We are often taken places in our lives, where we never planned on going. God has a way of doing that to us, and with us, so we need to be flexible and go with the flow, at times. It’s been said by someone, “Life is a journey”, and “surprises come when you least expect them”. Be on the look-out for “Detours” in your life, for they are sure to come.
For myself, I never planned to make a personal detour, and visit the "Floyd E. Tut Fann State Veterans Home", in Huntsville, Alabama. I had never heard of the place, and I for certain didn’t have any business there. I would later discover that it would become a welcome detour in my life.
It was a cold windy day January 1, 2008, and I had been making my way back home to where I mostly grew up. It had been some 30 years since I had lived in Huntsville, Alabama. Way back in August of 1977, the USN had stationed me in Corpus Christi, TX, where I would find my soul-mate, Connie Crisp, get married, began making a living, and began raising four wonderful kids!
In the fall of 2007, my company agreed to relocate me to Huntsville. In a sweet song to my ears, Connie welcomed the change in our lives: of course it did help sweeten the pie, by having our oldest son & daughter, precede us to Huntsville, by a couple of years.
Upon arriving Huntsville, New Years Day 2008, I made my way down University Drive, stopping at the Jordan Lane intersection. My first thoughts were memories of the many times dad would take me to his first cousin’s house, Bill Baker. My daddy, Herman Leon, always referred to Bill as Billy, so I did as well. Billy is my daddy’s first cousin. They grew up together in Jackson, TN, to which dad has shared several good memories of their times together, chumming around the North Jackson countryside!
So, as I sat at the Jordan Lane intersection, I glanced up the hill and spotted the big white water tower. That tower was very close to the Bill & June Baker homestead. Pleasant memories flooded my mind of visiting their family over the years. I had recently heard that Billy’s wife, June, had passed away, and pondered where Billy might be living now.
As I passed through the intersection, driving further into town, I headed my Dodge truck over Chapman Mountain, and settled-in at my son Phillip and daughter-n-law Rebecca’s home, located in the Huntsville NE area.
Over the course of the evening, and into the following day, my thoughts were, “I need to go check-on Billy Baker”. I really don’t know why I was contemplating it. I wasn’t aware of the purpose of God leading me in Billy’s direction.
I decided to call my sister, Jeanne, to inquire about Billy’s whereabouts. I pretty much knew that Bill & June Baker’s kids, David & Diane, no longer lived in Huntsville, but I had no idea where they were now living.
The reason for calling my sister was I reasoned that girls were better at keeping-up with kinfolks than guys were. I felt dad would probably know, but I didn’t want to bother him about it.
As God would direct my path that January day, my sister, Jeanne, told me that she had heard Billy was living at the "Floyd E. Tut Fann State Veterans Home", located on Meridian Street. She offered to meet me there, so shortly thereafter met out front of the facility. This was our first time to see one another, so we gave each other a big hug, right out front of the facility! Jeanne didn’t have the time to go inside with me that day, for she had something going on at the time. Upon her driving away, I grabbed my harmonica, slipped it into my pocket, and proceeded inside to the front desk.
The receptionist had me sign the visitor’s log, and pointed me toward the “F” wing. Heading in the right direction, along what seemed like well lighted long hallways, I finally reached my destination. Upon arrival, I asked the nurse’s station that I was there to visit my cousin, Billy Baker. The nurse informed me the “F” wing was mainly for Alzheimer’s patients, and that indeed she had a Billy Baker in her wing. She also educated me a little on visiting AZ’s patients, and that Billy would have to be found. I followed her around looking for Billy. The nurse informed me that AZ’s patients often leave their rooms, and can’t recall where they came from. She said they often end-up climbing back in bed, but it won’t be there own bed, but someone else’s.
This wasn’t the case for Billy that day. I returned to the nurse’s station to wait. My thoughts were, “I hope Billy is in good walking health, so I can have a good visit with him.”
A few minutes passed as I waited. Looking down each hall for the nurse, I spotted the nurse walking toward me, with holding Billy’s hand. I heard her say, “Now, Billy, you have a guest who has come to see you, so you behave yourself, ya hear?” I could tell the nurse was just being fun with Billy, so I smiled as she placed Billy’s hand in mine. I recall his hand was warm, and I was just hoping my own hand wasn’t cold, as it often is….ha-ha.
This visit was new territory for me, having never dealt with Alzheimer’s patients before, or at least not that I ever new. I’ve visited nursing homes before, Christmas caroling with my church, and playing harmonica with other friends over the years.
With his hand in mine, I felt as if I had a child in my hand. The nurse pointed me down the hall to large open room, where she pointed to a row of empty chairs along the wall. This was the visitor’s room, where families could interact with their loved one. Around the room, were other men, with various stages of AZ’s, but I noticed no one was there visiting them. I believe one of the men actually spoke to me, albeit in broken sentences, and I kindly acknowledged him.
I sat Billy down on one of the soft vinyl chairs, and began to talk to him. Billy was wearing just a pair of socks, to which he seemed to be looking down toward. I quickly realized that this would be very much a one-way conversation, and that God would have to give me the words to say. Me acting and feeling sorry for his condition is not what Billy needed. I had to be strong and upbeat, and stay focused on being a blessing to him.
What I’m about to relay to you, may not be verbatim, but to the best of my recollection, here is how the visit went:
“Billy, I don’t know if you recall who I am, but I’m Herman Leon’s son, Barry Pickens. I used to come visit you with my dad. I recall how smart you were about building & constructing your own water skis, and how you knew electronics real well, and seemed to be able to fix anything. I just wanted to come by and visit with you, and maybe play you a couple of songs on the harmonica. Would you like that?”
Billy continued to sit there quietly, with his hands on his lap. I gave him a few seconds to respond to my own introductory words, while looking into his face for expressions to my words. I was encouraged to hear a few recognizable words. The best I could determine, he was attempting to explain the building and testing of some type of electronics. His words were mixed-up, although I did recognize some of the electronic terms. That was kind of cool that I could at least see that he had a mind that was still able to say those. His sentences were short, and incomplete. That was ok to me, for I understood the circumstances. He moved his hands and fingers together, seemingly constructing something, or possibly explaining something to me. Who knows, but maybe he was reliving an experience with a group of fellow engineers, whom he may have worked with at NASA.
In honor of his service to others, and out of respect for his intelligence, I replied to him with, “Yeah, that’s right, good, I see, uh huh!” I decided I may as well become one of his engineer friends, and play the part for a second. Maybe that would help him to explain what he was telling me.
After a few minutes of this time, I took Billy’s hand in mine, and asked him, “Billy, would you like to hear me play a hymn for you on my harmonica?” to which he didn’t reply, but just looked at me quietly. I figured that meant, “Of course I’d like to hear a hymn!” Up to this point, I was sitting in a chair angled toward his chair. I leaned over toward Billy, so as not to be too loud for the other patients in the room. I’m sure I played one of my favorites, like “Sweet Hour of Prayer”, or “Amazing Grace”! I didn’t want to be too lengthy, not knowing how long he could endure the sitting still like that. I watched intently for any signs of response to the harmonica music, but he seemed to like listening, the best I could tell.
Once I stopped playing the hymns, I figured it best that I begin wrapping-up my visit, so I got down on my knees, and looked into his face, much like a mother would do, and I began to speak these words to him:
“Billy, I want you to know that God has not forgotten you! You are special to him, and you have served Him for many years. God would want me to tell you that you are not forgotten, and I love you! Don’t you worry; June says hello to you, and so do David and Diane. They all love you very much!
Billy, I now want to pray with you, if that will be ok.” I then continued to hold his hand in mine, and prayed a little prayer with him. I didn’t know how much he understood, but somehow, I felt he did.
I ended by telling him, “Now you take care of yourself, and be good, and I’ll come visit you later on!”
I then led him back to the nurse’s station, and headed home that day.
I was reminded of the bible verse, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:34-40
I don’t know what Billy got out of my visit, but I know what I got out of it. My detour that day led me down a path of ministering to Jesus, face to face, and I shall forever be grateful. For, on that day, January 2, 2008, God led down what I would indeed call “A Welcome Detour”.
I do know that Billy and June are both enjoying the splendor of Heaven. Maybe, they live in that little log cabin, along the crystal river, where Billy is water skiing on home-made wooden skiis. Who knows?