I started a new job driving a tractor-trailer in the spring of 2017. It was a daily route, taking me from my depot in Dubois, down through Philipsburg, then down over Bald Eagle Mountain to Tyrone, where I hang a left and on to Huntington and then to my pick up destination at Mapleton Depot.
When I stop at Mapleton Depot, I am loaded with about 53,000 pounds of silica sand, used in the production of glass. The truck is loaded, and I head back to Tyrone, back up Bald Eagle Mountain, through Philipsburg again, and then hit I-80 at Woodland. I take the Penfield exit, and travel to Port Allegany to make my delivery to the Ardagh Group glass factory there; after unloading, I head back to the Dubois depot and park my truck for the day; round trip, about 320 miles each day. It is a pleasant, scenic drive.
I drive past a cemetery just outside of Philipsburg every day; once on my way down to get my truck loaded, and then again on my way back through. I noticed a freshly dug grave spot as I drove by, causing me to whisper a prayer for the family that was recently grieving.
A little later in the week, as I drove by, I noticed an elderly man sitting near the grave. He had a walker, one you could sit on from time to time if need be.
The man had white hair, and a matching white beard, all neatly trimmed. He sat with his hands folded, looking attentively at the freshly dug grave. My heart ached as I sped by, and I prayed for the man as I drove down over the hill on my way to Mapleton.
I loaded my truck at Mapleton and headed to my destination, and as I crested the hill that cradled the cemetery, I could see the old man, still sitting there as a sentinel at the grave; nearly 2 hours had gone by!
As the summer drifted by, I would see the old man at the grave, two or three times each week. When I saw the old man, I would often whisper a prayer, and think about the person he loved so much. I would also think of people in my own life; people that I loved dearly. I began to appreciate the blessings of cherished loved ones, and I found myself praying for some of those who I had taken for granted.
The summer ended and fall approached, the beautiful leaves exploding in color, then dropping lifeless; taking their beauty with them as they fell to the ground, blown around by the fall winds; until they found their final resting place; returning to the ground from where they came.
Even as the cool fall breezes began to blow, the old man remained at his post. Whenever the weather would permit, I would see his white crop of hair as I crested the hill to the cemetery.
Autumn gave way to winter and the old man no longer came to sit at the cold, frosted grave. Yet, as I drove by daily, I remembered his faithful watch, his unwavering devotion to whoever rested there.
Winter passed and the spring rains began to melt the snow and I wondered if the old man made it through the winter. As I drove past each day, I thought of him.
On one particularly warm spring afternoon, as I made my way back across the mountains, I spied the familiar crop of white hair as I crested the hill; there he was, perched once again at his watchful post.
I felt a sense of joy and sorrow, mixed together. I was glad to see the old man; like a long lost friend, a sense of joy sprang to my heart; then sorrow for him, as he continued to grieve for the one so dear to his heart!
I decided I needed to know more about this man. I wanted to find out who it was he sat by, and how they met; I wanted to know his story. The cemetery had no place to pull over an 18-wheeler, so I made several trips to the area in my car, hoping to catch him as his post. Each time I stopped by, he was not there.
On one occasion to the cemetery, I stopped in my car and gently walked to the grave and looked at the name; then I searched for the obituary and found out that this was certainly the old man’s wife, Grace, and his name was Joe!
I went home, doing a little more research, and found out where Joe was living; it was a large apartment complex with many residents.
I was preparing for an annual personal retreat; a time for me to go out into the woods, to pray and seek God for direction; something I try to do each year. I took a Friday off work so I could have an extended weekend and as I made plans, it was clear the Lord was prompting me to go and see Joe.
I drove to the apartment complex where Joe was living, and as I pulled into the parking lot, I could see the familiar golden colored Chrysler Concord he drove to the cemetery; I knew I was in the right spot, and he was in there somewhere!
The apartment complex required a code to gain access, something I did not have, but as I approached the door, a man simply let me in! I made my way to the elevator and headed to the apartment where Joe lived. I stood outside his door, and then I started having second thoughts! Would he let me in, would I frighten him, and would I be in trouble for “sneaking” in?
I went back down to the first floor and went to the office. I told the attendant that I was looking for a man named Joe. I had told her that I was a truck driver and had seen him sitting by a grave for over a year and I wanted to talk to the man; possibly writing a story. She told me that he was in the social room playing bingo and to follow her, she would show me where he was.
We walked into the room and there he was; I recognized the familiar white hair and neatly trimmed white beard. He was engrossed in a lively game of Bingo with a couple dozen elderly folks. The office attendant went over to him and told him that I was there to see him.
He looked furtively at me across the room and nodded, I nodded back, and then I took a seat to wait for the bingo game to conclude. I waited, and waited and waited some more. The Bingo marathon had just begun when I entered the room. Finally, after 45 minutes of Bingo, the games concluded; Joe called out Bingo three times!
As the room cleared, Joe began to make his way out and I carefully met him in the center of the room. I asked him if I could have a few words with him and he agreed; we headed to a comfortable corner and sat down together.
I told Joe who I was, that I was a trucker that saw him at the cemetery often, and that I admired his faithful devotion to whom, I now knew was his wife. I asked him if he could tell me their story.
He looked at me and said that he was a trucker too, many years ago! The fact we had something in common gave Joe the freedom to share openly.
Joe was born in 1938, now 80 years old, his wife Gracie was three years older than he was. Joe said he knew Gracie from high school. He recalled a school dance where he approached Gracie to dance with him; she was a senior and he was a sophomore.
He said he got the courage to ask her to dance; he said she looked at me and said; “I don’t take seconds.” He said she crushed him! “Boy did she put me down right there, which really hurt me bad!”
As I recall, Joe said that after school he joined the Navy and spend 4 years there. After serving in the Navy, Joe came back home, and began working as a truck driver. I believe he said that his father got a hold of an old Mack truck that had two long gear shift levers, and his father could not shift them right. Joe said at 14 years old he would sit in the passenger seat and shift the truck for dad; learning how to drive a big truck early on.
Not long after he returned from the Navy, he said he went to a local nightclub and a dance going on, and Gracie was there. He said he got a little courage and asked Gracie for a dance, she smiled and said she would dance with him this time.
He said; “we danced a few songs and really hit it off, then they played a slow dance and Gracie said she did not know how to slow dance.” Joe said he looked at her and said; “Just follow my lead.” Joe said they danced the night away and began dating after that.
It did not take long for the two to fall in love; but problems brewing. Gracie had two brothers who did not care for Joe at all; actually, they despised him for some reason. Joe recalled a night when he got in a serious tussle with the two young men.
He was in a tavern after work one night and the two brothers began mocking Joe and calling him some rather ugly names. Joe said he was not going to put with that and called them out on it. He said the next thing you knew a fight broke out, Joe said; “I got in some pretty good licks, but those two boys put a serious hurtin’ on me.”
It was a few days later, after this scuffle, Joe went to Gracie’s house to see her, and Gracie’s father answered the door. Joe said Gracie’s father grabbed him by the neck, nearly lifting him off the ground! He told Joe; “If you ever come around her again, so help me I will put you in the ground.”Joe decided that he probably would never see Gracie again, and made up his mind that he would not go back to her house.
Joe said later that night, around 2:00 in the morning, he felt someone shaking him awake.
He said; “I woke up wondering what was going on and who was in my room trying to wake me up, I reached over and turned on the light to see Gracie, tears streaming down her face.” He said; “I asked her what she was doing there” and she said; “I can’t live in that house with my father anymore, and I am never ever going back.”
Gracie would begin staying with some girl friends while she figured out what to do next. If I recall Joe correctly, this turmoil was taking place in the winter and very near Christmas. Joe recalled Gracie stopping by Christmas Eve, close to midnight, and she asked Joe if he would go with her to a church that was having a midnight service; Joe said I looked at her, and said; “sure, I will go with you” . . . how could I say no!
Not long after those tumultuous days, Gracie and Joe would set their minds to get married, and on June 21, 1962, they tied the knot and began life together. They would have two sons, both of whom Joe is very proud of.
Joe and Gracie had a wonderful life together and Joe recalled the depth of Gracie’s love for him by sharing this following story with me.
One of his best friends was married to a girl from Osceola Mills. Joe’s friend found out his wife was cheating on him and he was heartbroken. Joe talked with his best friend, trying to help him through the pain.
Joe told me that one night his friend jumped in a work van and drove down the hill to Osceola as fast as he could, purposely driving the van into a large tree, taking his own life; this shocked Joe to the core!
Joe, a truck driver, started a trip to Chicago a few weeks after his close friend died, and as he began the drive, he said grief and anxiety overwhelmed him, and he pulled the truck over at a truck stop.
He called Gracie and told her that he was feeling emotional and did not think he could make the trip and he asked Gracie if she would ride along. Gracie said she would love to.
Joe said Gracie drove to the truck stop in her car and jumped in the cold truck with Joe and rode all the way to Chicago, then back to Aurora NY for the return trip. Joe looked at me with tears glistening in his eyes and said; “I sure love that girl, I never could have made that trip without her.”
Gracie died on Friday, April 7, 2017 at her home; they would have been married 55 years that June. Joe said that the last 6 years of Gracie’s life, she developed dementia, and he took care of her until her passing.
Joe told me that he goes out to the cemetery to sit, where he says he prays for friends and family; it is peaceful there. He told me that not only is Gracie in that cemetery, but many relatives and friends are there too. Joe said that when I sit there, I feel surrounded by people I loved and it makes me feel better.
I told Joe that if I see him out by Gracie’s site, I will give a toot; and he said that would be OK.
I told Joe; “you know, in a world where abandoned marriages are normal, and relationships are increasingly hard to keep, it is refreshing to know that there is true love; the kind that endures through the ages; you and Gracie represent that kind of love to me. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with me”
I told Joe that I estimate that on any given day, while he sits there next to Gracie for those two hours, nearly a thousand people whiz by that busy highway; many of them thinking and wondering about the depth of love that old white haired man must have, and feeling a sense of tenderness toward their own loved ones.
Thank you Joe for your silent testimony, it means more than you will ever know!
I will keep watching that hill on my daily run, looking for that familiar crop of white hair, sitting beside the love of his life; now I know his story, and I am sure I only touched the surface. Joe said I could stop by anytime, and I think I might; perhaps I may even play a round of Bingo!
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
“What did Moses command you?” he replied.
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’
‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”