Windy’s Gift

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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My Uncle Windy was the most independent man I ever knew—a tall, good-looking white-haired John Wayne. Courteous to the ladies, but otherwise so private that after Aunt Ruby died he moved to an RV park on the Mexican border to avoid people.

One day we got a call from Joe, the park’s manager. "Windy’s not safe here any more. He’s forgetting things—like turning off the gas burners on the stove or where he parked his car in front of Sears. Got to move."

After losing so much, Windy, at 85, now lost his choice of where to live. As his only relative, I went down with my wife and helped him move into a retirement home in our city, 200 miles away from anyone he knew.

The day he checked in, his sun-browned wrinkled hand gripped the handle of his single suitcase. I knew Windy had always carried a roll of bills almost as big as a tennis ball—for "emergencies." When the nurse saw the wad of cash on his dresser, she said, "Mr. Miller, we need to put that money in the safe in the office."

He shook his head, "No, Ma’am, I always keep cash with me for emergencies. Seen a lot of banks go under in my time."

She replied patiently, "But people have stolen money from these rooms."

"Well you don’t have to worry about anyone stealing my money."

"Why not?"

"Because," Windy said, pulling a black revolver out of his bag, "if they try, I’ll blow their head off!"

So Windy lost his last vestiges of security and freedom—his ready cash and his gun. John Wayne—imprisoned in a strange city full of complaining old people he’d never seen before—now had no power at all.

Windy went silent for a while, having every reason to be angry and bitter. But every Monday when we took him out, he would smile and say, "I’m glad you’re here. Thanks for coming."

The food was nutritious, but pretty gray by his Tex-Mex and Margarita standards. Concerned, I asked him, "How’s the food, Windy?"

He’d laugh that charming southwestern Texas laugh and say, "Well . . . it’s better than the alternative!"

At 89, he got sick—some flu bug that was going around. I sat on the side of his propped up bed when his supper came, painfully watching my now feeble John Wayne uncle awkwardly spooning oatmeal to his mouth. I finally asked, "Windy . . . would you like for me to feed you?"

This man—who had never let anyone help him—nodded like a little boy and whispered, "Yes, I’d appreciate that." And I fed him, as if I were his daddy.

Windy died later that night. The next day we went to get his things. The empty room soon filled with old men and women shuffling around us, wanting to tell us stories about their friend Windy. One of the medical staff said, "Windy had an amazing ability to laugh at himself and share with the others the humorous side of their common plight. Wherever he was, there was less negativity and complaining, much more laughter, and . . ." He frowned uncertainly.

"Hope," said Millie, the large nurse weeping into a tissue. "Just being honest and grateful as he played out the hand he was dealt—just being Windy—filled this wing with hope . . . and love."

That was the gift Windy gave me. Winfield Lewis Miller chose to be grateful for everything he still had. He taught me how to die with dignity, and how to live.