On Saturday, when we arrived at the Flying J, we filled up with gas and propane and then I unhooked the car from the rig. When everything was filled up, I moved the rig around back to a quiet part of the parking lot that was behind the store. This wasn’t part of the usual trucker area, but an area where the “bobtails” (just the truck part of the combination)could park. Like I mentioned in my last post, another motorhome was parked there so I backed in next to them.
That evening we had supper inside at Denny’s. When we were filling up with gas, we had noticed a young man and his dog, hanging out in front of Flying J. He wasn’t panhandling or anything…just looked road weary and hot. His dog looked like my son’s dog; like he might have some Rhodesian Ridgeback in him. The man had a huge pack on his back, but was very clean and well kept. We didn’t give much thought to this duo and thought maybe they were catching their breath and getting ready to hit the road.
When my son called me around 3 a.m. that his dad had passed, we were up for the day. A couple hours later we went into the store to get something to eat and found this young man and his dog, sleeping under a small tarp on the sidewalk, around the corner from the entrance to the store. We could see the dog’s paws sticking out from under the tarp and knew he was curled up next to his buddy, getting some rest before setting out the next day. It broke our hearts to see this and it stuck with me as we walked back to the rig.
I waited till I thought that they were awake and went out to talk with the young man to see what his story was. I had filled a large zip-lock bag with dog food for the pup and grabbed a couple treats from Boomer’s container. As I approached the young man he was walking around in almost the same spot we had seen them sleeping. The pup had a rawhide toy that he was playing with. I asked the young man where he was headed and he said he was going to Wyoming to visit some family. He had spent the winter in NY and was hitchhiking up to the Cheyenne area. He was hoping to get a job driving truck. He was very polite and humored this mom’s questions of “do you have money”, “do you have food” and “what do you need”. He said that he needed socks so off I went into the store, hoping that Flying J stocked something so basic but knowing that they aren’t exactly a Wal-Mart either. They did have a 6-pack of socks so I bought them and took them back out to him. I gave him the dog food and he started re-arranging his backpack to find room for it. He said he wanted to get over to the TA truck center because that was on the route he needed to go north on. He had pulled a muscle walking so many miles the day before and was trying to rest up a little before heading out again. The heat of standing out on the highway for several hours had taken a toll on his dog so it was good that they stopped for the night. Once I came back to the rig and told Linda about our discussion, she went out and asked him how far it was to the TA plaza and he told her 7 miles. She loaded him and his dog into the Xterra and headed out to take them up the road so they could get a start from the TA. She said he was so appreciative of the ride and she gave him $20 to give him a couple meals for the next leg of his trip.
It was a small interaction but one that we felt really drawn to, that sad Sunday morning. My heart was so heavy for Joel and my kids but I know that as generous as Joel was, for all of his life, he would be proud. Joel spearheaded the campaign in the Sayre/Waverly area in 2011 when so many homeowners were devastated by the flood. Times when I would chat with him or exchange e-mails, he was helping someone rebuild this or that and the rebuilding continues until today. He served on the Salvation Army board and loved everything that he did with them. The Valley Business Alliance was such a huge part of his life and he so loved to help others in any way he could. He never asked for anything for himself and got by with so little. His heart was so full of generosity and compassion for others. He played Santa Claus for many years at the Sayre Theatre and this year he sent me an e-mail of an interaction with a child that touched him so deeply. When he asked this particular little boy what he wanted for Christmas the little boy teared up and said, “Why can’t everyone just get along ? Why can’t everybody just love one another?” I’m not sure that Santa had an answer for that little boy but I can almost guarantee you that Joel gave that little boy a big hug before he climbed down off his lap. He was very moved that something like that would come from the lips of a small child. Things like that touched him. Joel was very sentimental and not a Mother’s Day would go by that he didn’t send me an e-mail and thank me for Becky and Jay. He loved all of his kids and grand-kids so much and felt that they were such a blessing to him. I think that blessing flowed the other way too….they were blessed, for too short a time, but blessed nevertheless with a father who was such a great role model of love, selflessness, compassion and friendship. He will be greatly missed but his legacy lives on in them and in all of us, should we decide to help our fellow man. What do you want your legacy to be ?