The return of Joe

By Bill Shepard

Joe did return, more than once. He would just up and leave at any time that the “wanderlust” would burn his feet. We became close friends and one Sunday, I invited Joe to have dinner with me. My wife had met Joe on other occasions and had taken a liking to my friend.

Joe attended church with us that Sunday and the preacher’s sermon was about the “prodigal son” in the Bible. It was a touching sermon about the boy who had left home and wandered about until he finally ended up in the pig pen, feeding the pigs. The Prodigal finally made his way back home to his father’s house.

While I assisted my wife in preparing the meal, Joe went outside and sat on the porch. When dinner was ready, I stepped outside and saw Joe, sitting quietly, head bowed, and I knew he had something on his mind. I approached where he was sitting and he looked up at me and for the first time, I saw sadness in his eyes. “Bill, I’ve just been thinking that the Prodigal the preacher talked about was better off than me. He had a home to return to and I have nothing!”

“Joe,” I said, “you have a Heavenly Father who loves you and wants to welcome you home. You may never have a home on Earth but you can have one in Heaven.”
He arose and we went inside and had a delicious meal, but all that day, I could tell that the preacher’s sermon had hit its mark.

Not many days later, Joe was gone again and I did not hear from him again for a long time. Then one day, a letter came. Joe was living in Wilmington, N.C. He said a wealthy aunt had left an apartment to him when she died. A stipulation in her will said that he had to live in it and could not rent it to any other. If he failed to live up to her request, the apartment was to go back to another.

He was doing well and enjoying living on the coast near Wilmington. I wrote back that I was happy for him.

Our letters grew farther and farther apart. Meanwhile, I had begun building a house here in Piedmont. We would come to Piedmont in the summers when school was out and work on our house.

One day, out of nowhere. Joe showed up. We had a great visit. Seeing Joe brought back memories of our first meeting. I insisted on his spending the night, but he said he had to get back to his apartment in Wilmington. It seemed he had been in Charlotte for a few days and had stopped on his way home.

I followed Joe to the car and we prayed together and he was gone. I never saw or heard from him again. I wrote letters but they were returned, marked UNKNOWN AT THIS ADDRESS. It has remained a mystery as to what happened to my friend Joe.

Remember my old friend Joe,
The one I wrote about long time ago?
Well, he dropped in the other day,
Stayed just a short time and went on his way.

‘Tis been a long, long time since we first met,
And neither of us could ever forget
A friendship began that day long ago,
When he came to my car and said, “My name’s Joe.”

Now Joe’s retired and so am I,
Living the good life and watching time go by.
Joe spoke of old friends that have passed away.
We both know it’ll be one of us one day.

Whichever goes first, we don’t know,
But I’m sure glad I’ve known a man named Joe.
We walked to his car, shook hands and Joe drove away.

Before he did, I heard him pray.
“Dear Lord, this is Bill, my friend
“I love him, Lord,
“Please take care of him.”

Author: Rachel Howell

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