**This piece was submitted as part of our Community Contributor series.
By Erinn Williams / OC Monitor Community Contributor
It’s drawing near to “hog killing” time as Willard Douglas would say. I’m reminded of Willard, one of my favorite co-workers, and how he would share stories with me as cold weather set in. Fifty years my senior, as strong as an ox, and able to work circles around men half his age, Mr. Douglas is remarkable.
He swears by a daily regimen of walking, even if it means indoors, as folks stock the shelves at the local Walmart early in the morning. He fancies Volkswagens, and has restored a few. This is the type of man who unashamedly will stop to pray with a stranger, takes his coffee black, and visits local nursing homes to fellowship, all the while thanking the good Lord he gets to go home afterwards. There isn’t a finer man in Southeastern Kentucky, I can promise you that.
I have many Willard stories, although one will forever remain my favorite. I often find myself picking up loose quarters and smiling after I roll them around in between my fingers. I have him to blame for that…
On any given week night, you could once find me making coffee at Croley Funeral Home, in the sleepy town of Williamsburg, Kentucky. I worked part-time as a funeral assistant for a season of my life in the evenings, while planning a wedding, and saving up to finish college. My co-workers were two sharp dressed men, both years my elder, both near and dear to my heart now.
Often into the night, as those grieving the loss of loved ones started to dwindle, my co-workers and I would retire to the office. This provided privacy for those left in the chapel and gave us a chance to grab a cup of coffee and discuss everything from the weather, to the nearby sale at Belk. Some of the most meaningful conversations of my life have been in the office of that funeral home.
I remember vividly once being a bit down. I would soon be relocating to Western Kentucky after my marriage. The future was scary. Although I tried to hide it, Willard my co-worker and now friend, could sense it. He sat down adjacent from me, in a large oversized leather office chair. Adjusting his hearing aid, he looked at me over the newspaper, and said, “What’s a matter with you?” I chose to crunch on a peppermint, ignore the question, and stare at the floor. So, he asked again. “What’s wrong with you little girl?”
I shared with him my fears, my hopes, and how much I would miss my family, and my way of life in a small town. He set his newspaper down, glancing my direction again.
“I was once pretty scared too” he said. “I found myself broke, newly married, and out of work.”
Willard had an air about him I respected so much. His suits were always pressed and crisp. I found myself staring at his neck tie while he talked.
“Maymie and I got up for church one morning.” He bragged on his wife often. She was the light of his life, his companion and soul mate for over 60 years. “We hadn’t been married long, I had tried to find work away from the mountains, but I couldn’t stand being away from my wife.”
He smiled instantly after this remark, pausing to take a sip of his coffee. “So, I came home, and we started a life here.”
I had no idea where he was going with this story, but I respected him, so I always listened.
He continued, “We set off to church, the choir sang, the preacher preached, the offering plate was passed. I reached down in my pocket, I had two shiny quarters to my name.” He smiled. “I wrestled with God, how could I give away the only money I had? I was scared, but I put them in the plate anyway.”
My peppermint was gone by now, I sat in amazement and stared at a weathered face full of more wisdom than I could fathom. I felt selfish, I felt childish, and I felt compelled to strive harder to trust the process and put my faith above everything else.
Willard continued, “Remember how I told you that I was out of work?” I nodded in agreement. “When the wife and I left church and walked out of the holler towards home, I met my daddy walking toward me. He told me I had a job if I wanted it come morning.”
I smiled, that’s the kind of determination I want to have I thought to myself.
Willard got up and started to reach in his pocket. I thought about his 83 years, I’m sure he’s endured happy times, sad times, and difficult times. Of these times, I am certain of one thing, he faced them with faith.
He reached down and picked up my coffee cup and placed two shiny quarters on the desk.
Erinn Williams hails from Whitley County in the heart of Southeastern Kentucky, and now resides in Owensboro with her husband, Seth. She is an Elementary Education major, working this fall in the Daviess County Public Schools as a preschool educator. Erinn is actively involved as a volunteer for the Bill Monroe Foundation at the Bill Monroe Homeplace in Rosine and recently served as the Kids Zone Coordinator for ROMP in Owensboro. Bluegrass runs deep within her roots, as she comes from a long line of musicians, and is an aspiring mandolin player. She is active in her church and in the recovery community. Erinn loves the outdoors, traveling with her husband, cooking, and appreciates a fresh glass of lemonade. She has a passion for writing, spreading hope through her faith, and being with family and friends.