Billy Graham was the skinniest kid Mary Lloys Rice had ever seen, and his hair was glorious. In 1940, Mary Lloys‚Äîmy mom‚Äîplus her five sisters and my grandparents had moved a thousand miles north from Dallas and into their new home in Wheaton, Illinois on West Franklin Street, a big yellow frame house with white trim in a neighborhood shaded by massive maples and spreading elms. The dining room was big enough to welcome an oak table with plenty of leaves to accommodate all eight members of the Rice family plus two to four traveling preachers, missionaries, seminary students, or workers from The Sword of the Lord office.
The entryway of the house was spacious enough to house a piano that would be the focus of the family‚Äôs unanimous and enthusiastic passion for music. All six daughters played piano and sang gospel songs at the drop of a hat, including while running to and from school or competing for the use of the bathroom as well as singing solos, duets, trios, or quartets at revivals and church services.
Billy Graham showed up one fall day in 1941 on the front porch of my grandparents‚Äô house, a year after the Rice family arrived from Dallas. Billy had a flatbed truck and a crew of students from nearby Wheaton College, and Granddad had hired his little moving company to introduce a baby grand piano into that entryway. The piano had a black enamel finish and a deliciously curvy shape with a mile-long ivory keyboard and a top that flipped up to reveal a latticework of shining steel strings and a plush row of 88 felt-covered hammers. Billy was wearing a sweater with elbow patches and some old cotton workpants. At the age of 23, he was a sophomore at Wheaton College and a recent transfer from the Florida Bible Institute.
My mom, 16 at the time, recalls that Billy had started his little moving company to earn his way through college. Many years later, she recounted how she met Billy as he helped muscle their new piano through the front door: ‚ÄúHe was so skinny if he turned sideways he almost disappeared. Billy talked fast, and he moved even faster!‚Äù
Photograph courtesy of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.
This story is an excerpt from Andrew Himes's book The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family.