June 11, 2013
He came to us recommended by a friend. We were told that he had a checkered past but that he was trying to get his life back together and I was asked to give him another chance. I trusted that person, we had a opening in our dish room, and so Gary became one of our employees.
A quiet man, we soon found out that Gary was a very hard worker and extremely talented. There did not seem to be many 'hands on' things that he could not do. He soon got side jobs working on peoples cars or lawn mowers or whatever type 'handy man' jobs.
Gary was divorced with two young girls....his ex wife had struggles of her own.....and yet, Gary still accepted her. And his love for the two girls was so evident. He would often bring them into the diner and buy them a meal. They both seemed to echo his quiet nature.
But, he did not come without a cost. His past had affected another ex employee with a somewhat 'storied' past. Something he had done in his 'past' life had harmed her. She called me up demanding that I fire him. If I did not, she warned, she was going to tell the world just what kind of employee that I was hiring.
Gary had been working for me for a year or so and had shown himself but even that, I must admit, I was a bit scared and threatened. After all, if our customers saw it the wrong way, I could be harming 30 others lively hood and our business. I talked it over with Judy and Jimmy and decided that since he was such a good employee and he seemed to be trying so hard to be a good man that we would see where this storm would take us.
After one or two phone calls from the others friends, that storm blew over and Gary became not only a good employee but a 'highly valued and loved one'. There was not an employee that his dry humor and quiet nature did not affect. There was not a job that was given him that he did not jump into with vigor. He became our 'hands on' guy.
I watched as he picked up the pieces of his life and trudged forward with a smile on his face. With his talent, I hoped that we would be a stepping stone for him. I could see him getting a job as a mechanic somewhere. But....Gary stayed on. I guess he liked it here.
He soon gained custody of his two girls and I saw Gary jump headlong into fatherhood. His love and affection for them was very evident. And through it all, his acceptance of his ex seemed to shine like no other that I had seen.
Although I did see him angry a time or two, it was certainly not the norm. He was going to take what life was dealing him and do so with a joke and a smile. You know, I honestly cannot seem to find a time that I ever admonished him for anything or was disappointed in something that he had done.
He was living in a small trailer that someone had given him in a little trailer park so Cindy (one of our waitstaff and a real estate agent on the side) started working with him to help him get a home through some government program. There were quite a few hurdles to jump and it all seemed on again off again, but eventually Gary had a home for him and his two girls. The trailer had been given him so he passed that on by giving it to someone else in need. I knew nothing of this until I ran into a woman who was working at the dollar tree who told me what Gary had done for her and her daughter.
Gary's talent certainly showed itself greatly when we began serving our Thanksgiving meals at the Bend Senior Center. Gary organized and strapped in equipment and food supplies into the borrowed trailer securing everything for the transfer. He took charge of the 'in and out' as we moved part of our kitchen and all the supplies for the event. He even brought the girls along the first year and they helped out with the serving of the pies. His absence was felt last year when we moved the things back to the diner. He had asked if he could spend the rest of the day with his family in his new home. He had worked hard at everything so Jimmy gratefully granted his request. We did our best at bringing in and securing everything but I admit that I was surprised when we got it all home without too many mishaps.
One of the girls became pregnant and as usual, Gary did not complain. He just seemed to do what he had always done. When she gave birth, he was there supporting his daughter....loving her as a father should.
Then, recently, when the other was involved in a bad accident and we were not sure if she was going to make it, Gary was just there....not complaining...at least to us. I know that bills must have been piling up but he never grumbled and just kept on doing his job.
One of our customers who got to know Gary saw his need for transportation and when he had purchased a new car, just gave Gary his old one which was in pretty good shape. He could see that Gary was a giving person so....he gave to Gary.
I was concerned recently when I was informed that he had gone to the hospital with chest pains. I expected to see him out for a bit and wondered how he was going to do with his daughter just recently coming home from the hospital and recovering from the accident.
So, I was kind of surprised when I saw him at work. I asked him if he was ok and in typical 'Gary' fashion, he said that he was......but this time it was different. He admitted that he was struggling a bit with his breathing. I asked if he was sure that he should be there and he just smiled and assured me that he was alright. "I just have to work through this", he said. I asked him what the doctors had said and I saw worry in his eyes when he told me that they had said that he had a mild heart attack and that they had found a spot on his lungs. I told him that he could go home if he wanted but he just smiled and said that he was fine and went of working. I knew he needed the money so I didn't press the issue. I figured that he knew his own body.
Later, I asked him again and he said his chest hurt just a bit. I told him that he should go home and he said that he was off soon.........I should have encouraged him to go straight to the doctor.
I got the call from Jimmy later yesterday afternoon. Gary was gone. He had gone home and told his ex that he was going to lie down on the couch for a bit and rest. He asked her to wake him for supper. When she went to wake him, he would not.....could not wake up.
I went home and told Judy. After the initial shock and tears, we sat and began to make plans on what to do. I initially wanted to shut the diner down for the evening but we both agreed that the people there needed the wages. So, Judy stayed home and called employees while I drove to the diner. I figured on telling them at he end of their shift.
I informed Casey and as we walked through the kitchen, I looked over at Matt (one of our cooks and bakers). I could see the look on his face. "Do you know?", he asked. "I will tell them at the end of the night", I stated. "Good call", he said and turned to the back room. I followed him there and we talked. I told him that was why I was there. To talk with the ones who found out and to inform the others later knowing that if I told them now, it would not be good. Through the tears, Matt let me know that he and Gary had talked just before he had left. Gary always joked about things and he had told Matt that he was going to go home, lay down, and try not to die...........so, you can imagine how that hit Matt.
I called Judy and she was struggling with it all so I decided that I best go home. Casey was going to let the others know at the end of the evening and close the place down early if it was quiet.
Now, we move on......and I admit, that I don't have the slightest idea of what or how the next few days will be like. This is totally uncharted ground.
Jake's is a family. We always have been. We have lost some in the past but certainly not like this. The next few days will be hard. But, we need to take them (especially in his honor) as he has taken his in the past.....one step at a time.
Please pray for his family and the Jake's family.