His name was Andrew John, the eldest of ten children living on the south side of Chicago. First in line to take care of his younger brothers and sisters, he sometimes resented the never-ending production of siblings. Forced to forfeit his own desires in order to help the growing family, AJ was in charge of rounding up the troops for meals. He could be spotted with his homemade lasso corralling and harnessing the rambunctious runts, while assuring them protection from the speeding Illinois Central train that made its route a few footsteps from the family home. Mature beyond his years, AJ was put in charge of the kids. He shared a bedroom with every child that came along, for they were stacked three and four to a bed in their little two-bedroom house. The big tub was dragged into the kitchen every Saturday night, where multiple children were scrubbed clean one right after the other…in the same heated sudsy water. Take up your cross, deny yourself and follow me.
AJ was an obedient child but his dream was to join the ROTC and eventually enter the FBI. None of that ever became a reality. His father pronounced the judgment for AJ on the same day he got his picture taken in his new uniform. Decked out like a real life soldier, he came home to learn his fate: quit school and get a job at 14. His dad’s paycheck simply wasn’t enough to make ends meet. There were a lot of mouths to feed in the Petersen household. Dreams were put on hold. What mattered was survival. Children obey your parents.
It was like that for AJ. Give up everything for everyone else. He became the protector, provider and prince of the family, the glue that held them together. AJ felt responsible for all his siblings, especially after his mother died soon after her 48th birthday. In love and longing to be married himself, AJ eloped with his little Swedish sweetheart, Helga, returning home to the family and living separately from his beloved for a time. Eventually, they both moved into the Petersen homestead to care for the little ones. It was just the way it was back in the depression era. Give and it shall be given back to you.
AJ didn’t know the Lord in a personal way back then, but his wife prayed for him over eight years until he finally surrendered the rulership of his life to Jesus Christ. He became a solid believer who lived out the truths of the Bible. Soft spoken and reserved, AJ nurtured his siblings throughout the years, as well as the three children who were later born to him and Helga. He was the one all the Petersens looked to for advice, to help fix the car, or to even get an amateur haircut. He was always there for his family. He was always there for me. Blessed is the faithful man.
AJ was my dad, and although I was pretty little at the time, I remember celebrations with these aunts, uncles and cousins. It was a houseful for sure. What I loved most about my Dad was that he was always in my corner. If I was sick in the night, he was the one holding my hand and taking my temperature. He was the one who carried me to school on his shoulders. He was the one who drove me all over town to find supplies for a science project. He was the one who let me sit on his back to play beautyshop with his hair. He was the one who provided transportation for my friends to church. He was the one who took the time to talk with them and make them feel welcome in our home. He was the one who made me feel rich, loved, protected and secure. He was the one who gave me a picture of my Heavenly Father. Andrew John…they called him AJ. God the Father who never leaves or forsakes you.
Interesting that all these years later I have another AJ in my life. He’s my grandson, Austin James, named after his maternal great grandfather, but who has the same initials as my Dad. Born in two different centuries, this other AJ is now three years old. They never rocked on the back-porch swing, read books, or played ball together. But somehow these two AJ’s are connected. It’s that generational thing again. More than genes and DNA. More than physical contact. I see my Dad in my grandson. The twinkle in his eyes and the way he smiles reminds me of my father. There’s certain expressions on my sons’ faces that do, too. Even though Dad has been gone since my boys were little, his story still connects the generations…stories of Jesus, stories of personal trials and victories in real life situations. Passing down truths from one generation to the next. It’s what it’s all about. Tell the next generation so they can tell theirs.
As I look at my modern-day AJ, I see my Dad’s love and nurturing nature oozing out of his pores. Austin James is a lover, intentional about giving out hugs and kisses, intentional about loving Jesus. Even at his young age, he loves to pray. It’s never a “let-us-thank-Him-for-our-food” kind of prayer. Austin James prays around the world for every need and name he can remember. We’re often seen peeking up at the table listening to his pleas while we smile and sometimes giggle at his spiritual sincerity. It’s a beautiful thing to behold. I wish my Dad could see where we all are today from his investment…all of his children and their spouses following Jesus Christ…three grandsons in ministry…great grandchildren raised up in the Church. Train up a child in the way he should go.
There’s lots of things from both sides of the family that have gone into embroidering the person of Austin James, but it’s his loving nature that warms my heart and reminds me of my Dad. It’s more than a nickname or identical initials…it’s Jesus flowing through the veins of one generation to the next. Believers telling their story. Pouring out what they have received. May we all learn to steward well what’s been handed down to us. It’s the only way our families will continue their spiritual legacy. The original AJ somehow made a difference in our modern-day AJ, even though they never met. They call it generational blessing…and it’s sure worth the investment!