Sometimes a person can think that he’s doing someone a favor, but it doesn’t turn out so well for others, those countless people who are indirectly affected by the decision of a moment. On the other hand, someone can do some seemingly small initial action that results in great blessings to thousands of people. In today’s post, I’d like for you to consider three such men, each engaged in vastly different endeavors, and each of whom ended up affecting untold millions of people.
First in chronological order is Henry Tandey. Tandey was a private in the British army during the First World War. On this date in 1918, Tandey was on the battlefield during the Third Battle of Ypres. He encountered a pathetic soldier fighting for Germany and was just about ready to shoot him, but then he noticed that the man was wounded. He couldn’t bring himself to shoot a wounded man, so he let the man proceed back to the German lines, where he could get medical attention. The wounded soldier recovered and years later became Reichsfuhrer Adolf Hitler. How history might have been so much different if Tandey had not hesitated.
Interestingly, Hitler later showed British prime minister Neville Chamberlain a painting of Tandey and chose to describe him as “the man who nearly shot me” rather than as the man who had spared his life. And with that attitude, he brought death and destruction to millions of people from around the world.
Richard Warren Sears
Sometime during or slightly before 1886, a jeweler in Minneapolis had a bunch of watches in stock that he either couldn’t or wouldn’t sell. Richard Sears bought them from him and began selling them to station masters and other railroad personnel at cut rates. Because of the recent advent of time zones, railroad people needed to know accurate time, so Sears made a respectable profit from the sales. He later began selling not only watches but also other forms of jewelry by mail order catalog. Sales were so good that he relocated his business to Chicago the following year. There, on this date in 1892, he teamed up with a watch repairman named Alvah Curtis Roebuck and expanded his catalog to products in addition to jewelry.
His catalogs offered a wider selection of merchandise than any of the local businesses could stock. Sears also offered a clearly stated price for everything, rather than dickering with customers, as other local businessmen did. Customers liked the broader choices, knowing what they would have to pay, and not having to experience the discomfort of bargaining. They could even buy a prepackaged house, complete with instructions for putting it together, from those catalogs. By 1895, the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog was 532 pages long.
As a kid, I loved it when the Sears, Roebuck catalog came in the mail, and it always seemed to come just as Christmas approached. We kids used to pour over its pages, especially the toy section, drooling over the toys and hoping that we would get our favorites. For that reason, we called it the “wish book.” We circled our favorite toys in pen and dog-eared the pages where they were pictured, hoping that Mother and Daddy would notice and get at least some of them for us for Christmas. The 1950s was a decade of cowboys and Western-themed toys, and I was fortunate enough to have several pieces of the advertised ensemble.
Alas, the day of the Sears catalog is only a memory (and the company itself even seems to be on the verge of extinction). But millions of children and adults gained great satisfaction from its pages, either from looking and wishing or from actually making purchases from the catalog.
Also on this date in 1926 was born a man who gave great joy to thousands upon thousands of people in a different way. He graduated from high school and then served in the Navy during World War II, earning two bronze stars for his actions in the Pacific Theater. Upon his return, he attended Mississippi State University to study agriculture. After college, he worked as a county agriculture agent, a seed salesman, and then a fertilizer salesman. He was successful in sales because he used humor to break down sales resistance.
Gaining a reputation as “the mouth of Mississippi,” Clower began receiving invitations to speak to various groups, all of which were interested in hearing his jokes and stories. He was soon making more money by making people laugh than he was by selling them fertilizer. Thus began his second career as a comedian.
Clower was not reluctant to share his faith in Jesus Christ to his audiences, and he had a reputation as a Christian and a clean comedian. His humor was about common country folks and their quaint ways, many of which he had experienced firsthand. Most of his humor featured the Ledbetter family, which included Uncle Versey, Aunt Pet, Clovis, and other odd characters. It dealt with ‘coon and ‘possum hunting, logging, rat killing, cattle raising, and other often exaggerated country activities.
But through it all, Clower made people laugh. He thought that if he could help people forget their troubles for even a short time or, better yet, help them to face their problems with a smile and faith in God, he was doing his part.
I got my introduction to Clower’s humor in college, when I met a big, tall Kentuckian named Greg Rogers. I being a country boy from Tennessee myself, the two of us hit it off immediately, and he loaned me a cassette tape of Jerry Clower. We both wore denim overalls in the dormitory and listened to Clower tapes. To this day, whenever we see each other, albeit it being years between meetings, one of us invariably will greet the other with a country drawled, “Knock ‘im out, John!” If you’ve heard Jerry Clower, you know what that means!
What kind of person will you be—one who is remembered for the harm you’ve done to others or the number of people whose needs you’ve met? Have you made them weep tears of pain and suffering or tears of enjoyment and laughter?