I met a man today who had faced death, looked it in the eye, saw the peace that stepping into Heaven would mean, received the assurance that his family would be taken care of by The One that loved them more than he did…and he waited.
That was on a Friday.
Then Sunday came and when he opened his eyes he saw the ceiling of a room and the worried face of his wife.
He felt disappointment.
He thought he would be in Heaven, but he was in the hospital room at Vanderbilt.
His wife had started his story after I had mentioned that I worked for a publishing company. She said that her husband had recorded his story, but she thought he should write it for a book. She had written what he had said into the recorder down on a piece of paper, but she knew that was not how books were published. My husband asked her if she would mind sharing the story.
While swatting at those crazy winter-time lady bugs congregating around the window, she started telling the story.
“It was the smell of blood that did it, we were killing hogs.”
In the midst of her telling, he came in, the one that had lived through that horrific experience.
Andy, a simple man, living in a plain world, carried a box of cheese, dipped his head to us while his wife told his story and he put the cheese in the refrigerator in the corner. We were standing in the middle of their little store in a community not far from where my father was born in an old potato shed across the river some 75 years ago.
The walls were full of solid colored fabrics in hues of blues, browns, purples, and greens (nothing bold, like red). There was an isle of every kind of vitamin or herbal supplement imaginable. Along with tins of loose buttons, there were cords for treadle sewing machines, simple lined notebooks, baby spoons, and suspenders of every length.
Outside, along with a few cars, there was a horse and buggy hitched to a rail. Later, mother of either the man or the woman, rode up on her tri-bike with a basket on the back. She was bringing lunch, wrapped up in towels to keep, what seemed to be soup, warm. We were invited to join them for their meal, but we went on our way.
But his story stayed on our minds as we found our own meal.
It is a story that needs to be told. He should have died, and did at least 3 times. He said he wished his children would tell their part of the story, but they still, after 5 years, couldn’t even mention it. He, like most people who live through something amazing, enjoyed the telling of the story.
He was headed home with one of his tamest horses. That horse didn’t care about any noises from passing trucks or barking dogs. She pulled her buggy without ever faltering or giving into panic…until that Friday. Andy’s daughter was with him on the buggy and his brother was working in the field not far away. His wife was at home, in pain, due to the need of double knee replacement surgery.
The smell of the freshly killed hogs was still in the air and as the horse stepped onto a rail-less bridge, she began to prance uneasily. Fear made a once docile animal, nervous and uncooperative. Andy pulled hard on the reins, trying to control her, but nothing would help. She stepped closer to the edge of the bridge, one foot away from falling. Andy pulled back on the reins as hard as he could, his daughter jumped off the wagon, intending to run to the head of the horse and calm her down. She barely landed on the wooden bridge when the horse fell off the bridge, pulling the wagon and Andy with her.
Andy’s brother said that he saw him fly through the air and land, face first, in waist deep river water. The horse did a somersault off the bridge and lay motionless in the water, the buggy twisted behind her.
When you hear someone tell a story like this, you know that there are moments that words can’t explain in their telling. Like the sound of a screaming horse, the crash of a 1000 pounds of flesh hitting the water. The cracking and twisting of metal and wood as the buggy hits rock and water. Then there’s the screaming of the people, of Andy as he flew through the air, of his brother running through the field, of his daughter, standing on the bridge looking down at all the carnage.
No wonder she won’t talk about it.
His daughter rushed down to Andy, sliding down the river bank, wadding into the waters, the weight of her wet skirts pulling at her.
It was January…you know how cold those waters were.
She was too weak to pull her father out of the water, too weak to even raise his face so that he could take a breath.
Andy didn’t tell much after that, how they got him out of the water or how they got help since cell phones aren’t something these plain folks carry with them. But help came, an ambulance was called and then life-flight. His wife was brought to his side. She was told not to see him like that, to expect him to die, but she went to his side, touching his face as only a woman can when it’s the man she loves laying on the ground.
His face had hit rock under the water. There was a gash above his eyebrows so large you could put four fingers into it. Both eyes were nearly out of their sockets, his noise was busted, 8 teeth were knocked out, his jaw was broken in a couple of places. Check bones were crushed. Both wrists were broken and his neck.
His face had started to swell, big and round. And Andy was conscious through it all. He began gagging on his own blood and they had to do an emergency tracheostomy there in the field.
He said he realized that he was fixing to die, that there was a choose to make, Heaven or Hell. His assurance of “being right with God long ago” set his choice. Heaven. He said that he saw his life, simple as it was, as a farmer, husband, and father and he worried about those he would leave behind and God assured Andy that He could take care of his family. Heaven was waiting.
I asked Andy if he saw Heaven. He said no, he just felt the peaceful transition of preparing for Heaven, of accepting that destination. He was at peace while the world was falling apart around him. He has no memories of those two days. Just that peaceful bliss and then waking up on Sunday.
Of course now, he smiles and point his wrists with a total of 16 screws holding them in place, the eye socket that was rebuilt and the new teeth. His nose looks a little flatten and there’s a scar across his eyebrows.
And he has the most beautiful smile.
I think it is a story that needs to be told, more than this blog can do. A story of living a very simple life, barely acknowledging the advancements of technology. A story of family and friends supporting each other, agreeing to be a tourist attraction to the rest of the world. And for that moment, having to step out of their comfort zone to save their father, their brother. How strange that must have been for them. I think hearing the family’s stories would be heartbreaking and encouraging. It would be a story of faith and strength.
Andy was sent home with a feeding tube in his chest and still worked the fields that April.
The horse delivered a colt that April too.
You just never know what story someone has behind their smile. It was worth the asking.