A Life Well Lived
by Susan Shull
I love old men.
Not dirty old men. But the nice kind, who wear bib overalls over their worn flannel shirts, a tiny-bit soiled seed corn cap from their favorite company on their flattened hair, and work boots.
The kind with hands that have worked hard and been dirty and tightened bolts and used hammers to bang that part into place.
Hands that are rough and have a little bit of oil left under fingernails that just will not come out even after a scrubbing with the little brush his wife brought home from Rural King.
Hands that have held the tender fingers of babies, passed out gum to the children and communion bread to the parents at church.
Hands that whittled sticks or applied a necessary lesson to a rear end if the lesson must be learned.
Hands that wiped tears and clapped together with joy.
I have been lucky to know lots of wonderful old men like this and recently we said goodbye to one.
Many years ago…
Don retired from farming and started refinishing furniture. That’s what brought our pickup with three little boys and me crammed into the front seat to Don and Jean’s beautiful old white farmhouse set on a yard with big, old shade trees, several out buildings and their beautiful barn just down the road a bit. In the bed of the truck would be my latest farm auction treasure.
No matter what condition the table or chest or busted chairs or kitchen cabinet, Don would glue and sand and repair and make it beautiful and useful again. Many of these pieces Brad, my husband, would look at and shake his head and grin, positive that nothing could be done to fix them. He trusted me though, and never discouraged me from taking them to my furniture whisperer. We still use lots of them 25 years later!
Don and I connected over my humble junk and dreams of how it could look when he was done. Our boys and I loved going there. He would show me what he was working on and the boys his tools. Don, Jean and I would visit while the boys played with the cats and ran around the yard exploring. The workshop smelled of wood shavings and varnish and old dirt. I loved that smell of possibility.
Eventually, our house had enough furniture and I didn’t have time to go to auctions anymore, so I lost touch with Don and Jean. However, he came back into our lives a short time ago when we started farming some of his ground. The little boys who Don used to tease and entertain and listen to were now men.
Jean was no longer with us, but Don was just as special as ever, even if we did need to speak right up for him to hear us. I was so glad to visit with him again.
He was such a kind, gentle man.
At his funeral, I learned that this humble man who lived on a hill at the top of the river bottoms was a decorated WW2 Veteran. He saw much of the world when he was a young man, saved the life of at least one fellow soldier, and earned 4 Bronze Battle Stars. He was a hero in more ways than one.
A life well lived is a beautiful thing, and has nothing to do with possessions or big bank accounts or being known by lots of people. Loving well, being kind, smiling at those we meet, creating beautiful things, and thinking of others will do the trick.
It’s made me wonder what kind of life I’m living. What kind of life are you? The beginning of 2016 seems a good time to reflect and possibly make some changes so it can be said of us, “Hers was a life well-lived.”
Happy eternity, Don. You won’t be forgotten.
Susan lives with her husband on their grain farm in Illinois. When she isn’t driving a tractor (Ok, she only does that occasionally) or taking meals and snacks to her farmers, she can be found teaching Holy Yoga or busy with her grandchildren. Susan taught junior high Language Arts in her former life and is now a Co-Director of a nonprofit ministry for women called The Push Ahead.