We were saddened to hear of the passing of one Noel Edwin Allen of Brazil Indiana. He was one of those people you somehow think will beat the odds and live forever. Such a thing is not to be with men. Fifteen years my senior, notice of his death makes me feel older than I did just a few moments previously.
Almost exactly two years ago, following his 80th birthday celebration, I wrote a blog entitled "To a Quiet Man." Some of what was said then deserves repetition:
If you have not met Noel you've missed one of those minor pleasures life affords which make living more enjoyable. It may or may not have been instructive to learn -- just coincidentally I am sure -- that in the year Noel was born, 1929, this country saw the introduction of both the Great Depression and Popeye.
We were greeted at the door ( at the reception) by Noel's bride of 61 years, Helen. There was a moment I noted when, sitting side by side, these two automatically, probably unconsciously, held hands. It's the kind of thing you see among married folk with three daughters and sons-in-law, some ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren and counting. My experience is hand-holding becomes something of a natural reaction to being reminded of all rearing children has brought you through.
Most of us live quiet lives, unnoticed by the mass on their way to somewhere else. Some just have more interesting things happen to them than others. When I met Noel he owned Red Roof Antiques and I didn't know about any of the things he lived through and accomplished. Once in a while he'd mention something or another he'd done, or some place he'd been. It was only from the information compiled by his grandchildren for this occasion that I learned what an interesting life he had indeed led, some good things he'd achieved, and some of the fascinating places he'd been.
Those grandchildren ought to know another part of the story, that minor part of Noel's life which touched me and our family.
It is hard to imagine now what would have happened if we had not met Noel shortly after arriving in Brazil in 1996. There were four of us then: Kay and I, our 14 year old son Benji, and Pepper -- Benji's large but otherwise indescribable dog. Who rents to a guy in my position: knows no one in town, has no local references other than a son living in Carbon, no visible means of support, and in suspect health? And, most importantly, who rents to a family with that dog?
Noel not only took a chance on us, but became the best landlord I've ever known. In the ten years we lived on his property he never raised what was assuredly below market value rent; in fact he lowered it at one point to be "easier to add in my checkbook." If I asked how to fix something he'd immediately call someone in to do it right (Noel was always a good judge of my mechanical ability). If our children had not insisted on our moving into town I would have been content to live where we were as long as Noel Allen was the lord of the manor.
There are two fair ways to judge the quality of a man: How he treats his fellow man when no one is looking, and whether his children and grandchildren are glad they came to his 80th birthday party. If I live to be eighty I can only hope to be so fairly judged as this quiet man with an interesting past.
Sometimes life hands you a debt which cannot be repaid to he through whom that gift had come, all you can hope to do is pay it forward. Such a debt was imposed on our family the day we met Noel Edwin Allen.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.