By Brad Dison
Bill grew up on a dairy farm on a country road outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. His father and his uncle Clyde inherited a 300-acre dairy farm from Bill’s grandfather. It was a true family business. Bill’s father handled the business affairs. Bill’s mother did the bookkeeping at the kitchen table. Uncle Clyde tended to the milk-processing house. From the time he could walk, Bill helped tend the large garden where they grew corn, wheat, rye, barley, and a wide variety of vegetables. He followed behind the plow mule and spread fertilizer after the seeds had been sown in their rows.
As soon as Bill was strong enough – not old enough – he was awakened at 2:30 a.m. to begin working on the farm with the rest of the men in the family. Bill reminisced that “when that Big Ben alarm clock went off at two-thirty in the morning, I wanted to slam it to the floor and burrow back under the covers.” He understood that hard work was expected and necessary. He also realized that there would be no breakfast until after his chores were finished so he rushed from the bed and to his work.
Bill milked twenty cows, a task which usually took about two hours to complete. Then, he cleaned the fresh cow manure from the barn with a shovel, helped the other hands bring in fresh hay for the cows, helped refill the feed troughs, helped transport the 5-gallon milk cans to the frigid spring to keep them ice cold, and, once he had completed his chores, finally sat down to a mouth-watering country breakfast which consisted of grits and gravy, fresh eggs, ham or bacon, and homemade biscuits. All of this Bill did every morning before school. Bill repeated his chores each day after school.
Bill said that “After all my heavy labor in the fresh air at daybreak, followed by Mother’s good food, I was ready for almost anything—except school.” By the time he got to school, he was usually tired. He stayed awake by sheer willpower alone. Bill assumed that he would one day inherit an interest in the dairy farm, which suited him just fine.
Bill’s mother always encouraged him to read, which Bill preferred to his other school work. He read just about everything he could get his hands on including his favorite, the Tarzan book series. On a memorable visit to his aunt’s home, she, knowing that he enjoyed reading, told him to spend some time reading the Bible. Within about ten minutes Bill returned and proudly boasted that he had read a whole book in the Bible. She praised him for his quick reading. Unbeknownst to her, Bill had located the Epistle of Jude, which was the shortest book in the New Testament. It consisted of a single page.
The family’s dairy farm had several hired hands and Bill enjoyed swapping stories with them while they worked. One of the hired hands who Bill particularly liked to work alongside was a rough but good-natured character named Pedro. Pedro would often share stories with Bill about his erotic experiences with women. Even though Bill listened intently to every syllable, he was sure the stories were embellished. In high school, Bill had multiple opportunities to have his own exotic experiences with women, but he vowed to remain pure until marriage.
In addition to his tall tales of sexual escapades, Pedro took it upon himself to teach Bill to chew tobacco. One day Bill’s father caught him with a chaw of tobacco in his cheek. Pedro was fired immediately and Bill received a thrashing he would never forget. Bill vowed to never chew tobacco again. Bill’s father wondered what else Pedro had been teaching Bill.
One day, just after Prohibition had been repealed, Bill’s father brought home some beer. Bill’s father was a teetotaler, so him bringing home beer was totally out of character. He called Bill, then about 15-years old, and his sister, Catherine, two years younger, into the kitchen and ordered each of them to drink a full bottle of beer. They gagged, spat, and winced, but finally finished both bottles. “When any of your friends try to get you to drink alcohol, just tell them you’ve already tasted it and you don’t like it,” his father told him. “That’s all the reason you need to give.” Bill vowed not to drink alcohol again.
Bill came home from school one day and his mother sensed something was wrong. Bill explained that he was to portray Uncle Sam in a pageant at his school. He and his mother rehearsed the speech until he was unable to get it wrong. On the day of the pageant, his mother was a nervous wreck. Bill’s costume included the long beard, hat, and tailcoat commonly associated with Uncle Sam. His knees shook and his hands perspired as he flawlessly recited his speech. He hated the uncomfortable feeling and vowed to himself that he would never become a public speaker. Of all of the vows he had made to himself through the years, this was the vow he was destined to break. You see, Bill became a prominent public speaker. From the 1940s until his death in 2018, Bill was known as one of the best public speakers in the world. Bill spoke in front of live audiences totaling approximately 210 million people in more than 185 countries. He became a spiritual advisor to every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. He was a friend of Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family who frequently invited him to speak at special events. In breaking a vow to himself, Bill made another vow. Bill, the man who vowed not to become a public speaker, vowed to spread the Gospel and became an evangelist. You know him as Billy Graham.
Source: Billy Graham, Just as I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham (San Francisco: HarperCollins Worldwide, 1997), 3-20.
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