• author
    • Donald Sanders

      Columnist
    • July 27, 2018 in Columnists

    Driving through to the end of a well loved life

    “I want to find a airplane to charter and have the pilot take you and me way up high enough to see the curvature of the Earth.” That was one of the last things my friend, Joe Tomlinson, wanted to do before he got so sick he wouldn’t be able to do it. He made me drive him around to several of the small airports around the area so he could go in and ask if there was someone that could provide this service.

    As urgent as it was, we never found a pilot to take us up. He was a little disappointed but he was not the sort of guy to cry about it. He had a whole list of things that he wanted to do, one of which was to go up to Oregon to see his kids. He asked if I would be willing to drive him up there and drop him off for a while and then fly back home to Winters, California. He wanted to stay for a couple of weeks and then I would fly back up and drive him back to California when he was ready.

    We took a couple of days for the drive because he would suffer from car sickness after 5 or 6 hours on the road. Joe was a talker and a storyteller of the highest order. I imagine he could win the trophy for being able to remember the smallest details of his life experiences. We seemed to be driving around all the time and as forgetful as he was, I would hear the same stories over and over with more detail with every telling.

    When I say we were in cars a lot, I do not jest. With trips to the hospital several times a week for treatment or just driving him around wherever he needed to go, it was story after story, over and over. It was like a dance, because he would tell the stories and I would act like I hadn’t heard them before. Don’t get me wrong, he was an interesting guy and I liked his stories, but he talked so much I couldn’t get a word in edgewise to tell my own stories.

    If I did get a chance to tell one of my stories, he would interrupt me and tell one of his before I could even get done. So I knew everything about him but he didn’t know anything about me except maybe my name. I had a plan to tell him one of his own stories just to see what he would do, but he got too sick and I never got the chance.

    Anyway, back to the story of the trip to Oregon. I got him up there and then hopped on a jet for the trip home. I don’t like flying much, so I can’t say as I liked the flight. I’ll bet it wasn’t 10 minutes after I landed in Sacramento he was on the phone wanting me to fly back up and get him. The next day I was on a flight back to Oregon.

    After that, he wanted to go to Yosemite National Park, so we took a couple of days and went over there. It was a nice trip with the same old stories and the same old sickness every day, over and over. Most of the time, taking him to the doctor for treatment was as hard on me as it was on him. Every day he would get a little sicker, a little weaker until finally he just wasted away.

    Joe is gone now and he has been gone for several years. He didn’t want to go and I have to say that I didn’t want him to go either, but it was really hard to watch him get weaker and weaker. The end of it was absolutely terrible, but I wouldn’t have missed being with him for anything in the world because he was as good a friend as I have ever had.

    It bothers me a little bit that I never found a pilot to take him way up high so he could see the curvature of the Earth, but I think he had seen it before, because one of my favorite stories of his was about the misty, blue sky and the green, green Earth he had seen in his youth before he ever got sick and long before he ever met me.

    If Joe was here right now, I’d tell him the story of how I spent the last three years of his life with him and how that affected me. I’d tell him what a good friend he was to me and thank him for all of the stories about his life, because now it’s almost like I lived it with him and I think that’s pretty cool.

    Sometimes I think he is still here.



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