After Dorothy passed away a few years ago, I could only imagine how Earl must have felt. I frequently thought of him being this old man alone in his house. I thought it might be a good idea to take a more active role in our friendship and I started dropping in on him from time to time.
Whenever I entered Earl’s house he was always very gracious and welcoming. He would invite me to sit down with him in his living room and listen to his prized county music collection on his stereo system. I sat quietly and listened as he would lean back in his recliner and reminisce about his earlier years. As each song came on, it seemed to jog his memory and unlock another story from his past.
Earl’s health deteriorated as time went on and it became very hard for him to walk and get around. I started seeing him less and less around the community. When I did, he would be in a scooter or using his walker. He eventually had to hire a caretaker to drop in on him several times a day and tend to his needs. If I hadn’t visited him for a while, I could always count on a phone call for a friendly chat and a reminder that “You’ve been making yourself pretty scarce lately.”
Earl was always very hospitable. He insisted on walking me to the front door when I would leave. I knew it was hard for him to get out of his chair and wrangle his walker around in order to walk me out, but he always insisted, no matter how many times I said that “I could let myself out.”
Earl also had a great sense of humor. One time after walking out the front door, I started to walk around the corner of his house. I then realized that I had driven there, instead of walking like I sometimes did and that my pickup was parked in front. I turned around and started walking back to my truck. Just as I was reaching for the door handle, Earl’s voice bellowed from his front step.
“That’s how it starts Spud.” He hollered as he stood in the front doorway with that deadpan look of his. “Take it from me, that’s how it starts.”
I visited Earl just before we left for Idaho this past spring.
“We’re going back to Idaho for the summer in a few days Earl.” I said. “We’ll see you in the fall when we come back.”
He turned his head and looked at me with his crooked smile. “You have a great summer.” He got up out of his recliner with great difficulty and leaning on his walker he extended his hand. “I appreciate all that you do for me.”
I shook his hand and said goodbye.
That was the last time I saw him.
I was back home in Idaho when I got word from his caretaker that Earl had passed away in his sleep about a week later.
When I retired and moved to Arizona, I thought that it was all going to be about me; golfing, movies, trips. I selfishly thought that now, finally, I could do all the things I’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time.
I was wrong!
I was shocked when I would encounter someone in Las Palmas who would tell me that they had just run into Earl and he said that I was his best friend. When I heard this it made me humble and honored beyond words.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my moments spent with Earl were like being in a classroom. Earl was teaching me about friendship. He was teaching me about loyalty. He was teaching me about humility. He was teaching me about respect. The lessons that I learned from Earl will last for a lifetime.
What I’m realizing about retirement is that it isn’t all about me.
It’s about everyone else!