Pardon me, if you can spare just a moment I would like to introduce you to my very good friend, Rudy. Oh yes, I know what you’re thinking. You’re afraid to speak your mind fearing that those words might create an aura of awkwardness. It’s true that Rudy and I are some years apart in age. To be more to the point there are some seven and twenty years difference in our ages but both Rudy and I considered that no more than a number and found the difference in our ages to be most assuredly insignificant.
As I sat in that quite uncomfortable chair; that chair in room 214 of the impersonal and anesthetic nursing home room I thought about the last twelve years of my life and my friendship with Rudy. I recalled that I first met Rudy at the local golf course shortly after moving to the area. I can’t begin to explain it but I liked him from the first moment we spoke and I knew we were destined to become good friends.
I really only came to know the older gentleman from encounters at the golf course but the moments spent on the tee boxes, on the greens and in the clubhouse were time well spent and savored. During those well remembered moments Rudy shared with me the story of his life; and what a life it was.
Rudy talked about his childhood and his brother Walt. He always referred to Walt as, “My Bud.” I was captivated by the stories of Rudy riding the rails as a teenager. For almost two years he crossed this great country in freight cars pulled by great locomotives. He called it a carefree and adventurous time in his life and spoke as if every young boy should experience that undertaking prior to growing into manhood.
As Rudy aged, his eyesight began to fail and his hearing was poor at best. Even the small amplifier that rested inside his ear often failed to enable him to understand my words. I recall that, on occasion, I had to point to my ear which became the indication that the earpiece was emitting a low and annoying squeal. Rudy recognized the gesture and adjusted the hearing aid.
Between stories about his military service during the Second World War Rudy hit golf balls from the tee boxes that landed in the centers of fairways. I became used to assuming the unofficial role of his caddy and when Rudy asked, “Where did it go,” I pointed to the middle of the shortgrass. I didn’t mind acting as his caddy.
There was a day which I will never forget; one that let me know just how good a friend Rudy was. My wife died on a warm July morning several years ago. I, as you might imagine, remember that morning and that day quite vividly. A few days passed, or maybe even a week, but I returned to the golf course.
The first person to approach me was, well you guessed it, Rudy. He put his hand on my shoulder then, without speaking a single word, removed his wallet from his back pocket. Then, and only after opening the wallet did he speak.
“I have something to show you.” He held open the wallet and removed a small photograph. The photograph was of an attractive woman but I hadn’t yet understood the point he was trying to make or the reason for showing me that photo. “She’s a nice looking woman. Who is she?” Rudy looked at me and as he returned the photo to his wallet he said, “This is a picture of my wife. She died some years ago and I know how you feel. Now, let’s play some golf.” I didn’t say much but did manage to say, “Okay.”
As the years of golf with Rudy passed, his hearing became worse, he saw the flight of his golf ball less often and his memory began to suffer. However those things didn’t matter to me and I still looked forward to days at the golf course and conversations with my good friend.
More time passed and with that passage of months and years I continued to go to the golf course but my days of receiving putting lessons from Rudy became fewer. The aging man was most noticeably absent from more and more Friday and Saturday morning golf games. Who would be there to tell me that he won the last hole and say, “I’ve got the box?”
I sat in that back ache birthing nursing home chair for some time while occasionally speaking a word or two but there was no response. He just lay there sleeping. I decided to read to Rudy thinking he might stir but after reading several passages there was no acknowledgement that he heard a single word. I talked about my golf game, “I think my putting is getting better,” but still there were no words and not even one eyelid fluttered.
After the passage of a long quiet time I left, saying goodbye as I exited the room. Goodbyes are important. I asked the woman at the desk if I might leave a note for Rudy’s daughter, Judy. “Sure thing, here is a piece of paper and a pen is in that cup on the counter.” I left a note for Judy saying that I was sorry I missed her.
As I drove away from the nursing home and on my way home I was certain of one thing. My friend’s life would surely come to an end very soon. Rudy died two days later, never regaining alertness; never uttering another single word.
Far too often death comes to the young and the innocent without reason and far too soon; that car accident that takes the life of a small child or the slip and fall from a ladder as a young man helps his elderly neighbor patch that leaky roof.
However, death took its time when calling for Rudy. The life taker waited until Rudy was ready and did not intervene in Rudy’s life path until that ninety five year old body was worn out. I believe that the cause of Rudy’s demise was that of a worn out body. He used that thin human frame every waking minute until it was no longer functional. It was just plain used up and worn out.
I believe that life is loaned to each of us, not given and it is up to each and every one of us to make that life meaningful. Well, Rudy certainly lived a purposeful and full life. He gave to this world much more than he took and after his last word, his last breath and when he stood before his maker I believe I know what was said.
“Rudy, young man, I’m looking at the details of your life and thank you for taking such very good care of what I loaned you some five and ninety years ago.” I only hope that the hearing deficient man could hear God’s words.
I have been told that the young of years lament the death of a friend or loved one more so than do the elderly. It is said that those of advanced years have grown accustomed to death and the pain it often brings. Maybe that’s so, nevertheless Rudy’s death diminishes me and the world I live in but it makes heaven a far better place. As long as my life goes on so will my memories of my friend, Rudy Melton.