Sunday afternoon I drove over to San Antonio to visit with a friend and previous church member whose wife died a couple of days earlier. Truthfully, it has been several years since we’d last visited, but from appearances he looked the same. I couldn’t tell that he had aged at all.
His daughter was there from California. She mentioned that she had told her dad that I was going to stop by to visit, but he wasn’t quite sure he remembered me. He also didn’t remember the church at Henly. Yet, when he looked me squarely in the face, there was a hint of recognition and a smile. He nodded and said, “I know you.” He went on to share with me that he’d been in a very serious car accident and that because of the head injury he had lost a lot of his memory.
Without skipping a beat, I playfully introduced myself again, reached out and shook his hand, and said: “Hello, my name is Don. From this day forward, we’re new friends. You don’t need to remember anything about me from the past. (Actually, I thought that might have the potential to be a good thing) You can let all of that go”. Whether I added: “Like water under a bridge”, I don’t remember, but I did say: “We can start fresh.” That kind of broke the ice with him. He smiled and said, “I like that.”
His smile was familiar to me. I had seen it before. He looked the same, but that smile was his trademark. He wasn’t a jokester, but had a good sense of humor. He smiled a lot. He was a pleasant and thoughtful man with whom to share time.
For the past year or two he’s lived in an assisted living complex on the Southwest side of San Antonio. His wife required more acute care. Consequently, her care was provided across the parking lot from the assisted living center in a rehab facility.
Reportedly, he dutifully and lovingly checked on his wife daily. He’d walk over and spend the morning, walk back to the assisted living facility for lunch, rest a while and subsequently make his way back to rehab to share more of her day. Day in and day out, that was his routine.
If fact, he picked the location out because the property was mostly flat and he could walk on it. In addition, it wasn’t overstated or opulent. However, it was very nicely done and looked like a real home. Truthfully, it was very nice!
I couldn’t help but think about my dad as my friend shared his daily routine and the focus of his life. My dad, too, had lovingly and dutifully invested his last ounce of energy focused on being available for Mother. With Mom, Dad was far more patient than he’d ever been with us during our childhood years. Maybe patience comes from wisdom. I started to say, “experience”, but I don’t think experience necessarily teaches patience. However, wisdom is one of the building blocks that help in orchestrating the jigsaw puzzle of life and making sense of the journey.
I don’t remember how many years ago the couple was actively involved in the life of our church, but they were absolutely delightful. He was retired military. If I’m not mistaken, I think he was a pilot. I know he served in Vietnam. He was also very skilled as a carpenter. He and his wife had previously volunteered with the Texas Baptist Men and traveled around the State building churches as a post-retirement activity. One day they decided it was time to settle down and they landed in Blanco.
I remember shortly after meeting them, that he told me he built their home. He invited me to come see it sometime. I subsequently took him up on the offer and I stopped by to visit. I don’t know what I envisioned or expected, but the home was much more than I dared to imagine. My imagination had no relationship to anything about him or his wife, it had more to do with the belief that if you want a home built professionally, a “do-it-yourself job” seldom works out well. I was wrong about this one. This guy was a professional builder.
He didn’t cut corners anywhere including with the wooden floors he installed himself or the size of the rooms. In addition, there was nothing about the home that looked cookie cutter. It was quality construction and spaciously comfortable and very attractive. I guess, once a builder, always a builder. After the got the home constructed, he built a garage apartment in the back yard. He was the kind of guy that had to have a project to stay busy. The garage apartment also served as a landing place for snowbirds from the North that came South for the winter.
Prime and proper sounds stuffy. I started to describe them that way, but he and his wife weren’t stuffy. Perhaps dignified and proper is a better descriptor. They were classy people and at they same time they were salt of the earth people who lived with a sense of humility and gratitude for all they had been given. There was genuineness in their countenance and joy associated to life. The reflected the love of Christ.
His wife had been a schoolteacher when they met. I don’t know if she taught after they were married, she never said. At least, I don’t remember if she did. What I do remember from what she previously shared with me is that she was from Chicago.
Back in the day, right out of college she wheeled around Chicago is a Studebaker convertible. When I mentioned that Sunday, the daughter initially looked puzzled, so did the dad. I then saw that trademark smile appear and he said: “You right. She did have a convertible.” The daughter then acknowledged that she vaguely remembered her mother talking about that car.
It made me feel good that I could flag a memory associated to life that they had forgotten. Memory is such an incredible gift. I’m certain that in the days and weeks ahead, many memories from the past will fill their heads. I plan to stop by and visit with my friend again. Even if he’s recall of me is limited to Sunday, the day we first met again, it will be worth the investment of my time. I am captivated by his smile.
All My Best!