the boat from Sweden. Naturally I thought that she was the most beautiful, the smartest, the most desirable girl on the face of the planet. I first saw her in the light of a huge bonfire at the freshman get acquainted party. Later I called her up for a date and she accepted. For our honeymoon, we went on a canoe trip in the wild boundary waters of Minnesota and Ontario. And now we have been married over 45 years, have 4 kids and 5 grandkids and I love her more than ever.
12. Do you recall living through an important moment in history?
It was Sunday, December 7, 1941. I had to go to church, sit in the front row, stay awake and be good because my Dad was the minister. My mother made terrible faces at me when I made too much noise. Dad preached a good sermon but I was excited because after church, some of my friends would come over for my 12th birthday party. Right in the middle of the party, we heard a newsboy running down the street with papers yelling, "Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Pearl Harbor attacked!" Well, to put it mildly, that kind of disrupted my party and was a very important moment in history.
13. What was the decision or experience that changed the course of your life?
As a young boy, I made the most important decision of my life. I made my personal decision to receive Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. It not only changed the course of my life in this world, but gave me the promise of eternal life. I realized that day that I was a sinner and couldn’t save myself and that I wasn’t automatically a Christian because my Dad was a minister. I saw clearly in the Bible that Christ had died on the cross for my sins, so I asked Him to come into my life and give me eternal life and He did.
14. What was the most unjust experience of your life?
I don’t remember too many really significant unjust experiences. Oh, I’m sure that I did get blamed for things that I didn’t do at school, at home or on the job. I remember the time I got a parking ticket at the airport when I had to leave the car in a no parking zone for about one minute to help an elderly woman into the terminal. I had to pay a big fine for that and muttered for weeks how unjust it was. Fortunately my life has been surrounded by people at home and at work who have been very fair and pleasant to live with.
15. What quality / belief helped you to cope, survive or triumph?
I tried to develop the quality of patience and optimism and it helped me when things got rough. But, most of all, it was the belief that God, who created me, was still in charge of my whole life and that He knows the end from the beginning. So, I could really trust Him for victory during those times when things were dark and discouraging.
16. What are your words to live by (personal slogan)?
I have always felt that the best words to live by came from the very mouth of God. So, I have always thought about the phrase in God’s Word from Philippians 1:21which says: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain".
THE REVIEW of the DuPage County (IL) Genealogical Society, March 1999, Issue #145
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