Food For Thought

My Friend Carlos

by Audrey Hingley, Contributing Writer


Audrey Hingley

The first time I saw Carlos, I only saw the exterior: a man with a white beard in his early 70s, dressed in a flannel shirt with a wool cap pulled down tightly on his head to ward off the winter chill.

It was almost closing time when he entered Hingley’s At The River, the small retail furniture and accessories store my husband and I own in Urbanna, Va., a Colonial port town on the banks of the Rappahannock River. I remember he asked about the decorative ironwork crafted by my brother-in-law that provides a holder for the shop’s swinging sign.

That first encounter began a friendship lasting nearly a year. Carlos became a regular visitor, dropping by for a cup of coffee and conversation. He was a witty, quiet man with a gentle, humble, unassuming spirit. I learned he was divorced and had grown children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I learned he was still employed at a winery, where he had forged wrought-iron works, explaining his interest in our store’s iron sign holder. He told me he was a cancer survivor and a volunteer with cancer support groups.

We talked about everything: world events, the impact of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on our country, furniture, the writing I do, books, health issues and God. Carlos was a searcher for spiritual truth, and as a Christian I encouraged him to read the Bible. I still remember the day he dropped by to show me his nicely bound, newly purchased Bible. I suggested he might want to buy a cover for it, and he later came by to show off his newly covered Bible and told me about a Bible study he had started attending at a local church. There were several times I prayed with him, especially about some troubling health issues that he said seemed to mystify the doctors he consulted.

Winter turned into spring, then summer. I had known Carlos about eight months when my husband and I took him to dinner one warm July night. Carlos was always reticent when asked about his life. I knew he was born in New York and raised in Connecticut, but when I asked how he came to Virginia he said, “Oh, you don’t want to know about that!” We convinced him we’d love to hear about it. We learned that Carlos had once worked as a fire lookout ranger in Montana. He had been an Air Force pilot and a glider instructor. He had navigated solely by sextant a 1929 wooden sailboat across the Atlantic Ocean in the 1970s and cruised the Mediterranean. On one U.S. sailing trip, his wooden boat needed work and someone mentioned that Deltaville had world-class wooden-boat builders and experts. He found his way by water to Virginia, a place he had never been, and never left.

When Carlos died suddenly in Septem­ber, we attended his memorial service, met several of his children and learned there was much more we had not known about him: he held a master’s degree; he had taught high school science; he had initiated a planetarium program for a Connecticut school system; he had taught himself to sail as a boy with a dinghy fitted with bed-sheet sails sewn by his mother.

My husband and I started volunteering in nursing homes when we were in our 20s, and have always believed older members of society have the wisdom of years and experience to share with younger generations. Yet on that very first encounter with Carlos I only saw white hair, white beard and an older man. Because I didn’t yet know him, I didn’t know what to make of him. But I treated him with kindness and courtesy and he became my friend, and my life is the richer for it.

In recent days I’ve thought a lot about aging, concluding  that it often means invisibility. How often have you seen — and perhaps dismissed — someone as simply “an old man” or “old woman”? Everyone has a story to tell. Every individual life has meaning, beauty and purpose. 

Dig beneath people’s exteriors just a little, and you might be pleasantly surprised. You might learn something. You might have your life enriched. You might discover for yourself the Biblical advice that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

You might meet a friend like Carlos.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: bsherrod@odec.com, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.

 

 

 

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