My first memory of him was when I couldn't have been any more than 5 years old. He came by our house looking for my dad and in the meantime saw fit to investigate every ounce of what I was doing, which at that moment was hooking up the hose to the outside faucet with what was, I'm sure, some great summertime scheme in mind. He asked what I was doing, I explained, and he offered welcomed conversation, because as a 5 year old, few people cared what I was up to. My brother walked past and the man at my side whispered, "he's a husky one, isn't he?". I didn't know what husky meant and for that particular brother it could have meant a number of things: happy, determined, busy, quiet, or bold. It wasn't until the man left that I finally had a chance to ask my mom what husky meant.
"It means thick, or strong, or big. Where did you hear that word?"
I told her that's what the man had called my brother and then I asked her who he was. She told me the man's name was Hulan and that he came by to get some help from my dad. She said I shouldn't ever call anybody husky but that it was okay that Hulan did. It was in that moment that I realized how important this person must be if he could use a work I wasn't allowed to use.
Years went by, and Hulan came by every now and then, but it wasn't until my teenage years that happened to coincide with Hulan's loneliness and failing health, that Hulan truly became part of my life. Not a Thanksgiving went by that Hulan wasn't scarfing turkey at the same table as the rest of us. And rarely did a week go by that Hulan wasn't at the doorstep looking for a visit, some company, or an audience for one of his favorite renditions of an old cowboy song. We always obliged.
Somewhere between the doorstep visits and the Thanksgiving dinners, I turned 16, got my license and inherited my brother's old car. A few short weeks later, my cousin got her license and an old truck, and we together claimed an independence we'd never felt before, and sadly Hulan in his older age was losing the independence he had always had. Our moms saw this as an opportunity to help Hulan, and reign in our wild hairs. So Markee and I became Hulan's chauffeurs. We'd drive him to the doctors office, or the post office or the grocery store. We'd always have the giggles as this sweet innocent man said the silliest things that made perfect sense to him, and were off the wall to us. He'd love that we thought he was funny and that would just egg him on. He'd talk about cattle ranching in Texas and his proficiency in all things guitar. He kept us entertained for the entirety of those days spent running errands. My favorite Hulanism (as we started referring to his stories and funnies) though, was when our small town got a Subway and a Sonic within about 1 year of each other. The Subway was finished first and a few months later signs went up that construction on a Sonic would begin. Markee, Hulan and I were driving in town and passed the sign that said "Sonic Coming Soon" and Hulan asked what Sonic was. We told him it was a fast food restaurant with delicious drinks and he was appalled and downright confused that there was even a need for another restauraunt in this town. He looked at us in all seriousness and said,
"What do we need a Sonic for? We've already got a Submarine".
I thought we would die of laughter and as teenage girls who thought we had way better things to do than drive a simple old man around town to do his errands, we suddenly felt a love for this beat up old man that was hard to explain.
I loved Hulan, in a Good Samaritan way. I loved him because I thought he was less than I was and he needed friends and love and I could offer that to him. I loved him because I thought I was better than him and I pitied him, and I loved him because that's what I thought I was supposed to do. It was the Christ-like thing to do.
Then one day, I came home from high school to eat lunch. I walked into the kitchen to see my mom folding a load of clean white laundry she'd just pulled from the dryer. I sat at the counter and watched her fold; a pair of her socks, a couple of her shirts, one of my dad's white handkerchiefs, and... Hulan's underwear. I screamed out loud and asked what she was doing. She looked at me so confused and said she was folding laundry. I said, yes, but you're folding Hulan's laundry at the same time as you're folding your laundry, does this mean....you washed HIS underwear with YOUR clothes? I saw the disappointment in her eyes as it dawned on her that I couldn't fathom Hulan's clothes touching mine and she took a minute and talked to me. She told me about Hulan and who he was, where he'd come from, the life he'd lived, and a few of the things he'd been through. Hulan wasn't like everybody else, he never married, never had children, always wanted to sing cowboy songs and ride horses, and never quite got to fulfill all of his dreams. Hulan was simple and Hulan was a little different, but Hulan, she told me, was a human being, and Hulan, was above all else, our friend.
Something changed in me that day, especially in regards to Hulan. I realized how silly I'd been to think I was ever better than Hulan, and most importantly I realized that all of those hours our moms made us spend in the car with Hulan running errands weren't for Hulan's bennifit, they were for mine, and they were some of the greatest blessings I could have ever had, and I was the lucky one.
I was only 16 or 17 but I grew up quick that day and my love for Hulan turned into a less selfish love and a more true kind of love. I learned to listen to him when he talked, and I learned to find interest in the stories he shared. He taught me about horses and ranching and Texas and cowboys, and these times, I took it all in.
We called him Huley and he hated it. "My name is Hulan Jack" he'd say. But everybody called him Hulan, and he wasn't just anybody to us, we couldn't just call him Hulan like everybody else, he needed a special name. So Huley it was. And it grew on him. And he grew on us. He'd call at 5 in the morning just to make sure we'd seen the sunrise. He'd call at noon to ask if we'd heard about the wildfire in New Mexico. He'd call late at night to talk about something he'd read in a National Geographic magazine. And after I moved out of the house, each time I'd come home, when he'd call and find out I was in town, he'd ask to talk to me on the phone or ask if I could pick him up a gallon of milk and drop it off at his house, and I would.
Hulan became a part of our family and when he started getting too sick to come to Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve, we'd miss him. We'd take things by his house and he'd always ask us to come in and stay. I called him Huley against his will, laughed at his silly jokes, loved him for the wrong reasons, and he'd always ask me to come in and stay. Hulan knew no stranger, had no malice in his heart, and couldn't hold a grudge if he'd try. Hulan was the perfect example of holding on to your dreams, being happy through hard times, and unconditional love. Huley was perfect.
Huley died this morning, and my heart won't sit still. My mom reassures me that maybe now he's finally riding all the horses and singing all the cowboy songs he can possibly sing. And that thought makes me happy. But just like the selfish love I started out having for Huley, today I still have some of that selfish love where I want him back on Earth with me. I want him to be excited the next time he finds out I'm in town, and I want him to insist that I "come here" and give him a hug. Because nobody has ever taught me life's important lessons the way that Huley did. He taught me what real love is, and he taught me what real service is, detached from praise and glory. And Huley taught me to never stop dreaming.
My teenage years are chalk-full of memories with Huley, and I know each of my Eagar-dwelling siblings and cousins could say the same. And maybe our parents were trying to teach us something by inviting Huley into our homes, but really, Huley taught us something by inviting us into his heart, and he leaves me no doubt that I will always be in his heart, and Huley, you will always be in mine.
Today your earthly dreams stand still,
As you dawn those gates of pearl.
I hope you run, without a care,
And let your cowboy flag unfurl.
I hope the horses all come running to you
I hope they were waiting for you to come.
And I hope you're handed a golden guitar
With a gold pick ready to strum.
I hope you're given a job, that only Huley could do.
Like loving, or ranching, and such,
I know you'll do your best, give it all you've got,
And do it with your special Hu-touch.
I hope you get all the hugs you want, from your friends near and far.
I hope you're greeted by your family and crew.
And Huley, if you can, please go find my dad,
He'll want a big Huley hug, too.
I hope your pain goes away, and your happiness shines
As you talk and tell stories and share.
I hope you have a big audience listening to you,
As you swoon them, sans worry or care.
I hope you stay busy doing heavenly things,
And I hope you do so with your own Hulan Jack style,
And Huley, I hope, if you ever get a minute,
You might come see me, and stay for a while.
I'll miss you dear Hulan, more than you'll know.
I'll miss your laughter and dreams and your tales.
But you deserve this new place, and the heavenly views,
Free from your natural man ails.
So saddle a horse, and grab your guitar,
And be the cowboy you've wanted to be,
And yes, it is true, you're name's Hulan Jack,
But to me, you'll always be Huley.