Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Friend Harvey

I first met Harvey and his beloved Mae at the TH one Sunday evening. They were with their daughter Connie and their son Kevin, and they were moving into the Chateau, the seniors' residence a block away from me.

Harvey let it slip that he liked banana cream pie; so I made one and Dad and I took it over to them the very next evening to say welcome to the neighbourhood. They talked about wanting to get into a good Bible study, and Dad invited them to the one at the TH on Wednesday evenings.

That Wednesday, Harvey and Mae were among the first to arrive.

Mae sparkled and glowed, drawing each of us into her warmth and joy. And Harvey ... Harvey sat there watching her, beaming quietly, unable to quite believe that he was the person that this girl loved; after over 50 years, he still couldn't quite believe that she had married him.

They had moved to Three Hills from their beloved farmstead in Boyle because Harvey had had to have hip surgery and was frailer than could support working the farm, and Three Hills was closer to some of their kids. I would visit them from time to time at the Chateau, and Mae told me that while she was so grateful that they were comfortable, she mourned the loss of her farm home, of the only real home Harvey had lived in for his whole life. She loved to entertain and have young people around her. She was a popular speaker at local women's meetings, sometimes effecting the wardrobe and mannerisms of Minnie Pearl. But she loved her Harvey and loved that though his hip and his heart ached on occasion, he was so good to her and he loved God and enjoyed nothing more than time spent studying his Bible.

They came to our Wednesday studies as often as they could and I got to know them quite well. Winter found them heading down to Texas, as they had done for several years, to help out in whatever way they could at a missionary camp. When they arrived back to Three Hills in the spring, Mae was bubbling over with tales from their latest adventure.

And then the next Wednesday she wasn't there. Harvey came still and gave us updates: she wasn't feeling well ... the doctors thought maybe pneumonia and she was in the Three Hills hospital ... now they weren't sure what it was, but they were admitting her to Red Deer for tests ... she had some fluid in the area of her lungs, but she was back in the Three Hills hospital ... she had taken a turn for the worse and was back in Red Deer ... could Dad give him a ride to Red Deer to visit his girl? It was cancer, and it was bad.

And on July 1, 2009, Dominion Day came for Mae. Illness and pain and suffering were ended, and she said goodbye to Harvey and her children and hello to the One who had dominion over death, the only One who loved her more than her Harvey did.

The funeral was up north in Boyle; Harvey returned to the Chateau without his queen. And he tried to pick up the threads of his life - threads that had lost much of the bright colours and rich textures - and he started to weave them together as best he could. He returned to the Wednesday evenings at the TH, and he started walking down town as often as possible. But she had been his memory and his voice and his companion, and he was so lonely.

I was sitting in a purple chair one morning when he trundled by with his walker. I went outside and told him that if he was so inclined, he could stop by the TH for a visit on his way back from town. He was so inclined. We sipped cranberry juice (his favourite!) and had a little egg salad sandwich, and we talked about life and Mae and his kids and about how good God was to him. I invited him back any time I was around, and he came by quite a bit.

I loved to hear his stories. One of my favourites - and one that he enjoyed  sharing, albeit with great humility and a sense of awe - was of how he and Mae got together. She was a teacher and was supposed to be teaching in the area he lived. But due to one thing and another, she couldn't make it to the school that year. "And that was in the mercy of God," Harvey would marvel. "If she had come there that year, she wouldn't have looked at me; I was not a nice fellow back then."

But in that year Harvey gave his heart to God and cleaned up his act. The very next year, Mae did end up coming out to the Boyle area and met Harvey. "I didn't deserve it, but somehow she liked me!" he would exclaim. They were married and had four girls and two boys.

The years were not always easy. He had to take jobs way up north, away from the family, leaving Mae to fend for them all at home while he tried to earn enough to keep them going through the winter. Crops failed. Livestock died. Kids moved away. But Mae loved him through it all. And he adored her.
Sometimes other people would be visiting me at the TH when Harvey would come by, and everyone who had the chance to meet this sweet, funny, gentle man quickly came to love him too. In the Wednesday group he never said too much but he was valued by each of us there. When he couldn't make it, his absence was felt keenly.

And then there was talk of him moving to Pincher Creek where a daughter lived not too far away. And then there was talk of May. And then last week, Errol called me and said that it would be the following Thursday.

On Saturday evening Harvey, Connie and two of the other daughters came to the TH for supper one more time. I told the girls how Harvey had come to visit me on the previous Monday and not only had he eaten his own pie ("I can't decide between apple and cherry - maybe half of each?!") but he had also polished off the half piece on my plate that I couldn't finish. And he took the other two halves home with him for later .. he confided that they don't get much pie at the Chateau and he loved sweet things ...

And now it was Wednesday and we were going to have to say goodbye to our dear friend. Connie dropped him off and hugged me tight in the kitchen area. She had planned to stay for the study, but just couldn't. We shared a few tears together as we hugged each other and she asked, "Do you still think about your Mum too?" "Every day," I confirmed. "This is so hard," she whispered as she slipped out of the door into the driving rain and the whipping wind.

Our study this evening was from I Peter 4:12-19 and its heading was "Going Through Fiery Trials". Dad had written on our study sheet: "Trials are not an 'if' in the Christian life; they are a 'when' and 'how'." He compared how James and Peter both wrote their letters to people who were "strangers and aliens in a foreign land." I couldn't help but think that this was going to be our Harvey tomorrow; however, for the first time in half a century he wouldn't have his Mae to ease the path for him and draw new friends to them.

But Dad was continuing on: another instruction Peter and James gave was this: Don't just have a spirit of resignation or stoicism in times of trial and difficulty, but rather rejoice. Our times are in God's hands and He will arrange for the best, the most fitting time for the events of our lives.

Our refreshment time was bittersweet this evening: I had made a cake for Harvey ("What kind of cake do you like?" I had asked him earlier. "One with lots of icing!" he joked, and so I made a rich chocolate cake with raspberry jam and chocolate butter cream filling, and chocolate buttercream icing. "Give me that corner piece," Harvey cajoled Jenny.)

No one was in a hurry to leave. But even the rain and the thunder finally, reluctantly, came to an end and as I ran upstairs to try to find my camera I was wishing that Mae and Mum were here. Either of those two ladies would have known the exact right things to say to this dear man who had, moments earlier, told us in his little farewell speech that the verse "To be absent from the body means to be present with the Lord" had become so very precious to him since July 1. And that as he moved on from here and this circle of friends that had meant so much to Mae and him, if we didn't see each other again on this earth we would be reunited some day in heaven.

I spied BethAnne outside and went to join her. There, directly over the Chateau, was a clear strong shaft of rainbow - God's promise that He would never leave Harvey nor forsake him. God's reminder through Mum's favourite symbol that though she was absent from us she was present with Him.

My dear friend shook Dad's hand and gave me a big hug and said, "I'm going to miss this place"; and then he set his walker on its last trip from the TH to the Chateau and slowly made his way, between the puddles and rivulets of water, away from us.

At the bottom of the study notes Dad had reproduced a poem by Annie Johnson Flint, What God Hath Promised:

God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labour, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.

And so we sang him on his way:

Goodnight, our God is watching o'er you,
Goodnight, His mercies go before you,
Goodnight, and we'll be praying for you,
So goodnight, may God bless you.

1 comment:

  1. on a day when i'm missing my father-in-law so much i can hardly breathe, i needed to read this. thank you for the reminder of "hope", of joy.


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