George Strait had a hit a few years back with “I Saw God Today.” It was his 56th #1 hit on the country charts and it struck a responsive chord with a lot of folks. I was one of them.
Last week, when my dad asked me if I’d be willing to ride with him the 70 miles or so to Cookeville (TN) to see his old friend, Charles Paul, I said yes. We decided that we’d go over on Saturday morning and try to be back in Nashville by lunchtime.
“Charlie” Paul is one of several folks who made deposits in my bank of childhood memories because he was a friend of our family. He was especially fond of my grandparents, W.T. and Helen Johnson, but grew close to my dad over the years, too.
I went for a couple of reasons.
First, my dad’s not just my father, he’s also my friend. We like to compare notes on a lot of things, so time in the car offers a good opportunity to chat.
The other reason I went is because Mr. Paul is now in a nursing home and doesn’t have a lot of visitors besides family. His lovely daughter, April, whom we met, arranged the visit.
I also went because the man had a phone in his car in the 1960s and could sing like a combination of Eddie Arnold and Ray Price. Charlie was a really good golfer and club maker, and he had the confidence of a Fortune 500 CEO. Back in my younger days, the man just fascinated me.
Maybe a third reason I went was because I wanted to honor my dad’s desire to go see about his old friend. I’m so glad I did.
Charlie’s short-term memory isn’t all that great but he lit up when he saw my dad.
“Talmadge, what in the world are you doing here?”
“Well, I saw your brother last week in New Mexico and he told me you were living here now,” my dad said. “I told him I was gonna come see you.”
“That’s real nice, Talmadge,” said Charlie. “Man, I sure loved your folks. We had a lot of great times together.”
There was talk of the good old days when Charlie would come visit us in Oklahoma. He and Daddy talked about golf and nice cars and church. He asked about my mom. He even remembered my brother, Jeffrey, and me a little bit.
Eventually, my dad said, “Well, Charlie, it’s about time we headed back. I just wanted to come over today and tell you I love and appreciate you. Mind if I pray for you before we go?”
My dad reached over toward Charlie’s wheelchair and grabbed his hand. And as my dad’s prayers often do, he began with “Our loving heavenly father…”
Daddy prayed and Charlie closed his eyes a lot tighter than I closed mine. As my father talked to The Father, I saw Charlie’s eyes filling with tears. It was apparent in that moment that Charlie’s heart and mind were as in tune as any of a thousand songs he’d sung.
We said our goodbyes and told him and April we’d be in touch, but not before Charlie had removed his “Proud to be a Christian” golf hat. He insisted my dad take it. Daddy resisted briefly and then put it on his head and we headed out the door to the car.
On the way home, we stopped by the Nazarene church in Cookeville. Daddy wanted to drop off the contact info so the pastor could maybe follow up with an occasional visit to Charlie.
But there was one more stop.
Chuck Witbeck and his family were terrific friends to us when we moved to Mississippi in 1975. Chuck and Liz live in the Cookeville area now and Daddy wanted to see him if we could. We decided that we could head back to Nashville AFTER lunch.
Chuck had already eaten but he met us at Cheddar’s and we had a lot of fun catching up. Chuck and Liz were my parents’ friends but they and their kids, Randy and Wendy, were true friends to my brother and me as well.
“I saw God” yesterday.
Yesterday, God’s hands sure looked a lot my dad’s!