Owen, nicknamed “Deek”, was admitted to our outpatient hospice services when he was eighty-two years old, with end-stage congestive heart failure. Deek grew up in the small rural town of Beaver, Ohio where he and his older brother, Sandy, were members of “The Pig Turd Alley Gang”. Deek explained, “At least that’s what the old neighbor man, Daddy Schrader, called us. I was ten years old back then and my friend ‘Copperhead’ was sixteen. He was old enough to drive. We hoed corn, moved hay and planted and picked up potatoes for Daddy Schrader. We were like farmhands.”
Faith, Deek’s sister-in-law, pointed to a seventy-two-year-old picture of “the gang” of five young boys hanging on the wall. With her characteristic comedic wit and sly grin, Faith remarked, “Deek was a runt, but he was a runt with an attitude.”
Deek reflected, “I always worked in management”. Then Faith added, “I don’t know how, but he always managed to start at the top.” Deek added with a grin, “So, I never had to do a days work in my life.” His last job of thirteen years was as a traveling manager for Bonded Oil convenient marts. He filled in for store managers during leaves of absence and vacations. Deek shared, “I always left a bouquet of flowers and a thank you card for the hotel staffs where I stayed. My Company liked the idea but they told me not to use my own money anymore.”
Deek was proud that his company frequently received compliments from the stores about how nice he had been to their employees. He stated, “I liked working with people. I’m a lot like Mark Twain, the fellow who said, ‘I’ve never met a man I didn’t like.’” Then Deek immediately corrected himself, “That wasn’t Mark Twain who said that was it; that was Will Rogers.”
Deek lived most of his adult life in Springfield, Ohio, but after his divorce from a thirty-two-year marriage, he moved in with his sister-in-law, Faith, to help care for his ailing brother. Deek had always been close to his nieces and nephews, but after the move he grew even closer. And after his brother’s death, Faith stated, “Deek just stayed on”.
Deek reflected, “I’ve always loved children. A Mexican man and woman were hitchhiking from Columbus to Yellow Springs during sweet corn season. They had three kids with them so I picked them up. When they got in the truck I asked them, ‘What’s that black bucket you have with you?’ They told me they cooked corn in it and that the kids hadn’t eaten anything but corn for two days. So I bought them some bologna and pop.”
Deek continued, “Once when we were at the bus station, there was a young fellow wanting a ticket to somewhere down south, but he only had enough money to take him partway. He needed twenty-five dollars, so I paid the rest. I told the girl, ‘Give him a ticket all the way.’” Faith added, “Deek didn’t want him getting off the bus in the middle of the night and having to walk the rest of the way.”
Deek shared a final story, “I heard about a couple down the road that didn’t have any food for their kids so I bought them sixty dollars worth of groceries. When I dropped the groceries off they didn’t say a word; no thanks or anything, but that’s alright. That’s not what I did it for anyway. They’re doing alright now.” And there were the clothes and the diamond earrings Deek bought for the great-nieces; the battery-operated “Gator” for the young boy next door, and on and on.
Deek lamented, “I could have been a millionaire if I hadn’t listened to my ex-wife. ITT was down to one dollar a share and I had ten-thousand dollars; but my wife told me not to risk it. I’ve lost three houses and three cars in my divorces. I’ve lost a lot of money, but I’ve also given a lot away.” Deek paused; and after surveying the gallery of pictures of his great-nieces and nephews hanging on his bedroom wall, he concluded, “But I never really lost a thing”.
Deek’s story reminds me of “The Richest Man in Town, a song by Bruce Carroll: “The beacon cut through the dark like a knife; and for many down there it was the only sign of life. The doors were always open, the beds were always full, but there was always room at the table for one more soul. They called him easy money, his real name they didn’t know. But it didn’t seem to matter, because they had a place to go. He would say he didn’t have a dime he could call his own; and ever since he heard the calling he’s called the mission home. He’s the richest man in town. You can’t put a price tag on the happiness he’s found. His investment in the savior keeps his feet on solid ground. Ever since the father touched him, he’s the richest man in town.”
“Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”(Luke 18:29)
“Live your life so that whenever you lose, you are ahead.” (Will Rogers, 1879-1935)
Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center-Hospice, and can be reached at 740-356-2525 or at [email protected] You can order Loren’s new book, “Straight Paths,” online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.