Always Somewhere

Saturday was the blustery gray sort of day that sometimes slams itself right in between a Friday and Sunday of such golden beauty you almost forgive it for being a gloomy slog-fest. Wind gusts that require two hands on the steering wheel. Driving rain. Leaden skies.

All day, all weekend, all week, television and radio across the country had screamed with high-pitched hysteria of coming elections and the certain demise of democracy—a forecast of doom that seems to be shared by all comers, be they blue or red. Social media continued in its unrelenting machinations to twist us all into homegrown enemies with quivering fingers poised to pounce on the phone or the keyboard.

On this wet, gray Saturday I turned it off and went to the funeral of a good man I barely knew. 

A man I wish I knew better.

And it was the sort of funeral I wish each of you could experience, no matter your faith or choice to have none, your age, family situation, chosen work, politics, or any other 21st century descriptor we tack on ourselves and each other.

I first met Grant Minton back in January, a much colder, gloomy gray day, across a spiritless table in a spiritless room. No worries. He brought the spirit with him.

We talked about Hospice of Southern Kentucky, the organization that had brought us together. He was sharp, concise, focused. He crackled with humor, and he never lost sight of what was at the rock bottom foundation of every single thing we were about: our patients and their families.

The traffic accident that caused the injuries that ended up taking his life occurred on his way home at the end of his chaplain’s workday, travelling from a patient’s house to the parsonage he shared with his wife, Tonda, for 27 years at Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Auburn, Kentucky.

Today the church parking lot was full to bursting. I lucked into the very last spot and picked my way in ill-fitting shoes across the puddled pavement, where I was welcomed through a flower-decked door and ushered through the fellowship hall, already warm with the post-funeral meal. I heard the consistent hum of voices, but stopped short at what I found at the top of the stairs.

Photo Courtesy of Auburn Cumberland Presbyterian Church

A beautiful historic sanctuary filled to bursting with people of all ages. Folks older than I, children with their young parents, babes in arms. And not a chair to be had on this gray afternoon.

Why? Because Grant Minton was that sort of guy.

A few weeks shy of his 72nd birthday Grant showed no sign of slowing down. Until last week he pastored this vitally humming church, and worked full-time tending to the dying and their families throughout southcentral Kentucky.

Here’s just a few of the things I learned on Saturday, things I want you to know, too.

Grant had four sons–two were his by birth, two he raised by choice with their mother. All four of those men spoke about their dad, each in ways particular to himself. The image they drew in that stain-glassed room was of a man committed to all people, no matter who they might be or where he might find them.

No matter if they shared his belief in his God. No matter if they had questions. No matter the rejection he could and often did find. He loved them all. 

Grant was prepared. Every single day he carried two things in his pocket: a handkerchief (yes, a real handkerchief), and a pocket knife.

On this day every member of that family, down to the youngest grandchild, held snowy white handkerchiefs pressed to perfection, put to good and frequent use in memory of him.

Grant never gave up, on his family, on his church, on his patients. Simply put: he cared too much to ever stop trying. 

Last week a Hospice nurse shared about a patient who had been reluctant to talk with him. Grant plopped down on the toilet seat pulled up close to her bedside, and right before our nurse’s eyes he won her heart and held her hand.

That’s Grant Minton.

I never knew Grant’s politics. Come to think of it, I don’t know the politics of any person at Hospice. When we come together all that matters are the people before us–the people who reach for a hand, or a hug, or for someone to do nothing more than look them right in the eye.

Grant looked and saw and felt–the man, woman or child before him—saw them as they were in that moment. Because that’s the only thing that mattered.

He was prepared for that moment in ways I wish I could be.

While I stood and listened to his sons’ words and gazed at the light in those stained glass windows, I thought about the people gathered there—all brought together because of this one man.

Members of Grant’s Hospice team waved me on my way

The Hospice doctor who whispered, “I’ll miss talking to him at our meetings every week. I learned about the patients, but that’s when I learned about him, too.”

The nurse and the social worker who saw and shared the results of his work.

His fellow chaplains, members of their mighty band of three, who traversed miles and miles of roads with cell phones buzzing between them—details and camaraderie shared by those three alone.

The young medical resident a mere few days into his Hospice rotation. He’d never even met Grant, but on this rainy afternoon he left his own little family because he knew the team was really going to miss him, and he wanted to be there to honor him, too.

How? How does a single person make that kind of ripple throughout everyone he meets (or maybe has never even encountered?)

One of his sons shared that as the family tenderly went through his things they found a quote written in Grant’s own hand in the back of his Bible:

“I can’t be everywhere, but I’m always somewhere.”

Those words have not left me. I don’t believe they ever will.

I wish each of you could have been with me on that gray Saturday.

I wish those loudly histrionic voices from far away preaching gloom and doom and hate for each other had been there, too.

Because it was real. Because it mattered. Because it will always matter.

Because none of us can be everywhere. But each and every one of us is now, and always will be, somewhere.

I hope I’m a fraction as ready to love somebody, in my little somewhere, as Grant Minton was in his great big one.


The Wild Ones

I have always been a nervous sort of person. Anxious. A nail biter and a forecaster of despair.

The man I married is not. When disaster strikes, he sees opportunity. When danger lurks, he plants his feet and declares boldly, “Bring it on!” I pay the insurance premiums, he climbs on the roof and jumps off.

Some twenty-two years ago, the roof jumper met a man of his own kind. A man the likes of which will never come again, and a man we will miss for the rest of our days.

November, 2000 we took a hard swerve out of the direction our lives were travelling and bought sixty acres in the country. We are not country folk. My husband rode his bike to school until his sophomore year. I have never lived more than a few a minutes from the public library.

We had a neighborhood lot in town. House plans. A builder. And then there was an auction sign.

Tom heard about Dick long before we ever knew him. Folks all over Alvaton said, “You’ve gotta meet Longobardo. He can fix any engine. Make anything run.” 

“Dick is the man.”

With the purchase of land naturally comes the acquisition of a used tractor. A bushhog. Anybody who has ever manhandled a bushhog knows the rule of ownership includes constant repair (especially when operated by a notorious roof jumper).

Running on two wheels with a cell phone in one hand and work documents in the other, Tom flew down the gravel drive that led to Dick’s barn (no barn this: a full-fledged master mechanic’s shop, complete with hydraulic lift, repair manuals dating back decades, more sockets, bolts, and grease than you can imagine). He leapt from his truck, unhitched the bushhog, and squealed off, no doubt still on the phone.

The Door to Dick Longobardo’s Machine Shop

Dick’s sister-in-law, a good Italian visiting from Chicago, watched from the kitchen window, certain Dick had been the unwitting victim of a crime.

Some days later, still having not met Dick, and without even a quick phone call to illuminate the bushhog’s ownership, Tom raced back down the gravel drive. Seeing the repairs had been made, and no one around with whom to settle up, he hitched up the apparatus and sped off.

The sister-in-law shrieked with concern that Dick would never be paid, he had been bushhogged himself, and the ne’er-do-well had made off with his fully repaired equipment. Dick merely shrugged and said, “He’ll be back.”

And Tom was back, more times than can be counted over the next twenty years. 

For these two had found in each other kindred spirits. Roof jumpers who never met a car fast enough, a motorcycle sleek enough, a challenge big enough.

They pushed and prodded each other in the way only two fatherless sons can. They became more than friends, and the bond was unbreakable.

In his late seventies, Dick helped set twenty-five foot 6×6 poles for a treehouse in our backyard. The project took hours. They didn’t stop until night fell and they were called in for supper. He could have kept going until midnight.

At his seventy-fifth birthday party he did figure eights on a four wheeler ATV in his backyard, where he flung himself skyward and came down with a crunch: a broken collar bone. But he never stopped riding that four wheeler. 

He frontloaded brush and trees into the biggest bonfires you have ever seen, and then brought his flamethrower to the party. He planted his own two feet and, like some Roman fire god, brought sky high flames to our back forty.

He fixed Cassie’s little bicycle and later, when she became a driver herself, he taught her how to change her brake light. 

He regaled us with story after story of the hard streets of Chicago, tank driving in Korea, fishing off the coast of California, and his beloved Uptown Garage, the thriving business he built with his own two hands.

With a simple word or two and a gleam in his eye, he recounted time and again the first moment he ever laid eyes on the love of his life for seventy-four years, Dottie. If you were lucky enough to hear him tell that story, you will never forget it. 

He laughed effortlessly and cried easily. Each year found his heart more tender, his sorrows more palpable. But he reveled in every day that he counted a blessing from God. 

At the end of July, at the age of ninety-three, Dick’s finely tuned machine of an Italian heart finally stopped beating. 

But the stories keep coming. 

In February, 2021, at the peak of the pandemic, Tom took his own wild ride on a four wheeler, straight to Dick and Dottie’s, right up the steps and onto their back deck. Dick came to the door, his ever present thick blue bathrobe knotted around his already narrowing waist, in his warm scuffy slippers, and jammie pants. He watched the snowy madness, and shook his head at his alter ego.

He issued paternal warnings, watched with paternal concern. 

These two were the original wild ones of Alvaton, wild lives transformed by God, by love, by each other.

These two were the wild ones, together until the very end. 

All the while, I bit my nails. I watched and worried and forecast certain disaster.

But all the while I have been, and still am, so very glad.

A conversation about The Wild Ones from Dick’s hospital bed