by Lamar Taylor
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HIRE THIS WRITER
by Lamar Taylor
Handy’s house was a little ramshackle structure at the edge of town. He had no family close by. It was said that he had a daughter down in Albuquerque, but no one in Hayfork had ever seen her. Once in a while, he and his old pickup would disappear for a few days. Folks figured he’d gone to see her.
His real name was Andy Miller, but he was such a good handy man, people took to calling him Handy. He never seemed to lack for anything, and he always had a smile on his face. “Fella told me one day a frown takes more muscles than a smile, so I figured I’d just smile through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Besides, why frown when we’re so blessed by the Lord?”
Kids loved Handy’s stories. He’d been many places and seen a lot. He was a home-spun philosopher of sorts and knew a lot about machinery, carpentry, and farming.
Friends had offered to help him fix up his house, but he’d just say, “Don’t you worry none. I’ll have me a mansion someday.”
One day, Handy just up and died. When Sheriff Frank Chavez found him, he was slumped over his kitchen table with his head on his old worn Bible. It was turned to John 14. Almost the whole town turned out for his funeral. The choir sang, I’ve Got a Mansion Just over the Hilltop. Handy finally had his “mansion.”
Several weeks later, a couple was seen at Handy’s house. A faded funeral wreath still hung on the door. The woman appeared to be crying, wiping her eyes and leaning on the man.
The next morning, Pastor Simmons heard a knock at his door. It was the couple who had been seen at Handy’s house.
“Pastor Simmons,” the lady said, “I’m Handy’s daughter, Lottie McNeal, and this is my husband, Dan.”
“I’m glad to meet you. Please come in. We had heard that he had a daughter,” said Pastor Simmons, “but we never saw you around.”
“It was Daddy’s wish,” she replied. “He said we—Dan and I—are respectable people and it wouldn’t look right if we were seen associating with him.”
“But he went to see you, didn’t he? You had to associate with him then.”
“Yes,” said Dan, “but when he came to our house, it was as a gardener or a ‘fixit’ man. He’d make repairs around our home and work in the yard. Didn’t want to ruin our reputation, he said. Said it was enough just to be around us and his grandchildren. He had this strange sense of pride, I guess.”
“Well, he was a well-respected man in Hayfork. He touched the lives of almost everyone here.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” responded Lottie. “Daddy didn’t get that respect when I was growing up. He was an activist during the civil rights movement. But then he got disillusioned and started drinking. Once, in a drunken rage, he hit my mother. She told him to get out and never come back. He tried to make amends, but she never forgave him. We lost track of him until after she passed away. He showed up at our house one day, wanting to know if we had some work he could do. I didn’t recognize him at first. Anyway, I hope he found some peace here.”
“We never knew about his past. As for his finding peace, he was the most peaceful man I knew. Nothing ever seemed to bother him, and he always had a smile on his face. He came occasionally to our church, but he almost always sat on the back pew. Even from there you could hear his hearty baritone. He seemed to love all the songs we sang, from the old hymns to the more contemporary songs of today.”
“Mother told me he was part of a singing group in his younger days. Anyway, the folks we’ve met here in Hayfork speak highly of you. They said you did a very nice service for him and that he is now in a better place.”
“I appreciate their compliments. It was an honor for me to conduct his service.”
“We appreciate what you and the people of Hayfork did for Daddy. He told us this was the best place he’d ever lived.”
“Well, your father certainly made an impact on this town. It was once very racially divided. He was the one most responsible for tearing down that divide. He was a natural-born peace-maker.”
Lottie responded, “I’m glad to hear that. Mother told me that he felt like such a failure after his involvement in the civil rights movement. By the way, where was he buried?”
“He’s in the Hilltop Cemetery just east of town. You can’t miss it. Look for the grave with all the artificial flowers piled on top of it. It’s near the southeast corner of the cemetery. The church is going to put up a stone marker for your father. Is there anything special you’d like to have on it?”
A tear appeared in Lottie’s eye. “When he was working at our house, he would sing a lot, but mostly one old hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.” I think that’s what he’d want. We must go now, but we have something for your church.”
“Yes. Dan’s a lawyer and Daddy had him draw up a will. Daddy wanted to bless your church after he died.”
Dan handed Pastor Simmons an envelope. “He knew you had some building needs and repairs. Hope this will help some.”
“I wish I could thank him personally.”
“Just your acceptance of him was thanks enough. Daddy was a frugal man. Didn’t spend much on himself, as you probably could tell. But he was able to save a little, and even helped us a few times.”
“He was a generous man in every way. He also helped some here in Hayfork.”
“Thanks, Pastor Simmons, for how you and the people of Hayfork blessed him.”
“Your father blessed us.”
After they drove away, Pastor Simmons called Kim, the church treasurer, and told her about Handy’s gift. “I’ll bring it down to your office right away.”
That evening, the phone rang. “This is Randy Simmons.”
“Pastor, this is Kim.”
“Hi, Kim, how’s it going? Did you get Handy’s gift taken care of?”
“Yes, I did. I know you don’t want to know who gives what to the church. And that’s as it should be. But I just thought you needed to know about Handy’s gift.”
“Well, I don’t think it’s necessary, but…”
“There was a bank check for $25,000 made out to the church and also the deed to his property, signed over to the church. I took it to our lawyer, and he said it was all proper and legal.”
Pastor Simmons sat down.
“Pastor, are you still there?”
“Yes, yes, I’m just overwhelmed. I had no idea.”
“I know. It blew me away, too. I didn’t expect Handy to have that kind of money.”
“Well, his daughter said he had been very frugal, never spending much on himself.”
“Obviously. Well, gotta go. Just thought you’d like to know.”
“Yeah. Thanks. Thanks a lot, Kim.”
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