Jesse Doyle entered the Christian Children's Home when he was three years old. He moved in with his grandfather ten years later when the orphanage closed. Other family members couldn't find room for him for different reasons. Their resistance boiled down to this: He was the child of an unwed mother who carried a dreaded, hereditary disease called Huntington's Chorea. The story joins him at three and leaves him at fifty-four. His life is regrettable, daring, fun, honestly human and, above all, something to celebrate.

Arlo and Ruth Kershaw remained good neighbors. They hired Jesse to do yard work, even though they could have gotten along without the help. He was mowing their backyard on a pleasant, September afternoon when Ruth received a call from Jesse’s Uncle Ray.

“Hello, Ruth. This is Ray Doyle. Is Jesse helping you today?”

“Yes, he is. He’s mowing the yard right now. In fact, I’ll probably see his blond head pass my kitchen window in about thirty seconds. Do you want to talk to him?”

“No. But I do need to come pick him up. His grandpa’s in the hospital. Heart attack we think. How long’s Jesse going to be there do you think?”

“Well, he just started. Usually takes him an hour if he sweeps the sidewalk.”

“Good. Let him mow. I’m at the hospital. It’ll take me twenty minutes to get there. If he decides to take a break for any reason, keep him there if you can.

“Sure thing. But how’s Oliver? How serious is it?”

“We’re not sure, but he’s asking for Jesse. I’ll be over as quick as I can. It’ll be best if you let me tell him.”

“Of course,” Ruth answered.

Ray pulled up in front of the Kershaw home just as Jesse and the noisy, oil-burning mower rounded the corner of the house to begin mowing the front yard. He saw Uncle Ray walking up the sidewalk, waved and turned off the mower and pushed it to the sidewalk’s edge.

“Hey, Jess. Let that baby cool off a little. I need to talk to you.” Ray said. He walked to the house and sat down on the porch’s top step. “Come here and sit down a minute.”

“What’s going on?” Jesse asked as he walked tentatively toward the porch.

“Sit a moment.” He patted the empty space beside him with his right hand.

Jesse picked up on Ray’s somber mood. “Is it Grandpa?”

“Yes, Jesse, it is. He’s in the hospital. We aren’t sure, but we think he’s had a heart attack. How serious? We don’t know. How long’s he going to be there. We don’t know that either.”

“Heart attack? I need to see him!”

“Yes, that’s why I’m here. But there is no need to panic. He’s awake and pickin’ on the nurses. And, he’s asked to see you, so we should go.” Ray stood and pointed to the mower. “Need to put that away?”

Ruth’s stern voice erupted from the open front door where she’d been eavesdropping. “Go,” she said. “Mower’s fine. Just go!”

On the drive to the hospital, Ray explained what happened. “Dad was down at the Odd Fellows Lodge playing pinochle, smoking his Swisher Sweet cigar, and telling stories, when he just lunged forward face first on the table. Ambulance was there in ten minutes. Like I said, Jess, we don’t know for sure if it was a heart attack, and, if it was, we don’t know how severe. So, our job today is just to be there, keep our chins up, and help him daydream about tomorrow’s pinochle game. No fussing or gushing is necessary. He’ll be glad you’re at his side. As I said, he’s been asking to see you.”

Grandpa Doyle took a deep breath and seemed to relax a little as Jesse and Ray walked into the room. His teeth floated in a glass of water on the bedside table. He didn’t care. A heartwarming, toothless grin livened his sallow face as he raised a slightly trembling hand, motioning for Jesse to move closer to his bed. Jesse walked to him, grasp Grandpa Doyle’s upright hand with both of his and held it tight. Grandpa’s broad grin flattened into a gentle smile, and he drew his embraced hand back to his chest, bringing Jesse with it. He gazed into the eyes of favorite daughter’s son who rested against his chest and whispered, “Don’t worry Jesse. I’ll be okay. I’ll be home before you know it.”

“I know you will Grandpa. Then maybe you can teach me to play pinochle,” Jesse said.

“That’s a deal,” Grandpa answered. “That’s a deal.”

Grandpa Oliver Doyle died early the next morning.

On that day, Jesse had family. They gathered at Ray’s house. The numbing reticence, which had kept Oliver Doyle’s children on the periphery of Jesse’s life for such a long time, seemed to evaporate. They were all there – Uncle Ray, Aunt Sara, Uncle Gene with their spouses, plus five of Jesse’s cousins. Each of them missed Grandpa Doyle, but none more than Jesse.

Grandpa Doyle’s funeral was held in the mortuary’s small chapel. “If we have a church funeral, he won’t show up,” Ray explained almost without smiling.

When Oliver died, he wasn’t a churchman. Years earlier he’d been active in the local Christian Church but had a falling out with Deacon Emil Jones over his self-righteous judgement of Peggy. Jesse’s mother taught Sunday School for three years before she moved to Kansas City. The children loved her. When she returned to Prairie View as an unwed mother, Deacon Jones deemed it inappropriate for her to continue teaching. Insulted by what he considered a sanctimonious slight, Grandpa Doyle responded. Late one night, armed with a paint brush and bucket of black paint, he adorned the street side of the white, stucco church with a two-word inscription in foot-high letters, which read “Jone’s Church!” He never returned to that church or any other.

 Oliver Doyle rested in a silver, metal casket at the front of the small chapel, which was designed to comfortably hold about forty people. More than twice that many attended the open-casket service. They put up extra folding chairs, as far as they’d go. Some mourners stood toward the back and along the sides of the room, rather than not attend. People were drawn to the vacuum of his death, just as they had been drawn to the eccentricity of his life. Lilly Samuel, the grocery store clerk was there. The Kershaws were there. Odd Fellow friends and his harness-shop cronies were there. Plus, Jesse had his own respectful following. Roger Dieter was there. So were Scott Ingram, Melvin Tedrow, and Coach Clifford. Uncle Ray’s wife, Paula, didn’t attend. Viewing human remains in an open casket was something she chose not to do.

Pastor Alvin Wiggins, borrowed from a fundamentalist congregation south of the tracks, officiated. He often freelanced at services where the deceased had no church affiliation. He began with welcoming words and read the 23rd Psalm, followed by the A Time-for-Everything passage from Ecclesiastes. Then he recited the events of Oliver’s life. Born in 1874. Died in 1956. Married in ’1897. Had five children, four of whom survived to adulthood. He farmed, worked in a creamery, sold seed corn, and became a harness maker.

With the introduction complete, Pastor Wiggins invited Ray to the pulpit to share his thoughts about his father. Ray told a couple of charming stories about his dad, then dipped into seriousness. “As many of you know, my mother was sick for a long time. Fifteen years in fact. She had a rugged, debilitating disease. My dad waited on her hand and foot for the entire time. I know it tired him, but he was always there doing what was necessary for her and for us. That’s one thing I’m remembering and celebrating most today. His dedication to family.”

Ray stopped talking and scanned the room. On cue, Pastor Wiggins and the dark-suited mortician lowered the casket lid and stepped away. Ray inspected the crowd like a politician at a county fair, acknowledging certain people with a smile and a nod, giving them a subtle indication of what was to come. “Those years were difficult, demanding years, for our dad. He was heroic,” he continued. “But there was more to him than his response to that burden. He was a friend to many people. A good friend. And he was just plain fun to be around … sometimes it was crazy fun. That’s what we should remember today – and I want you all to help me. Please tell us your Oliver Doyle stories. I know you have them. Tell any story you want to tell, no holds barred. Right Pastor?”

Pastor Wiggins, who remained standing at the side of the room, smiled, and nodded.

“Alright then. Who’s first? Tobias DeGroot, how about you? I know you’ve got an Oliver Doyle story.” Ray stepped from behind the pulpit, whipped the mic cord to its maximum length past the silver casket, and handed the mic to Tobias. Ray knew if anyone could get the story-telling ball rolling, it would be him.

Tobias blew into the mic, winced at its feedback, and started talking. “Oliver was one of the handiest men I ever met. After his wife died, he’d come over to our place a lot. We still had outdoor plumbing at the time, and he wired up the privy with a little speaker. We had more fun with that thing. We’d sit out on our back porch and wait for a someone to enter the outhouse. Oliver’d let them settle in, especially if it was a lady, and then announce, ‘Excuse me. Could you move to the other hole. I’m painting under this one.”

The people laughed, not hard, but the story-telling lamp was lit. Sam Housel grabbed the mic. “Oliver could tell a story. Told me one time he applied for a job with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show when it came to town. Talked to Buffalo Bill his self. Cody was drunk and fell asleep during the interview. Oliver got up and left. Didn’t want to work for a drunk. Don’t know if it was true, but he could tell a story.”

A booming voice came from the back of the room. “I don’t need no mic!” It was loud Art Flushing. “And this ain’t no joke. Oliver Doyle was a good man. I owed him seventy-five bucks for almost two years. He’d nudge me real easy-like every six months or so. ‘You ain’t forgot me have ya?’ he’d say. I’d tell him no. Then he’d smile, touch my shoulder, and go about his business. He was a gentleman.”

Ray grabbed the mic from Sam. “You ever pay him back, Art?”

Knowing chuckles trickled across the room.

“I did. Even bought him a beer for being so patient.

Charlie Woods was next. “Once, when I was still drinkin’, I got stuck in a snow drift over on Adams Street. Snowing like crazy. Oliver stopped to help. He couldn’t budge my car, but he took me home. I’da froze if he hadn’t. I tried to pay him, but he wouldn’t have it. I insisted, and I guess he figured I was too drunk to reason with, so he took the money. And guess what he done? My wife worked up to the hospital.  He drove up there in that snowstorm and gave her my twenty bucks.”

“That get you in some trouble at home?” Ray asked.

“Nah. No more than usual.”

The people laughed out loud.

It was Jesse’s first brush with grief. Oddly, the stories made him feel better, but he was unsure if feeling better was acceptable.

Eventually, some of the Oliver yarns spun out of bounds. No one used cuss words, but, for a time, one unrefined account of life with Oliver begat another. Richard McKinnon finally took the mic and stole the show. “Oliver was full of surprises. One day I was chatting with him down at his harness shop while he was mending a saddle. Out of nowhere he says, ‘You know Richard, when I die, I hope they tan my hide and turn me into a lady’s saddle. That way I can spend eternity between the two things I love most – fast horses and fast women.”

Choked-back chortles burst into belly laughs.

Even Pastor Wiggins smiled, though he felt professionally obligated to restore a measure of reverence to the service, and he was getting hungry. “Folks, folks, folks. Your tribute to Oliver has been wonderful,” he announced as he made his way back to the mic. “Not only does the Good Book remind us there’s a time to live and a time to die. It also tells us there’s a time to weep and a time to laugh. And I think we’ve followed that divine instruction here this morning to a T. What a heartfelt tribute we’ve had for a wonderful man who was well-loved and respected. Now, let’s take a moment to give credit where credit is due. Let’s thank God for Oliver Doyle’s fascinating, abundant, and obedient life. Shall we assume an attitude of prayer?”

Little did he know, they already had.

About the Author

Tim Brown

Tim has been writing professionally for many years. As an adverting copywriter he learned to write succinctly and his fiction benefits from that discipline. He thinks it's the foundation of his fiction-writing skill. He has published four books since he began his story-telling career over five years ago. Tim holds a BA in journalism from the University of Nebraska and an MA in mass communications from Denver University. Between degrees he served as a journalist in he U.S. Army.