"Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us, so be quick to love and make haste to be kind."
— Henri-Frédéric Amiel
I met Zeke Muller when he was 87 years young. I invaded his Central Point home during a ride-along with former Food & Friends Fundraising Director Jane Whaley in 2008. My goal was to witness what the drivers for Meals on Wheels experience. And, hopefully, stir up some new volunteers. I didn't know I'd be meeting my new secret honey.
From the moment Zeke opened his door, I was impressed with his openness toward a pesky reporter asking myriad questions — and a photographer flashing shot after shot. We three didn't faze Zeke in the slightest.
"It's a beautiful day," Zeke cheerfully announced to us all.
While Jane prepped his meal and prompted the World War II veteran, I was soon scribbling notes on the self-effacing stories Zeke shared about his life. And I was falling for this tender-hearted, twinkle-eyed charmer.
Jane was the one who gave me the news Zeke was gone. I should have seen it myself. A short obituary ran in the Mail Tribune last Sunday stating Richard E. "Zeke" Muller had passed away March 10, 2013, at his home in Central Point. He was 91. A celebration of life service will be held at a later date, the notice said.
I'm going to do a little celebrating now. Because life is short. And love is precious.
That day we first visited, Jane asked Zeke how he was doing. He said he was OK. But old injuries from a logging accident decades ago were giving his knees fits, he said.
"If I had a couple borrowed ones, they'd be all right," Zeke said with a chuckle.
I love a man with a sense of humor.
I asked Zeke about his family. He fondly looked at the photos on display across from his chair. He said he'd lost a daughter in her 20s. She'd died in a motorcycle accident on the Fourth of July. His two sons don't live in the area, Zeke said. His cherished bride of 65 years had died two years earler, he said.
"I sure miss her. We had a lotta life together," Zeke said.
I love a man who loves his kids — no matter what. And who misses his wife.
I wasn't alone in my Zeke crush. Some of the female Meals on Wheels volunteers liked to take him on ride-alongs while they delivered meals. Zeke didn't have a lot. But he saw how some of the folks live. No money. No kith or kin to check on them.
"It's a tough old world," he said, shaking his head. "You see how they're living by a shoestring. Then you really appreciate what you've got."
I love a man who has the grace to know, in spite of his trials, that he's been blessed.
The Meals on Wheels story, and an accompanying column, ran that week. But I couldn't stop thinking about Zeke. Somehow we became sporadic pen pals. His cards and letters always lifted my heart.
"This is a beautiful day," begins a letter dated Feb. 25, 2009. Zeke goes on to offer some sweet flattery about my "way with words." Zeke wished he'd learned "something" when he was in school. But he was "too busy making eyes at that girl I married," Zeke wrote.
"We had a pretty good life together — 65 years," he said. "I don't know how she stood me that long. She was a wonderful wife."
I love a man who understands what it is to love. Forever.
From time to time I'd swing by Zeke's house on the way to work and drop off a plate of cookies. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Easter. Sometimes I'd just leave them on the front stoop with a note. Zeke, God bless him, was deaf as the proverbial post. Banging on the door could become an all-day endeavor. And I was always in a hurry.
Always a sweet note or funny card would soon arrive from Zeke. I kept them all, nestled in my desk drawer. I pulled them out when I heard the news, and shed a tear. I wished I'd stopped by more often. I wished I'd written more letters. Then I took comfort in my friend's last line.
"God bless you and stay happy, Old Zeke"
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email@example.com.