Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday Memories - An Invitation

Each year Don and Sandy Tucker make a different nativity to give to
friends, and lucky for us, we have received several of them.
Each is unique, loved, and anticipated.
Tonight they brought us Nativity 2013.  

When the invitations were sent to join in the Savior’s birth, angels personally delivered the message to the shepherds, and the wise men were summoned by a star. That both ends of the social spectrum were invited has deep symbolism: no one is excluded from the invitation to come to the Savior. He taught that the way to be near Him is to serve. Whether wealthy or impoverished, as demonstrated by the shepherds and wise men, we have all been invited to bring a gift to the Savior.

Charlie’s farm was just across the gravel road from us in Idaho. Charlie wasn’t very tall and he had a big barrel chest. He liked to wear wool, plaid shirts. One fall day his forty-something-year-old son knocked on our door and asked me if I knew of anyone who would be willing to help Charlie. As an eighty-year-old widower with increasing health problems, Charlie needed someone to do light housework, his laundry, and cook a daily meal for him. His son promised it wouldn’t be much work and Charlie was willing to pay a fair wage.

With all of our kids in school it was the perfect job for me, so every day after getting my own housework done I’d walk over to Charlie’s. One man in a wheelchair doesn’t make much of a mess, so Charlie and I had lots of time to visit. In fact, I think that was the main reason I was hired. I had known Charlie as an acquaintance all my life. He was a friend of my father’s. I knew he was a successful farmer and cattleman and that he had a long list of accomplishments. I also knew he had several hobbies, one of which was collecting Winchester rifles. He had every Winchester rifle ever made along with the ammunition for it. I think every Boy Scout in Southern Idaho had seen Charlie’s collection at least once, and that is why it made perfect sense for Charlie to keep a loaded pistol on the dinner table covered with a paper napkin. While it scared me to death to wash under it every day, afraid it would discharge and shoot him or me, with a famed basement full of guns and Charlie’s declining mobility, he was literally a sitting duck. The loaded gun on the table and the other one under his bed pillow were for self-defense.

One day as Charlie and I visited, he said there was one thing he wished he had done in his life and he felt badly that he wouldn’t get it done before he died. He wanted to write his personal history. Having taken a class on personal histories in college I told him I could help him cross that item off his list. We made a makeshift desk in the living room from a card table and a folding chair, found an old typewriter, and pulled out his stash of pictures. Using questions I’d received in class to guide our discussion, I began to interview him and record his answers. To the question: “Describe your mother,” he thought for a few moments, stroked his chin, and said, “Well, she could cultivate a fine crop of whiskers which was always a nuisance to her.”

Charlie told of his baptism in a horse trough but how the whole family quit going to church when the little branch closed. He retold the scrapes he and his brother got in, and stories of other early settlers in the area. He loved reminiscing and I enjoyed hearing and recording his memories.

One day a few weeks before Christmas I told Charlie we wouldn’t be able to work on his history that afternoon because I needed to go Christmas shopping. After his noon meal – he ate promptly at 12:00 noon - I put on my coat and he handed me a card. I opened it when I got outside and it had a $100 bill in it. It was signed, “Merry Christmas. Charlie” and then on the other side it said, “I’ve never known a woman that couldn’t use an extra $100 when she went shopping.” He probably knew how needed and appreciated it was, but it still makes me want to cry thinking about it. Charlie needed me and I needed Charlie.

Nearly every day for six weeks we worked on Charlie’s history, and each day it became harder for him to get around. He scooted in his wheelchair and it took him a long time to move from room to room. His neck was calcifying and putting pressure on his spine. Doctors explained he would become paralyzed if he didn’t have surgery to remove the pressure. They agreed the surgery was risky, but it beat being paralyzed. The doctors scheduled the operation a week before Christmas.

Charlie and I worked faster and longer to get his history done; in fact we finished it the day he went to the hospital. Charlie had two sons who farmed nearby and one or the other would often join us for lunch, but on the day Charlie entered the hospital they both came. Charlie requested I cook the rest of the salmon and snow peas in the freezer for everyone. Because his mobility lessened a little more each day, I could see it was a surprise to his sons that he was now no longer feeding himself an entire meal. As Charlie struggled on the last few bites, I carefully took his hand and helped him chase the peas onto his fork. After the dishes were cleared away, I reminded Charlie we had one little piece of his history left to write and then it would be finished, complete with photographs. The son who was taking him to the hospital sat at the table while we finished. The final thing was to write Charlie’s last wishes and funeral plans. If I thought his son was uncomfortable seeing Charlie spoon fed, it was definitely painful for him to hear funeral plans being made, and he squirmed in the chair. However Charlie insisted we continue and he outlined his funeral, complete with speakers and songs. After we finished we bundled Charlie up and put a little wool blanket over his legs and wheeled him to the car. I finished the chores, locked the door, and quietly walked home.

I went to see Charlie in the hospital the next day and he informed me the surgery had been postponed because “the part didn’t come in.” He made it sound like the implement store was out of tractor parts. After we visited a bit I told him I’d return the following day after the surgery.

The next day was our daughter’s birthday. She had turned eight and was being baptized. We drove the many miles to town and after her sweet baptismal service I told the family I needed to stop and see Charlie on the way home. By now, all of the family felt a connection to Charlie – the kids had taken left-overs to him at suppertime, gone to take his trash out, finish a chore for him on my days off, or seen his gun collection. They patiently waited in the car while I went in to the hospital. Charlie was recovering in the intensive care unit and alone. None of his family happened to be there at the moment so I went to his bedside and began talking to him. He was mostly incoherent, but in great distress and discomfort. He was groaning and mildly thrashing about. I stroked his hair and talked to him as if he could understand me and he calmed down. Knowing my family would be anxious to finish celebrating our daughter’s birthday, I stayed with him for several minutes then carefully kissed his head when I left.

Not long after we returned home the phone rang. It was Charlie’s son saying that Charlie had passed away a few minutes after I’d left him. I was humbled to have spent those final minutes with him.

Like the shepherds and wise men, Charlie and I were from both ends of the social spectrum. Charlie had lived long, gathered sound advice, and built financial reserves. He was a wise man with much to give. I was a young wife and mother herding a little family with a few homemaking and typing skills to share. I was the shepherd with little to give. Yet we were both issued and accepted an invitation to follow the Savior by serving our fellowman. Whether we had a lot or a little didn't matter, it was enough when we shared it.


Rachel said...

This makes me cry. I love this story.

Ande said...

This story always makes me cry too. I'm glad you had each other.

Deanna/Mimi said...

A beautiful memory of giving, sharing, serving and meeting one another's needs. Jane, I have been impressed with you for years now. You have touched my heart time and time again. You have had a rich life, but more than that you have enriched the lives of countless others. I see needs, feel needs, but I do nothing. go and do those Christ-like ways that touch the hearts. I will stand as a witness to God of your caring and perfect heart. You are exceptional. Thank you for sharing your life.

Julie said...

Jane, every time you tell a story I can feel and hear and almost reach out and touch your setting and characters. You make me laugh and cry. I know Charlie's family will have those memories because you are such a good woman who made time in her life for service. Thank you for sharing the story with us!

Michelle said...

I don't believe I'd heard about Charlie before. This made me cry. What an amazing experience and a great example of the inseparable nature of service and love. Thank you. This is especially great to ponder as we enter the Christmas season.

Puhlman said...

As you were telling this story I could see the Savior doing the exact same things you did. I am amazed at your example and love and service. You are a woman of God and I am so thankful I know you.

Puhlman said...

As you were telling this story I could see the Savior doing the exact same things you did. I am amazed at your example and love and service. You are a woman of God and I am so thankful I know you.

melanie said...

I cried through this whole post. What a wonderful example from both of you. Thank you.

I love that beautiful nativity. That's a great tradition.

Deidra said...


Alisa said...

I cried ... Now I'm getting ready to share it with my family home for a snow day. They will cry too. I love your writing but I really love that you share it so freely. I wish you were my real life neighbor , but I am so thankful for the internet neighborhood.

Kathy said...

Thank you for sharing this very special memory and the analogy to the Savior's birth. It is beautiful!

Rachel said...

Thank you for sharing this Aunt Jane. I don't remember much about Charlie but I remember you or Mom sending us over with a loaf of bread or something you had made. I don't even remember what he looked like so it was fun to hear what you remember about him.