Word quickly spread around the neighborhood about the beloved book mans’ accident. Old man Barnes had been able to get in touch with Cole and begged him to come to the hospital. What he wanted to say was “maybe this time you can actually find the time to visit this fine man you have disappointed so many times,” but he didn’t.
Cole said that he and his family would take the first flight out and old man Barnes agreed to meet them at the airport, wondering of course, if they would actually make it.
Old man Barnes had found a bag of books that Luther had just bought and decided to bring one of them to the hospital. He sat beside Luther and quietly started reading Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and The Sea.” He was hoping for some reaction from Luther but he saw none.
Later that afternoon, he drove to the airport and was surprised when Cole and his wife actually got off the plane. They had left their girls at home with their maternal grandparents. “It was just easier,” Cole said.
Old man Barnes once again held his tongue. All Luther had dreamed about for the last several years, was getting to see those little girls. Those little girls he had bought gifts for. Those little girls he had planned on helping build a snowman. Those little girls who he said were the spitting image of their grandma.
Old man Barnes drove Cole and his wife to the hospital and when they walked into Luther’s room, there was an audible gasp from Cole.
The doctor was just leaving and Cole asked for an update. He explained that there had been no change in Luther’s condition and truthfully, he didn’t really think there ever would be. Due to his advanced age and frail body, the trauma had just been too great for him to ever recover. At least that was his prognosis.
Cole took Luther’s hand and said “dad, I’m here.” A smile seemed to come to Luther’s face and then the sound that makes every nurse and doctor scramble to a room. The straight line scream of the cardiac monitor.
Despite their valiant efforts, Luther passed away. Cole asked for a few minutes alone with him. What, if anything he said, no one knew.
When he walked out of the room, old man Barnes knew Luther was gone. He was surprised when he saw that Cole had tears in his eyes. He was even more surprised at what he said, not even looking at old man Barnes or his wife. It was as if he was talking to himself.
He said “you know, you take your parents for granted. You think they’re always going to be there. You get busy starting your lives when you’re young and you forget the sacrifices they made for you when they were young. You don’t think you have time for them and you forget that they always had time for you. You think there’s always going to be a next time to see them.”
All those feelings and statements were too late as far as old man Barnes was concerned and he said “your dad is gone and he will never hear those words being said. He is never going to hear the regret in your voice nor is he ever going to see the tears in your eyes. Your sentiments are a little too late, son.”
He said “death is final and almost always brings sorrow and regret but how easy it would have been for you to say those words while he was still alive. How much joy you could have given him if you had just once, kept your word.”
What old man Barnes said made Cole feel ashamed and he broke down. After he gathered his composure, old man Barnes took him and his wife to Luther’s house. They walked in and saw the stockings still hanging on the mantle. The ornaments, carefully wrapped, still sat in a box.
Old man Barnes said “Luther was a fine man and he was beloved in the neighborhood. He smiled and said “did you know that he was called the book man?”
“The book man?” asked a puzzled Cole.
“Yeah,” old man Barnes said. “He called them his treasures and spent weekends buying them and then building shelves to put them on. Besides you and your family, his books were his most precious possessions.”
“I don’t understand,” Cole said.
“Come with me,” old man Barnes said as he led Cole down to the basement. Cole walked from room to room, awestruck at what he was seeing. All of the rooms were full of shelves and all the shelves were full of books.
Cole sighed, shook his head and said “he didn’t want anybody to know.”
Old man Barnes, himself puzzled, said “he didn’t want anybody to know what?”
Cole smiled and said “he didn’t want anybody to know that he couldn’t read.”
I Ka Hopena.