In her own words: A gentleman named Joe
Each year when I see that Valentine’s Day is coming up, I remember a gentleman named Joe.
When I spent the winters in Florida, I volunteered at the local homeless shelter, helping to make and serve the meals. There was a “regular” named Joe who came in. He was a man with a small build who walked with a cane. Each time he came, he was offered a shower and a chance to launder his clothing. He always turned the offer down, stating it wasn’t needed. Needless to say, Joe’s presence was very noticeable. He usually sat at a table by himself, and didn’t visit much with others. Because he walked with a cane, I always got his drink, filled his plate, and carried it to his desired table. He would say a quiet, shy “thanks” and proceed to mumble to himself as he ate. Then he would leave.
Because it was Valentine’s Day, I brought a couple of bags of small candy hearts that had cute little sayings on them. I put a dish filled with the candy in the center of each table. Soon Joe arrived. As usual I followed him to his table with his plate of food. He spotted the candy hearts and asked where they came from. I told him I brought them and they were for him. Tears soon filled his eyes as he said “thank you.” I asked him if I could give him a hug. He looked at me as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He said, “Yes, I don’t remember ever getting a hug!” I proceeded to give him a warm hug and wish him a happy Valentine’s Day. As he left, I could hear him repeat to himself over and over, “She gave me a hug, she loves me!”
A week later, I noticed that Joe wasn’t coming in for his meal. I asked one of the staff about his absence and was told something that I’ll never forget. The day after I saw him, he was struck down and killed by a speeding car while he was trying to cross a street. Along with my tears, a thought kept going thru my mind: He died still feeling my hug and knowing that somebody loved him.
Everyone, in spite of their lifestyle and circumstances, deserves to feel and know they are loved.
Darlene Schluensen lives in Bettendorf.