We shared a precious friendship with Herb and Iona till we moved from rural Ontario almost two decades ago.
Last summer the Preacher and I travelled back for a speaking engagement. A car pulled up to the church and a gray-haired woman emerged from the driver’s side. She went round to the passenger door, opened it, and helped an elderly man climb out.
Iona hadn’t changed much, but could this tentative, confused fellow be the strapping farmer we’d known? “Iona….Herb…” We fished for words. Then Herb smiled and for a moment we saw our old friend.
A few days later Iona served us lunch at home. Simple fare, but gourmet conversation, with laughter for dessert.
“Remember the Christmas we left Chalmer with you?” the Preacher asked. They’d often cared for our children and/or pets in our absence.
Our irascible red cocker ruined their Christmas meal that year. Someone opened the outside door during dinner, and the dog decided to go AWOL. Herb and their son left the table to fetch him—a futile effort. Chalmer stayed in sight, but remained just far enough ahead to avoid capture.
The not-so-merry chase lasted hours. “Larry, the only way we’re gonna catch that rascal is with a 22.” Herb said, finally. He stalked back home, ate warmed-over Christmas dinner, and went to bed frustrated.
In the middle of the night Iona heard Chalmer whimpering outside. “You don’t deserve to come in,” she’d said—and let him in anyway.
Herb smiled at our memories, covering his confusion well.
He and Iona had moved into a condo in town, but Herb had never moved in his heart. The barns were empty now, the old place sold to strangers. But like Chalmer, Herb longed to flee his new surroundings and return home.
“I’ve applied for a nursing home spot,” Iona said later, regret filling her voice. The care-giving had become too difficult.
Before we left, I crouched down in front of our old friend, took his hand, looked up into his eyes and said, “Herb, we want to thank you for your kindnesses to us when we lived around here. You loved our kids. You put up with our pets. Thank you for reflecting Jesus so well to our family. We haven’t forgotten.”
Herb looked down at me. The corners of his mouth twitched, like he understood the punch line of a joke I’d missed.
“Well,” he said slowly. “We did what we could.”
A nursing home spot opened up shortly after our visit, nice and close. Just a few weeks later, Herb escaped. Jesus left the door open and his spirit got up and flew home.
I’m so glad I said the important things.
If you make any resolutions in 2010, make that one. Say the important things to people around you: I’m so glad God put you in my life…That kindness meant the world to me… Do you know how much God loves you? Me too!
You never know when they’ll just fly home.