Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I’ve been watching him decline the past several years. He made it look so effortless, so natural and graceful, progressing from cane, to walker, wheelchair and, eventually, bed. I understand there was pain, much effort, resignation, peacemaking, perhaps pleading and storming for those surely would be my reactions to aging and illness. He most certainly was not alone. His wife of 60 years cheerfully did what was necessary to get him to and from dialysis three times a week for years. His son and daughter made frequent long journeys home for extended periods to lovingly assist their parents.
All three tended his bedside the last week, the one in which he chose to forgo dialysis. When I went to visit, it wasn’t somber, but welcoming and an extension of their lifelong gift of hospitality.
I always felt welcomed and special when I visited the Hicklin family. They dropped everything to greet you with a warm hug and kiss and, before you knew it, you’d be whisked off to the kitchen for a goodie or beverage even when it wasn’t a planned party. You just wanted to be with them in their beautifully inviting home.
Funny, one of the last full conversations I engaged in with Charlie was about the kitchen in their Victorian home in a Chicago suburb they left in 1970. “I loved that house you had in Hinsdale,” I remarked. “You even remember it?” Charlie inquired while reclining in bed, body so thin and frail, but bright eyed and clear minded as ever. “Oh, yes, especially the ruffled curtains you used under the sink.” He chuckled. We talked about other odd spaces such as the garage attic. ‘You kids went up there?” “Of course, it was Guy’s hideout. We all went up and hid.” I almost think he winked at me, suggesting we both knew it was the 1960s and chances were our parents were enjoying a cocktail on the patio and not honed into, exactly, where the kids went. It was a different world and there weren’t too many place to go that weren’t safe.
The ALLtime favorite Rose-Hicklin-Slagle* collective memory is of a severely cold New Year’s Eve in Oak Park, another Windy City burb. We always rung in the New Year together. This time in a mission-style home with built-in “naughty” chair and second-floor porch, which was the scene of the crime. We were rough housing as the adults played charades downstairs, got a bit rambunctious and someone locked a few of us out on the porch in sub-zero temps. I believe we were finally rescued, probably within minutes, by an older party-goer. It could easily have been Charlie. After all, he’s the one the adults drafted to quiet another Rose-Hicklin gathering at the farm of Marian’s sister. He did his duty quite admirably though we shortly popped back out of bed, tiptoeing around.
Two years after my family moved to Cincinnati, an initially painful transplant for me and probably everyone else, Charlie took a new job here as well. Amy, their daughter, is three months younger than I and my twin sister. So, essentially, we are family. Guy is just a couple of years older; used to seem like more when we were kids!
Charlie was a gifted artist who could make anything beautiful. Give him a plain cardboard box and he could whip up a giraffe costume or a wonderful accordian screen for the first apartment I shared with my husband, Tad. Charlie hired Tad back then for some freelance art assistance and never ceased to express his appreciation for the help and affirm his talent. Charlie and Marian were always on our guest list when we had major Halloween bashes in those days. Their costumes often outshone the rest and they were always gracious and grateful for the invitation.
We’ve done graduations, weddings, births, retirements, anniversaries together and, now, a passing.
I learned a few things at the memorial for Charlie. Important things. Things I already recognize as profound wisdom for me. Inside a Bible from college, next to the 23rd Psalm, Charlie had scrawled: “Lack of fear is significant.”
The hair stood up on my neck when the celebrant read that. The last week of Charlie’s life, I was struggling to name my fears and surrender them to God. How did Charlie acquire that wisdom at such a young age? It was like he particularly knew I needed to hear that right now. He’d also written a song 30 years ago about having the perfect life and not knowing why. I wish I had the lyrics; it was about awe and gratitude sparked as a boy, but carried throughout his life. Yes, he wrote, there had been pain and tragedy, but also love, color, beauty, family and friends.
I hadn’t cried for Charlie until yesterday because I realized the true gift he had given me: to ferret out the beauty everywhere; to create beauty from the mundane. To revel in that beauty constantly, up until the very end.
The last thing I said to Charlie slipped thoughtlessly from my lips: “Be where you need to be.” “Be where you need to be,” he repeated. “I like that.” “Me, too,” I said surprised at the words, ”perhaps I need to live that as well.”
Charlie is where he needs to be right now and I am learning what I need to learn right now; that “lack of fear is significant.”
Thank you, dear friend!
*Rose is my maiden name and the Slagles were other family friends in Chicago. Our dads all went to University of Iowa together and remained close. So did Charlie’s wife, Marian
• Who has taught me about beauty?
• How have I carried out that lesson?
• What makes friends family?
• How often do I recognize that gift?
• And thank God for it?
when I understand
of the deepest
of my life
and, yet, in
he has left
me another gift
the Truth he learned
long ago that I
blessed I have been
and continue to be
by this beautiful