"He's a real talker," one person said.
"I'm a real listener," I replied.
All it took was a few words, and an hour and a half went by.
"So, Mr. Jackson, what was it like around here when you were growing up?" I asked him.
It seems to me that all the really good storytellers I know come from that generation that suffered, struggled, fought and won their right to live. They are in their eighties and nineties now and earned every minute of that life by working hard.
"I can remember living in a shack where the water in the tea kettle would freeze overnight," he said.
"I traveled to wherever the work was, oftentimes leaving my wife and family for days. I'd drive home on the weekends to see them, arriving back at work on Monday at 4:30 in the morning. I started work at 6:00 A.M.!"
Nine children later he sits alone in his small house with just the cat.
"I'm proud of every one of my kids. Each of them turned out to be very successful. They worked hard, too!" he told me.
"Gee, I wonder where they got that?" I said to him.
"Where?" he replied. He knew what I was going to say, but he wanted to hear it. I think he knows the kind of influence his life had on his kids.
"You! They learned that from you, my friend."
He went on to share an incredible story with me, one that cynics might not value but that believers would find encouragement in.
"One of my sons was a drug addict," he began. I listened attentively. He gazed out the window behind me to my right. I think he could see it all unfolding again.
"One night at about 3:00 A.M., I heard a car pull up in front of the house. It startled me, so I ran to look out the window. I saw two people get out and drag something out of the backseat and onto my lawn. I rushed downstairs to see what it was. As I headed out the door, they took off."
Read more >>
I remained quiet, watching how his soft, well-aged face reacted to such memories.
"I literally had to drag him into the house," he continued. "He was all drugged up and couldn't do it by himself. Once I got him inside, I washed him the best I could. I wanted him to go to bed but he refused. He laid right there on the floor for a few hours. He kept mumbling about a bird, a big black bird. I just thought it was the drugs talking."
Just then his cat jumped up in front of us onto to the table. He stroked her and, arching her back in appreciation, she purred softly.
"I called my doctor at about 6:30 and he said to bring him in. We weren't in the car but a few minutes when this bird came flying across the road. My son sat up, suddenly coming to life again. He shouted, "That's the bird!"
He went on to tell me that night he wandered away from the house he was at and headed up into the woods. Confused and lost, he stumbled down an embankment. He believes he just passed out there. Then he felt this biting on his back. He turned to see what it was and couldn't see a thing. Again and again he felt the pain and pinching. Trying to get up he finally discovered this big black bird perched nearby. It swooped down at him several times until he finally got to his feet. All the way up the hill this bird kept after him.
It wasn't until he came back to the road that the bird left. He sat down there, and a passerby found him and dumped him in our yard."
"That's incredible!" I said.
"Wait. There's more," he said to me.
"As we drove down our road that bird kept after us. Flying a few times right toward us and then for a while across the field in the same direction we were going.
"As we crossed the road onto the big highway, he disappeared."
Then placing his elbows on the table in front of him he leaned closer to me.
"Bob, I'm not religious. But I believe that God sent that bird to save my son's life. I didn't believe him at first. But the marks on his back clearly show that something was pecking at him. He may very well have died down there in that ravine. That bird didn't give up until he was back on the road. I personally saw it following us on the way to the hospital."
"My friend, you don't have to convince me. I believe you." I said.
"Where is he today?" I added.
"Now he is a successful drug counselor. He travels all over helping people."
We sat for a few more minutes until it was time for me to say goodbye.
"Can I get you anything? Is there anything I can do for you, Mr. Jackson?"
He stood up and walked closer to where I was now standing. He said, "Can you make me well again?"
I smiled and said, "I wish I had that power. But I know the One who does. I'll see you in my prayers, my friend."
He walked me to the door, and, after getting in my car, I saw his front door close.
I drove away, and as I got to the corner I couldn't remember which way I'd come in. Then I remembered that I turned onto his street just past an old church. I could see it from there.
As I approached the church, I turned and said, "God, watch over him."
I couldn't believe it. There, sitting on the eaves over the main entrance was a black bird.
I'm hoping I get to see Mr. Jackson again. Have I got a story for him!