This is a story from an old copy of our newsletter. I do not know who wrote it. When I read it, it reminded me of a person who came to the van in Roseville when we were serving on Sundays. He told me to call him “big foot”. He must have towered at least 6 feet, 8 inches tall and had large feet that must have been at least a size 14 (US) shoe. And, to someone who is over 6 feet tall himself, that is a statement. The man was a gentle giant. I saw him only twice. I will miss him.
Anyway, here is the story. I hope that you like it too.
There is a gentle man who I will rename Harry. Harry and I met the very first week that the WWJD van began feeding in Colfax. He was over 6 feet, 3 inches. He towered over my 5 foot, 5 inch frame. He had long white hair kept in a pony-tail and had it neatly under a cap. His beard was white and his low voice lumbered out slow and deep. He had been gold panning. His face was ruddy from the exposure along with his bite spattered white legs and scraped arms. As soon as he spoke I felt safe, as his slow deep voice seemed to resonate in deep reassuring tones. He never seemed in a hurry to speak or go anywhere and always greeted people with a friendly voice.
The earnestness of how he worked on his claim stake and always seemed to hint at what he would do when his big strike would come in, surprised me.
Harry had been gold panning near the Bear River almost 15 years and when the first hint of snow would come to his camp in the woods near Colfax, he took off for a warmer climate. Some winters he was not so lucky and would get stuck in the snow. He never complained about illnesses, his situation, or discomforts. Harry resigned to face the life that he chose. That’s what I admired about Harry. He knew his place. It was his choice. Sometimes I felt that maybe had things been different for him he wouldn’t have minded having a home somewhere.
Harry was a Vietnam vet but did not dwell on or bring up his experiences. When his health became poor or when he became riddled with spider bites that festered, he would take off to the nearest walk-in Vet clinic. For someone such as himself, that would be either in Rancho Cordova or Reno, Nevada.
One day I found myself driving Harry to Rancho Cordova to get evaluated for some serious swelling issues. I did not mind the long wait at the Rancho Cordova hospital waiting room and found his company pleasant. Two heavy packs and a bed-roll encumbered him. While waiting, he told me of his great walking adventures.
Harry, though as large as he was and appearing slow when lumbering from here to there actually enjoyed walking – sometimes long and exposed to sun – but he would cite Bible verse as he walked along. He said that he had many Bibles throughout his life and during solitary times he would read and re-read it, memorizing favorite sections. He said it made his walking less lonely and passed the time. After awhile, he said his walks and verse-citing felt like there was someone always there with him reciting the verse with him and keeping him company.
One of his walks found him stranded on Interstate 15 outside Barstow where he accepted a ride from a motorist on his way to Las Vegas only to have the car became disabled. It was only twenty-five miles from Las Vegas, Harry related. He began walking to the nearest gas station for help. He had underestimated how the day’s heat and the weight of his pack affected his judgment on his walk to town. He said he hadn’t gone far when the heat overtook him and he searched unsuccessfully for water in his packs. Many cars zoomed past him and never stopped. Remember, Harry looked frighteningly large. He started citing Bible verse because he couldn’t read due to his eyes being sensitive to the long exposure to the sun. After awhile he said he sensed that someone was with him … jogging his memory when he failed to continue citing his verse.
Harry told me that as soon as he finished his favorite section of Matthew, a California Highway Patrolman stopped and picked him up. The stranded motorist had informed the patrolman that his rider, Harry, had taken off walking. Harry, very apologetic about causing a fuss, accepted a ride into Las Vegas where he was able to recover from the heat stroke that he suffered. The patrolman said Harry was very lucky. The temperature that day was over 107 degrees and even hotter on the asphalt where Harry walked. Harry happily cited his Bible verses. It helped his memory when it needed a jab. I know who kept Harry company. He has been with Harry all his life, gold panning, waiting at the Vet clinics and on his walks. He has blessed Harry in many more ways in life than most.
For the short time I was able to enjoy Harry’s company when I took him to the hospital as well as the few months that I spent with him at the van I felt I knew Harry pretty well. A big, looming but kind and gentle man who had accepted his lot in life and even delighted that he experienced things most folk don’t ever come to know. I envied Harry’s walks where he would have the Bible verse in his head and not in his hands through some pages. I envied the time he spent walking … he walked with love in his heart and the Lord by his side.
Last winter snow arrived in Colfax and the WWJD volunteers collected funds so Harry could take a bus to a warmer climate. He made it out of the snow into warm Arizona and called us after he arrived there. In January, Harry called me to thank us for getting him to his new home where it was warm. Surprisingly, I was in Arizona myself when Harry was doing fine and spoke of the time when he could retire and stay there permanently. In April, Harry called me again to say his Social Security retirement came through. Though receiving only a small stipend, he was very happy and saving it monthly so he could move into an apartment. I asked Harry if he still walks. He said, “Yes,” though he stays close to home. Harry says he’s never alone when he walks and continues to do so daily. I smiled and thought to myself; truly Harry’s feet have a soul.
God Bless You, Harry