Unless a miracle takes place, I am about to lose a very good friend, Mr. A. J. Arthur.
To most of you that know Mr. Arthur, you remember him as the manager for a little over 50 years at Cooke’s Food Store in Cleveland, Tenn.
Some of you remember him, as a matter of fact….MANY of you remember him, from having his late wife, Ann Arthur, as your schoolteacher.
My journey with A. J. began a little over four years ago when I started attending First United Methodist Church. I sat in the second from the last row with Mr. Jimmy Barger my very first Sunday.
I remember looking across the aisle at this very stately, handsome, well-dressed gentleman. I could not place him, but his face looked very familiar to me. (I find the older I get, I am not good at remembering names of individuals, but I seldom forget a face.)
After church that Sunday, Mr. Arthur came over and shook my hand and welcomed me to First United Methodist. He knew exactly who I was from seeing me at the funeral home. He told me what he had done for a living and I immediately remembered him.
He was the friendly face you saw when you went into Cooke’s Food Store to purchase your groceries. Always friendly. Always a big cut-up. And always in a good mood.
Oh yes…one more thing….ALWAYS flirting with the pretty ladies!
Several Sundays went by and I continued to sit with Jimmy Barger and Don Wood at church. And then one particular Sunday, A. J. decided that he and his friend, Bill Kibler would make the big move from their particular pew and walk across the aisle and sit with Jimmy, Don and myself.
That was when my journey with A. J. began!
As every Sunday passed, I got to know Mr. Arthur a little better. I got to hear him tell stories of his days at Cooke’s Food Store. I got to hear him tell of how many young men and women got their first job because of him. Every time Robert Bradney came over to our pew to shake hands, as he walked away, A. J. looked at me and said, “I gave him his first job.” And a big smile would light up his face.
I knew I was in the “The Club” when one Sunday, right after the closing hymn, A. J. and Bill Kibler invited me to go eat lunch with them.
WOW! I had finally arrived! I was a part of the A. J. and Bill “Men’s Club” and I was headed to Denny’s Restaurant!
I met the two of them for lunch and they kept me laughing the entire time.
I learned real quick that A. J. Arthur was “A Ladies Man!”
He flirted with every waitress in Denny’s that day. It was pure joy to see these two elderly men have such a great time and they thought enough of me to allow me to be a part of their fun.
I had no choice that day of what I wanted to eat. I was told that we would all three be having the “Seniors Breakfast Special”. That consisted of two eggs, bacon or sausage and two pancakes.
Now, I am not supposed to eat the pancakes due to my diabetes, but you try telling that to these two, old stubborn men! Nothing doing!! I was going to eat those pancakes and they would make sure I had sugar free syrup to go on top!
Over the past couple years, A. J. Arthur and I have developed an incredible friendship.
We would talk on the phone two or three times a week. We would go out to eat a couple times a month. (Prime Rib at Outback was his favorite.)
We made a trip to Madisonville, Tennessee one day to a butcher’s shop to buy some fresh bacon, a whole country ham and one more thing.
A.J. wanted me to try something that I had never eaten in my entire life…. SOUSE MEAT!
First of all, the looks of souse meat are enough to make you want to throw up. Sorry…it just does.
However, Mr. Arthur told me I was going to try it and I knew better than to argue with him. I would lose!
We stopped at a convenience store and picked up a couple packs of crackers. We got back in the truck and opened up the pack of souse meat.
Mr. Arthur cut a small piece and put it on a cracker and handed it to me. “Eat that”… he exclaimed! So…I did.
I must admit it was not all that bad.
I asked A. J. what was in souse meat.
His answer that day was one that I shall never forget.
“Everything on a pig that they are not allowed to sell”!
Oh Great! I immediately started thinking of how I would have food poisoning for the next three days from this piece of souse meat!
I did not get sick. I ate more souse meat. And A. J. Arthur and I had the time of our life that day.
I had the honor of giving him a ride to church on Sunday morning after his health failed enough to the point the doctors told him he should not drive.
I learned more about “life” in that 10-minute ride to church and the 10-minute ride back to his apartment at Garden Plaza than I could ever have imagined.
He has made it very clear to me exactly how he wants his funeral to go. Who the preacher shall be…and whom he wants to sing.
He has told me more than once, “I do not want it to be sad, make sure they say something funny”.
Class, Funny, Christian, Polite, Kind, Loving, Peaceful, Dignified, Gentle, Warm, Giving, …and a servants heart. Those are the words I would use to describe my friend, A. J. Arthur.
I go to visit A. J. a couple times a day at the nursing home.
I always rub the top of his head. I always tell him I love him.
He always responds in a low, shallow voice…”I love you too, buddy”.
This morning, my friend looked up at me with his eyes half open and said….”Goodbye, Mark…I am ready to go”.
My New Years wish for those of you reading this blog…that you find your “A. J. Arthur” …and cherish every moment with them.
Dear Lord, give my friend A. J. comfort and peace, I pray.