It’s a hot day in Delaware.
“I’m grumpy,” I said to Certain Man as I fixed his oatmeal a little before seven o’clock in the morning.
He looked at me, almost like that amused him. “”Why so?”
“I don’t know,” I said, my voice trailing off. The truth is, there were a whole lot of “why’s,” so I decided to plunge on, “It just seems like these last couple of days, I’ve had more occasion to practice what I preach than I like.”
Now the poor man was puzzled, but he waited, knowing I would go on.
“For one thing, I am always amused at how aggravated people get in traffic when other people do stupid things. I don’t usually say anything, but in my heart, I always think, ‘just let it go! Don’t waste emotional energy being mad or aggravated or saying mean things. Just let it go!’ And all week, people have been doing the most irritating things when I’m driving, and I feel so aggravated with them!”
I heard him chuckle. He stirred his oatmeal and listened.
“And then there’s that class I have to take today.” He didn’t say too much about this. He’s heard my sputterings before, and there is nothing either of us can do about it. I’ve been guilty of “mingling funds” which means that when I go to Wal-mart to buy the groceries and needed items, I put everything together and pay with one check. From what I can gather, this is a federal offense. I am to separate my stuff from Audrey’s stuff and then Linda’s stuff from Audrey’s and my stuff, and pay separately and get separate receipts. Never mind that I always have receipts for what I buy. Never mind that there are sighs in the line behind me. Never mind that I missed one or two items and they accidentally get put on my bill. IT IS NOT ALLOWED. This complicates my life. Believe me, any argument I’ve thought of, I’ve employed, and I’ve gotten precisely NO WHERE. The thing is, I really do want to do it right. Over the years that I’ve been a Care Provider, I’ve often counseled my fellow providers in situations such as these, “don’t sweat it. If there’s anyway you can do what they want, don’t bother to buck them. If they want to take Blind Linda shopping and try to teach her how to pay for her purchases, let them try. If they want you to send in a purse with some money from her account in it and they want to do whatever it is that they are trying to do — let them! You and I both know that it is doomed for failure, but they can go ahead and try. What happens at Center isn’t really our problem.”
But when their lack of common sense begins to affect my life with the constant constraints on my time, and they start muddling up the set routines that have always worked for me, I get resentful. The thing is, they have the trump card. When someone tries to speak to the audacity of some of their regulations, they can always come back with the FEDERAL AUDITS that they are subjected to. And I believe it. I know that the Federal Audits are almost gestapo-like in their craziness.
But I’ve been especially unhappy ever since the other morning, I overheard a newscast talking about the massacre in Colorado. “The truth is,” said the newscaster, “This was a federally funded shooting. The suspect was receiving a stipend from the government to live on while he conducted research and went to graduate school. He was receiving over $24,000 a year with it being delivered in monthly checks of over $2,000.00. He had no other source of income, so the truth is, he used government money to purchase arms and ammunition.” Of course, that made me more than just a little cross. The government hands out stipends of over $2,000.00 a month and there’s no accountability, but I have to account for every penny of the $120-140.00 that is given to Audrey and Linda monthly that is to cover clothes and necessities? And when I “co-mingle” funds I get hauled in for a “training session.”
“There is no question, Mrs. Yutzy, about your integrity. We know that you use your own money for many, many things, and you are ‘top of the line’ with your accounting. But you cannot pay for family expenses and client expenses on the same bill. That means you are using your own money and then they have to pay it back. That is just against policy.”
And so, on this day, I stirred about in my kitchen, feeling “grumpy,” yes, but there was another feeling somewhere inside that dogged my puttering about in the kitchen. I got Certain Man off, finished Blind Linda’s routine, packed her lunch and put her on the bus. I made sure that Our Girl Audrey was ready for the bus, and sat on my chair to drink a cup of coffee. I needed to be in Georgetown by 9:30, so I talked with Friend Ruby, and finally got my things around and reluctantly headed for Stockley Center.
Our mini-van is a 1999 Town and Country with almost 270,000 miles on it. I am so grateful to God for His provision for our family in the form of this trusty servant. As I headed out, I noted that it was overdue for an oil change and that Certain Man wanted that done “sometime this week.” I went to set the cruise control, and wondered if this is one of the mornings that it would decide to work. “I need to get this in to Walls Service Center,” I thought, and suddenly, the reason for the deep sense of unrest, of sadness was a clear as crystal.
Walls Service Center. John Walls, owner.
Yesterday morning, John Walls died.
For the past ten years, John has tenderly watched over the vehicles in the household of Certain Man and his wife. He was so kind and personable, always with a friendly word and ready smile. The thing is, he really knew cars. There were instances where other mechanics would say that it would take $1500.00 to fix something and insist a car wasn’t worth it. John would come along with a $200.00 estimate and deliver on it — and the car would be good to go. Many times when we were sure a vehicle was done for sure, John would come along with his easygoing reassurance and help us come up with a solution that would keep a vehicle on the road for thousands of more miles.
“She runs good,” he would often say of our mini-van. “She runs like a new one. I wouldn’t trade her yet. She should run for a good while yet if you take care of her.”
And so, we tried to take care of our van. And John fit us into the schedule at a moment’s notice for the many things an aged vehicle needed. New air conditioning, new transmission, fixing this and that. The van has been a blessing to our family and to many others besides. John always acted like it was such a privilege to answer the phone and find one of us on the other end of the line. I would find myself chatting often about the everyday things of life with him.
“How are your pole limas doing, John?” I always would ask towards the end of the summer. He had a garden that he lovingly tended and watched over. I was more than a little lost when it came to conversations about beer, but when it came to gardens, we spoke the same language. He loved those Lima Beans, trying to coax them into health and production, but sometimes it seemed as if they had it in for him.
“Can’t figure out what’s wrong with them,” he said last summer. “They haven’t done a bit of good this year. I think it’s the weather. Nobody seems to have good limas this year. Maybe I ought to get some compost for them.”
I looked at him across the desk in the office. The air conditioner was trying hard to keep up, the old African guy that pumped gas sat sprawled out in his accustomed big old chair, and John’s eyes were so sad in his handsome face. His beloved daughter, Shannon, had passed away in March, only 38 years old, and John looked like sorrow was sitting on his shoulders. He had battled a few health issues of his own, and I worried aloud about how he and his family were doing.
“We’re doing alright,” he said softly.
“I’m just so sorry, John,” I said.
He looked away, and there was really nothing more to say.
I didn’t know that he was ill. When I thought about it, I realized that he hadn’t been around the last few times i was in, but it hadn’t registered. I was so surprised the other night, Deborah came in from a Hospice visit and said, “Dad and Mom, John Walls is dying. I asked his family if I could tell you because you’ve been friends, and they wanted me to let you know. I don’t think he will last the week.”
And he didn’t. With his family keeping watch, lovingly meeting his needs, and a thousand family stories swirling around his last hours, John’s spirit took its final flight yesterday morning. He wasn’t very old — actually younger than I am, and though that certainly can’t be called “young” it still feels like 58 is young.
I have to say that I really don’t know the story of John’s life. I don’t know if the people who knew him best have good memories, or if they will say, “He was a good man.” Do you know what I mean? I think they will, but I don’t know. What I do know is that he was always kind to our family. He was a fair and competent auto mechanic. He was always willing to help where he could. He was a friend, an integral and positive part of our lives and we will miss him.
And the news of his passing is more than enough to make this day seem “wrong.” Far more than any other mitigating factors.
May you rest in peace, John. It is my prayer that your hope of Heaven is a reality beyond your wildest dreams.