Joe was a living antique, a reminder of decades gone by. He loved to tell farming stories and describe his early life with the utmost accuracy, that is, until he lost his train of thought. Then he would start a new tale describing a different time in his life. I found great joy just sitting and listening to him reminisce about life.
One particular morning Joe and I were visiting when his nephew popped in for a visit. Joe recognized him and welcomed him into his small quiet room. Then he turned around in his wheelchair, looked at me and with a startled look on his face asked “WHO ARE YOU?” I re-introduced myself as if I had just arrived and the three of us enjoyed a wonderful visit.
As Joe told his stories, I took notice of the smile on his face and the joy in his voice. I admired the man he was and the good life he lived. He told me that he used to light the oil street lamps that glowed on Main Street in Lester Prairie every night. He could describe a good horse in detail and remembered the first time he saw a motorized carriage (car). Joe never married and never revealed why he chose to remain single. I could easily picture him in my mind as a 250-pound farm hand in his earlier days, but now those big strong hands were nothing but skin and bone.
I spent several months visiting with Joe when he shared that he had not been outside in over a year and a half. I’m not sure if this was true or not due to his mental condition, but I had never seen him leave the building and the only people who ever visited him were myself and his nephew. Either way a farmer likes the outdoors. He would often sit in his room gazing out the window for hours talking about the weather. I think it kept him in tune with the change of seasons.
One day late in April when I was driving to visit Joe I had an idea. Today was the day that Joe was going for a ride to see his farm. I went to his room, introduced myself, and told him that I was taking him for a ride. At first he wasn’t too interested… whining and complaining that it was too cold and he couldn’t walk or do this or that. I refused to take no for an answer and he finally agreed to come with me. I pushed him in his wheelchair to the closet where he took out his old farm coat. I helped him put it on then he grabbed his John Deer baseball cap off the nightstand securely placing it on his bald head. Suddenly his eyes filled with joy and he smiled from ear to ear. As I wheeled him down the hallway toward the front door Joe talked and talked and talked telling everyone he was going for a ride. When we reached my truck I gently lifted his frail, six-foot body into the passenger seat. I set his wheelchair in the truck bed, fired up the motor, and we headed for Lester Prairie. I had never seen anybody as happy as Joe was on that crisp, spring morning. He talked the whole way to Lester Prairie. I couldn’t make out a whole lot of what he said because we had the windows down and the truck exhaust was loud, but it didn’t matter. I could read Joe’s smile and it was good. Joe was gazing at the fields predicting when they would be ready for planting. I looked over at him numerous times just to see his smile.
After a wonderful ride in the country, I took Joe back to the care facility. I unloaded his wheelchair then lifted him out of the passenger seat carefully placing him in it. He was still talking with a big grin on his face as I wheeled him all the way back to his room. Joe never lost his train of thought that day, he knew me from the time I picked him up until the time we parted ways.
The following week, I planned on doing the same thing with Joe again. I was excited to see him and go for another ride. As soon as I entered his room I noticed it was empty. I asked a nurse working nearby about Joe’s whereabouts. She looked me in the eye and quietly shared that Joe had died earlier in the week. Joe had taken his last ride.
Whenever I think about Joe and his last ride I can’t help but smile. It reminds me to take time to “smell the roses” as I journey through life because not everyone you know one day will be around the next. So my advice to you is this: First, make the most of the time you have been given and cherish the people you love. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” says the Psalmist (Psalm 90:12). Life is short, make the most of it. None of us know when we will go for our last ride. Second, if you need to make a phone call or write that letter to someone you love and care about, don’t put it off any longer. Contact the person today. Third, if you would like to invest in someone like Joe, contact your local elder care facility and ask them if they know of a person who could use a friend. Then be that friend, you will be blessed for it.