I first met Mr. Walker in 1975. My College roommate and best friend, Primo invited me to go home with him to their ranch in South Texas. His Dad, Mr Walker was of that unique breed of men that humbly command respect. Standing tall and confident, with a firm handshake and a bright smile, Mr. Walker warmly welcomed me into his family. To describe him would be to describe the icon of a South Texas rancher, business man, family man who quietly but powerfully moved mountains. Under his sweat stained hat his piercing steel blue eyes seemed to look straight into the souls of men as he launched into a barrage of questions. Mr.Walker always wanted to know everything about everyone he talked to. Where you came from. What you are doing. Everything about your family. What do you think about this or that? He was always truly interested in you personally. I remember watching him work with the men on the ranch repairing fence, digging postholes and welding gates and thinking how at home he looks here. I remember seeing him dressed in a suit, elbow to elbow with the Governor and many men of great power, and again I thought he is so at home here. The cultural contrast coupled with how comfortable he was in any situation or with any crowd has had a tremendous impact on my life.
A few years later I found myself living with the Walkers at the ranch house. My friend convinced me that I could build the perfect abode to house him and his brand new beautiful bride. Early every morning, which actually seemed like the middle of the night to me, Mr. Walker would turn the light on and say, “Jeff, time to get up!” Every morning I was greeted with the same question, “Jeff what do you want for breakfast, eggs and onions or onions and eggs?” Someone had given him a big burlap sack full of onions. Totally thrilled by this, he was determined to make sure not one went to waste. Luckily, I didn’t have a girlfriend and I liked onions. I remember while working on the house, Mr. Walker would blow in unannounced just like the wind. I would look up to find him walking, cat like, up and down the rafters carefully inspecting every board and every nail. Then with a nod of approval and the slightest wave of his hand, just like he came, he would disappear in a cloud of dust.
During this time, I got really sick. I was imprisoned by an old army cot and a five gallon bucket. I lost around twenty pounds in just three days but stubbornly would not allow anyone to take me to the Doctor. Then came Mr. Walker, a man with so much wisdom and grace that my only possible response was, “Yes Sir.” I seemed to say that a lot when he was around. After five days in the hospital and a near death experience, by God’s mercy I revived and returned to the land of the living. Mr. Walker’s firm and persuasive words probably saved my life.
When it’s time to work cattle at the ranch everything else gets put on hold and all hands are on deck. Picture this, we are deep in the heart of South Texas brush country where everything sticks you, pokes you and bites you. It’s really hot, it’s dry and it’s dusty. A couple of dozen seasoned cowboys and cowgirls ranging in age from eight to eighty mill around like some pre-game ritual. The helicopter tips it’s wing saying good bye as the last of the herd is driven into the outer trap. The pens full of cows of every color and size push and shove to and fro in blind anxiousness. In the center of all this stands Mr. Walker. Atop the cutting chute like a Captain at the helm or better said, like a maestro conducting his orchestra, he turns, he looks and he nods as if to say, “Let this dance begin!” At once everything comes to life. Methodical like the tango, he watches, he points, he shouts, he opens, he closes, he directs, he moves, and he laughs. To see this is to see a true master at work, an art form, and a thing of beauty to behold.
One particular day there was this white eyed, high horned cow that put everyone, big and small, on the fence. Clothed in sweat, blood and mud, I clung fast to the fence when Mr. Walker leaned down and said in his best Texas drawl, “You better watch out for that one Jeff, that’s ole Myra Breckenridge.” After all these years he still makes me laugh.
Sundays were a day for church and rest for the Walkers. Recovery might have been a better word for me as Saturday night and Sunday morning had absolutely nothing in common. Whatever the cost, we were there, propped up by those hard, cold pew benches, mumbling songs from the hymnal and saying our amens at the First Baptist Church. This was pre-Jesus for me but praise God a few rogue seeds were scattered in my direction. Afterwards our safe haven was the front porch of that clap board house on that dusty street in the sleepy town of Laredo. Mr. Walker would bring arm loads of fried chicken with all the fixens and we would feast together, enjoy each other’s company and laugh a lot. That smell still brings back lots of good memories.
It has been forty years since we first met, an entire generation. A few months ago, by happenstance, (Ha), I ran into Mr. Walker, with his wife and daughters at a restaurant in San Antonio. Just like old times we enjoyed a meal together and laughed as we told old stories from years gone by. Mr. Walker, in true form, asked me tons of questions and somewhere in the mix he managed to remind us all of this story.
As it was, I had worked all day framing up Primo and Carlynn’s love nest. When it was time to go home, my truck wouldn’t start. This was way before cell phones and in fact, I think that the Pony Express might still have been in service. So I just girded up my well worn cowboy boots and jogged all the way back to the ranch…nine miles! Is that funny? He thought so and just laughed and laughed.
After a really wonderful time, we prepared to say our good byes. He reached up and pulled me close. I knew well the look in those steely blue eyes. Then he spoke firmly yet lovingly. He said, “Jeff, I have always thought of you as my son.” Mouth open, eyes leaking, I leaned in to embrace him as he said, “I love you son!” By now my voice was cracking but I managed to say, “I love you too!” Little did I know this would be my last visit with Mr. Walker on this earth. However God knew. He set it up. My Heavenly Father loves me that much.
I write this to honor Mr. Walker and his family. I will rejoice with those who rejoice and I will mourn with those who mourn. And as I reflect back over these many years, I can see now how Mr. Walker really believed in me. He always wanted the best for me. He helped to reveal the treasure in my life. My relationship with him and his love for me influenced me and inspired me to reach higher and to run farther. I am just a very small chip in the wall the Lord built through Mr. Walker’s life. I can just imagine the thousands of lives that he touched and the legacy he continues to leave behind. I am forever grateful.
We love you too Mr. Walker!
Post Script: Two nights ago I was at the barn feeding the horses. Like most nights, I looked up at the starry host in total amazement and awe of God’s creation. Suddenly I could see Mr. Walker walking side by side with Jesus. As always, Mr. Walker was flooding Jesus with a bevy of questions. As they walked, they smiled. All I could do was laugh! Laughter is good medicine.