I met Harvey in July 2010. Melanie and I had just moved into our new home with our two dogs. We were walking one day when our Labrador Maddy stopped and “took care of business” on the street. I bent over to pick it up and heard a man say, “You are a good neighbor.”
We introduced ourselves, chatted a bit, and headed off on our walk. Harvey, with his wooden walking poles, continued on his twice-daily walk around the mile-long circle we each lived on.
The next time I saw Harvey along our walk, he remembered our names. We were much younger than Harvey and didn’t recall his. Harvey was about 88 years old at the time and I felt astounded that he remembered our names.
We saw Harvey often on our walks. I soon noticed that he always said something nice about us when we met, never complained or bragged, or criticized anyone. Harvey was humble. I came to believe that Harvey was a highly developed man with great maturity. He didn’t talk about his religion, but I could see he was a spiritual person. He didn’t talk about his beliefs; he just lived them.
Harvey had served in World War II, taught biology to middle-school kids for 15 years, but his real work identity came from his work as a naturalist at Gooseberry Falls State Park in Northern Minnesota for 30 years. His son Warren said that for 30 summers Harvey “…blended his love for people, teaching, and nature. Visitors called him ‘Smokey.’”
Harvey stopped to rest along his walks. Several people had put out chairs for him to sit on. As time went on, we noticed the number of chairs for Harvey was growing. We decided to put a chair out in front of our home, too. A few days later, we saw Harvey sitting in the chair. We felt honored.
I told Harvey he was my role model for how to age well, and I paid attention to see how he handled himself. Some days, Harvey sat in our chair early in the morning. Other times he rested later in the afternoon. Sometimes I went out and sat with him, and other times Melanie did.
One sunny summer evening, Harvey and Melanie were talking on the front step. I had just dished up a bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce on it. I stepped outside with my ice cream and asked Harvey if he liked ice cream.
He said, “I do.”
“Do you like chocolate syrup on it?” I asked.
He said, “I do.”
“Would you like a dish?” I asked. “I could do that,” he said.
“Could you eat this much ice cream?” I asked showing him my bowl. “I could do that,” he said.
I hadn’t started to eat my ice cream so I asked Harvey, “Would you like this bowl?”
He said, “I would.”
I went in and dished up another bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce and we sat on the porch and talked as we ate our treats.
In October of 2017, Kare 11 News did a feature about Harvey, his life, and his daily walks. A dozen chairs were now out around the neighborhood. Several neighbors spoke of Harvey and the cameraman taped Harvey doing his walk while Harvey told his story. Kare 11 did a great job showing Harvey’s love of the neighborhood and his neighbors’ love of him. The feature leads to several follow-up stories by other media companies (See link below).
I started to call Harvey “Hollywood.”
Pat, Harvey’s wife, had been in a nursing home for several months and Harvey lived alone in the home he and Pat built around 1951. They raised five children who now had their own families.
Pat passed away on March 7, 2018, at age 92. Harvey was now 96 years old.
Melanie and I attended her visitation. I noticed Harvey sitting and taking oxygen. That was new.
Pat’s funeral was the next day. I didn’t know how enlightening it would be.
After a moving funeral service, we retired to a dining room for lunch. After we ate, there was an open microphone and people were invited to share their memories of Pat. For almost an hour, people stood up to speak of Pat’s goodness, good deeds, and her love of family. Some cried; some made us laugh. Person after person: Old friends, neighbors, family young and old told stories of her welcoming nature, sensitivity to others, and stories of how Pat always went out of her way to help and support people of all ages. No stories of status, money, or great accomplishments. Just stories of a woman who lived a life of love and caring for others.
Love filled the room. I realized that Pat was a special woman. I would learn that the children Pat and Harvey raised (Steve, Brian, Laurie, Mary, and Warren) were caring and thoughtful just like their parents.
A week or two later, Harvey called. He was now living in the same nursing home Pat had spent her final months in. I said I would visit.
On May 14, 2018, Melanie and I visited Harvey. We thought “no more than 30 minutes.” Harvey talked about the nursing home: “The food is good, there are lots of activities, and the staff is nice.”
I had suffered some strokes about 5½ months prior and I shared personal stories of my strokes and aftermath with Harvey, including things I wouldn’t share with many others. Harvey told us of the difficulties he had with Pat’s death, including things he might not share with many others.
Two and a half hours later, I said, “I’m tired.” Harvey, at 96 years old, was ready to keep talking.
The sharing of personal stories deepened our bond. Harvey and I agreed that I would visit every Monday at 2:30 pm.
Usually, I went alone, a couple of times Melanie came along. She loved Harvey too, but, she said, “I can see the special relationship you and Harvey enjoy and I don’t want to intrude on that.” A couple of times, Mike, Harvey’s neighbor, visited Harvey with me. Harvey was happy when Mike visited. Our Monday visits lasted about an hour and a half—sometimes longer.
Visiting the nursing home was hard: I felt sad seeing so many residents close to death. I saw the same group of people, day after day, sitting in their wheelchairs that lined the corridors. No one but the staff engaged with them. How lonely they must have felt.
Harvey had a full calendar of activities: Church in the morning, breakfast, and visitors. After lunch, he took a half-hour nap. Some days he played bingo. He got me to play, and I had fun. Other days the local VFW took him to lunch. Once the staff took him fishing. He went to outdoor concerts. On two days a week, he played Bridge at two different locations. One of his children visited each night.
I loved Harvey more every time I was with him. I observed Harvey: He was 24 years older than me. I’m getting old too, and I watched to see how Harvey handled himself, his age, and with others. You see, Harvey was a man who continued to love life, learn new things, and engage with others. That’s how I want to be as I age.
I helped Harvey with his walks every Monday. He would get behind his wheelchair and push it and I would hold a special belt he put on and walked behind him. Harvey always wanted to walk. We’d stop for Harvey to catch his breath and then we would walk again. I noticed on our walks through the corridors of the nursing home, that Harvey knew everyone’s name. I thought, “Darn, how does he do that?” Harvey always introduced me to friends, family, staff, and other residents. And he always introduced me by saying something nice about me.
Harvey asked if I played cards. I said, “No.”
He said, “Want to learn a game called “King’s in the Corner?”
I hadn’t played cards in more than 40 years. I couldn’t say no to Harvey. From then on we played three games of “King’s in the Corner” each Monday. Each week Harvey would say, “I have a deck of cards in my pocket. Want to play a few hands?” I always said, “Yes, I do.”
Harvey was the consummate teacher. He would see moves I could make but was not seeing. That meant I was missing a chance to get rid of a card.
He would say, “Don’t knock yet.” I looked and looked. Sometimes I saw the chance to get rid of a card and if I was having trouble, Harvey would give me more clues until I saw the opportunity to get rid of a card in front of me.
One day Melanie came with me. Harvey asked, “Do you want to play “King’s in the Corner?”
Melanie said, “I haven’t played this game since I was a little kid but I’ll try.”
I dealt the cards. Within five minutes, Melanie won the game. Harvey and I still had almost all of our cards. Harvey was shocked by Melanie’s quick win and joked, “We don’t like card sharks here.”
When I told Harvey we would be moving away from the neighborhood and would be 20 minutes farther away from the nursing home, he asked: “Will you still be able to visit?” I replied, “Same time every Monday.”
At the end of each visit, Harvey expressed his gratitude for my visit, and I expressed my gratitude for our time together.
Harvey began to get out of breath sooner and his walks became shorter. He didn’t say anything about it. I didn’t ask. In mid-August, 2018 Mary, one of Harvey’s daughters, called me and told me Harvey had taken a turn for the worse. She said I should still come the next Monday. She said he had trouble talking so I might need to carry the conversation.
When I arrived at his room, his daughter Laurie sat with Harvey. I met one of Harvey’s granddaughters and her husband. His granddaughter and her husband sang several spiritual songs. Harvey sat in his recliner, closed his eyes, and moved his head back and forth. Harvey wanted a break and I decided it was time for me to go.
I walked up to him in his chair and leaned down close to his ear. I said, “I love you, Harvey.”
That was my last visit with my friend.
Harvey died on what would have been Pat’s 93rd birthday: September 1, 2018
At his funeral, son Warren gave the eulogy and I learned why Harvey always remembered people’s names:
To begin this morning, I’d like to ask you a question: What’s the sweetest word in your ear? My father used to say it was: Your own name. He was someone who firmly believed this, and he gave names careful attention through his life.
If you think about it, learning someone’s name is an introduction. It’s the first step toward building a relationship or a friendship. Without the name, relationships and friendships tend to be superficial. My dad wasn’t superficial!
I’m guessing my dad knew almost everyone here BY name. Whether you were his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws, outlaws, friends, neighbors, co-workers, students, etc., Harvey made a point of learning your name and using it. Names meant a lot to him because each of you means a lot to him….
Names are the key to unlocking lasting relationships and friendships. However long or short our lifespan—and my dad lived an impressive 96 years—it is those relationships and friendships—founded on names—that truly define, enrich and beautify our time on earth. My dad taught us all by his example. Be humble enough to take an interest in others. Learn and use their names. Your life, my life, and our world—will be better for it.
Daniel Quinn wrote in Ishmael: “The flaw in man is exactly this: that he doesn’t know how he ought to live.”
Pat and Harvey knew how to live and their example taught the people around them who, in turn, were role models for others and that’s how we change the world.
So long Harvey. I’ll always remember your name.
See the Kare 11 story about Harvey: His chairs in the neighborhood and an update after his death.