Mister Vernon died last night. He went easy.
You never met him, but you knew him. He was every white-haired man you’ve ever seen.
He spoke with a drawl. He talked about the old days. He was opinionated. He was American. Lonely.
Miss Charyl, his caregiver, did CPR. She compressed his chest so hard his sternum cracked. She was sobbing when the EMT’s took him.
Caregiving is Charyl’s second job. She’s been working nights at Mister Vernon’s for a while.
She arrived at his mobile-home one sunny day. Mister Vernon was fussy, cranky. A twenty-four carat heart.
She listened to his stories—since nobody else would. He had millions.
He talked about creeks, mudcats, frog gigging, bush hooks, and running barefoot through pinestraw and Cahaba lilies.
And he talked about Marilyn. Marilyn was the center of his life once. His companion. But she was not long for this world.
He talked politics, too. Charyl and he disagreed. Mister Vernon would holler his opinions loud enough to make the walls bow.
He was a man of his time. An oil-rig worker, a logger, a breadwinner, a roughneck. He helped build a country. And a family.
Each day, he’d thumb through a collection of old photos. His favorite: the woman with the warm smile.
Marilyn. The woman who’d helped him make his family. Who’d turned his kids into adults. Adults who had successful lives and successful families. They live in successful cities, they do successful things.
“He sure missed his kids,” says Charyl. “They hardly came to see him. They were so busy.”
Last night, Vernon asked Charyl for a country supper. She lit the stove and tore up the kitchen. She cooked chicken-fried steak, creamed potatoes, string beans, milk gravy.
“Marilyn used to make milk gravy,” he remarked.
She served him peach cobbler. Handmade. The kind found at Baptist covered-dish suppers.
“Marilyn used to make peach cobbler,” he said.
After supper, he shuffled to his easy chair. He watched the news with the volume blasting. He got tired. He shut off the television.
“I’m going to bed,” he said.
Charyl helped him into cotton pajamas. She washed his face. She laid him in bed. She tucked the corners of the quilt beneath his shoulders.
“Sing to me,” said Mister Vernon.
“I wanna hear a song.”
“Dunno what to sing, Mister Vern.”
“How ‘bout the ‘Tennessee Waltz?’”
Charyl cleared her throat.
She sang from memory. Eyes shut. It was more than a melody. It was the favorite song of a man with busy kids. It was his song. His era.
It was girls in faded floral-print. Men in boots. A generation of dirty hands, cutting timber, pigging pipes, and striking arcs.
When she finished, Vernon’s eyes were closed. She kissed his forehead. He was cold.
“I love you, Vernon,” she whispered.
He breathed a sigh. His chest rose and fell just once.
Marilyn was waiting at the gate.
Vernon might be the most average elderly man anyone’s ever heard of. But America will not be the same without him. Neither will his successful kids.
He was beautiful.
And I just thought you ought to know about him.
Sandi in FL. - July 28, 2018 6:29 am
This poignant story about Mister Vernon could really be about anybody’s father or grandfather. Reminds me of something I recently read which holds so much truth: “If you’re fortunate enought to still have your parents, visit them, cherish them, and celebrate them while you can.” (quote from Regina Brett)
GaryD - July 28, 2018 7:28 am
Everyone’s always too busy….until it’s too late. Then, it’s too late. RIP Mr. Vernon.
Keith - July 28, 2018 8:14 am
My first subscribed threat.. thank you
Keith - July 28, 2018 8:15 am
Pete m - July 28, 2018 10:30 am
Very sad but true
Melanie - July 28, 2018 11:06 am
Max Smith - July 28, 2018 11:08 am
Beautiful. Poignant. Sad. Too common, was Mr. Vern’s situation. Kids grown and gone, too busy with themselves to care.
MaryBurns - July 28, 2018 11:42 am
Like, and so true!
Melinda - July 28, 2018 11:46 am
You knocked it out of the park with this one!
Cindy - July 28, 2018 11:49 am
Well, there you’ve gone and done it. I’m a puddle.
JoanS - July 28, 2018 3:24 pm
cronkitesue - July 28, 2018 11:50 am
His kids were probably working two jobs, with no benefits. Since the middle class income was wiped out, most people can’t hardly make ends meet. Feeding and clothing their own children takes all their time. There are lots of lonely old people.
Janet Mary Lee - July 29, 2018 4:50 pm
Truth there. A sad commentary.
Jo Ann - July 28, 2018 12:03 pm
The passing of a generation. Thank you again, Sean. May all of us never be too busy for our loved ones.
EllieLou - September 24, 2018 1:33 pm
Your precious time is the most valuable asset you can choose to share. How you share it tells whom or what you hold dear.
Each of us may be old and lonely one day. Help people feel valued and loved.
Becky Hanks - July 28, 2018 12:24 pm
Thank you for this, Sean. I forwarded it to my husband’s two sons. They live inCalifornia. We live In Alabama.
Michael Guilday - July 28, 2018 12:26 pm
Beautiful story. I pray his children will never feel the loneliness he felt when they are in their 4th quarter of life. Hopefully none of us that read this today that have aging parents will let our parents feel that emptiness as well.
Patti Pignetti - July 28, 2018 12:32 pm
Beautiful writing again.
Karen - July 28, 2018 12:35 pm
I once had a cranky, grumpy white haired patient. He was grouchy, but I realized he had a heart of gold. He just wanted to breathe easier and have his independence. Once he knew I really cared and I was really listening, he softened up. One day I realized he was going to die, because his illness was progressing and there were limits as to what could be done. It hit me, and tears filled my eyes. He looked at me, and his eyes also teared up. We both knew. We never said a word. Two days later, he was gone.
Bo Brown - July 28, 2018 12:42 pm
Mister Vernon from a time when a strong work ethic defined you more than a strong opinion. You made me feel as if I was in the same room with them.
Dru - July 28, 2018 11:30 pm
Well said, Bo!
janiesjottings - July 28, 2018 12:52 pm
Beautifully descriptive story Sean. I love average men and women because they are the ones who built this country and the ones who keep it going. They are the very heartbeat of America. May the average among us always outnumber the others.
Rhonda Howell - July 28, 2018 1:00 pm
Would you hug Charyl’s neck for me next time you see her? Loving caretakers are the heart of God.
Connie - July 28, 2018 1:03 pm
We can all see a little bit of ourselves from time to time in the people you write about…
Peggy Savage - July 28, 2018 1:05 pm
I have a special place in my heart for the ‘older folk’. They have so much to share from a lifetime of liviing. As I enter into the ‘ older folk ‘ arena I am hoping someone will want to hear my stories. We all have stories….
Edna B. - July 28, 2018 1:34 pm
It’s so true. Our children are so busy raising their families and working to pay their bills, they sometimes don’t have time left over to visit with us. As parents we try to understand this. But sometimes tomorrow never comes in time for one last visit. Sad. Sean, you have a wonderful day. Hugs, Edna B.
Carol - July 28, 2018 1:39 pm
RIP! Your not alone. And Thank God for Cheryl’s!
Jeanne Butler - July 28, 2018 2:07 pm
So sad. And that’s my life. My son and grandkids live with me and I am still alone. What a world. Thank God for you Sean. Love
Jack Quanstrum - July 28, 2018 2:42 pm
Thank you Sean for stories like this you just shared. These folks you are the true backbone of our country not all that crap that’s on all the news channels. Thank you again for bringing these truly remarkable people to the forefront of our minds each day. It refreshing!
Terri Boykin - July 28, 2018 3:18 pm
I hope Mr. Vernon is dancing on streets of gold with his lovely bride. Love you much, Sean.
Deborah - July 28, 2018 3:42 pm
Your writing touches the heart . i appreciate your stories and your soulful telling of them. Thank you. My people live in N.Florida. i can relate.v
johnallenberry - July 28, 2018 5:11 pm
Thank you, Sean. Once. Again, you have made me. Richer.
Marcia Zuhlke - July 28, 2018 5:31 pm
?beautiful tribute to all men like him everywhere
Haskel JP - July 28, 2018 6:08 pm
I knew this man and many others just like him. But sadly we’re losing them and they’re not being replaced at the same rate with a younger version. For some reason we’ve been shammed into not having a self reliant personality and that’s what’s truly sad.
Kelly Ray - July 28, 2018 8:32 pm
Another very touching story about the real Americans who make this country Great every day…
Jack Darnell - July 28, 2018 8:48 pm
Probably met Vern several times. I know him now. I hope I am like Vern, but NOT lonely. But we do ot always get our druthers. As I approach 80 I know I am blessed to still have my childhood sweetheart. I don’t want to be lonely! Good post, yep, I agree everyone needs to know Vernon!
Pat - July 28, 2018 8:50 pm
I, too, have had the honor of knowing this man and many like him…certainly including my father and grandfathers. Also including some very dear friends. And you are right Sean, America will never be the same without them…but oh, the memories!
Dru - July 28, 2018 11:33 pm
Sean, you remind us who we are. Thank God.
Pamela McEachern - July 29, 2018 4:57 am
RIP in peace Mr. Vernon, his generation is the backbone of our beloved America and we are the lucky ones that have had the honor to grow up with them.
Peace and Love from Birmingham
Steve Winfield - July 29, 2018 5:49 am
He drove a gasoline tanker truck for Chevron for 39 years. Accident free. Had many awards for it. Was drafted into Korea for 3 years.
He raised my brother & I by himself after mom left him in 66. Never re-married. Loved his dogs. Took them everywhere. They were his life after his boys were grown.
Schlitz beer & Red Man. Occasional King Edward. 6′ & 250 but he was a giant. Veteran, company man, great dad. I was holding his hand when he took his last breath in 98.
MyPlace - July 29, 2018 5:50 am
Dear Sean, I know Mr. Vernon, just about everybody raised in the South does if they are over 60 years old. But I know Charyl too, the one who fills in the empty spaces in old men’s lives left by wives who have passed, and by children who are busy. And she is a mainstay of the South too… She is often unmentioned, often not even known well by the “family”, but she should be, because she IS Mr Vern’s family those last years of his life. So God bless the Charyls of this world… Just thought I’d mention her again, make sure she is remembered, too. And I’m pretty sure Mr Vern loved her right back, don’t you think?
Janet Mary Lee - July 29, 2018 4:57 pm
Another truly sad yet beautiful story. Isn’t life that way? It is becoming too complex. Thank you for noticing and writing about the simple truth you see and the people who make it great.
Crystal Lovell - July 30, 2018 3:55 pm
What a lovely tribute to Mr. Vern. I wish every human could have such a colorful and sweet life story to leave behind for their loved ones and a person like Sean who cares enough to write it down. We might all treat our precious, elderly family and friends with loving, caring kindness, the way that Charyl treated Mr. Vern.
Fr. Bob - July 31, 2018 1:33 pm
“A child was born, just the other day.
He came into the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away.
And he was talkin ‘fore I knew it,
and as he grew;
he’d say “I want to be like you, dad.”
“You know I want to be like you.”
Well done, Sean!