THE INVITATION Andy Hollifield 7-18-18
Mr. Haggerty was known as the mean old grouch on Simpson Street in his town. No one knew too much about him because he kept to himself so much. About the only time he talked at all was when he was drinking. He was around 67 years old and being a big man, he was pretty intimidating. If there was anything he loved more than drinking it was a good fight. If he had to, he would start it himself, especially when he was drinking. If he was drunk, you didn’t want to speak to him and definitely not make eye contact. That was all the excuse he needed to start a fight. No one ever really knew what it was in life that made him so bitter. Rumor has it that he was married once and his wife had died after only six years of marriage. Those that knew him prior to her death say that he was a different man back then but after the accident in which his wife and three-year old daughter were killed, something snapped. When you consider that they were killed by a drunk driver, he is the last person you would have ever expected to start drinking. Tragedy sometimes has a hateful way of bringing out the worst in people. I have heard it said that it will either make you bitter or make you better.
No one really knew why little Jimmy walked home that way after his ball game that day. It may have been to make sure none of his teammates saw him. This time, it was a grounder to left field that took a bad hop and got past him. Two runs scored and his team lost three to two and everyone blamed him for it. Maybe that was why as he walked by the Haggerty place that day he stopped to pet the old man’s dog. He had seen the “Beware Of The Dog” signs before and had even seen the dog. That big black Doberman that old man Haggerty called Lucifer; yeah that Lucifer, the devil. To little Jimmy’s surprise, as he walked by, Lucifer came growling but when Jimmy didn’t run, Lucifer just hopped up on the fence with his front paws and stood there looking at him. Animals have a way of feeling people’s joy, pain, anxiety, fear, and other emotions and maybe that is why Lucifer just stood there almost smiling as Jimmy got closer. I guess Jimmy thought his life was so rotten that being mauled by a dog wouldn’t make any difference. If he had only caught that ball. It would have been the third out and he would have been a hero to his team. One bad bounce and now he was a zero without any friends, so why not? He reached out to pet Lucifer on the head and was talking to him as Haggerty flung open the door and started cussing at him.
Much to the old man’s surprise the boy didn’t run off. He simply apologized and turned to walk away. I guess ol’ Haggerty even had a heart cause he asked Jimmy “Why didn’t you run, aren’t you afraid of me and my dog?” Jimmy told him that he figured since Lucifer wasn’t really that mean, he probably wasn’t either. People still argue about how it happened but the next thing Jimmy knew, Haggerty walked out to the gate and introduced himself. As he explained his surprise that Jimmy wasn’t afraid of him, this 10-year-old boy responded with wisdom beyond his years, “I believe everybody has some good in them and I figure that you do too.”
The story goes that Jimmy’s dad had to come down Simpson Street on his way home due to some road work on Maple. As he glanced toward old man Haggerty’s house, he must have been pretty shocked to see his son sitting and laughing with ol’ man Haggerty. He stopped and walked to the fence and told Jimmy to come on and leave Mr. Haggerty alone. Haggerty got up and come off of the porch and I’m sure Jimmy’s dad was dreading the fact that his son was fixing to see him get clobbered by an old man. As he neared the fence, Haggerty stuck out that big paw of his and said “Hi, I’m Bruce, but everybody just calls me Haggerty.”
No one could believe it but that was the start of a wonderful friendship and the introduction of a grandpa into little Jimmy’s life that he never had. Ol’ Papa Bruce became a regular Tuesday night guest at Jimmy’s house for supper. It took a few months but eventually Bruce agreed to go to the church with Jimmy to watch him in the Christmas play. That turned out to be a Christmas that Haggerty would never forget. When the invitation was given at the end, this big mountain of a man came lumbering down the aisle wiping tears and fell into the altar. He was there a while before he finally got up. He always said afterwards that he had a lot of repenting to do and it took a while. Someone made the comment to him that they couldn’t believe that he was the same old, mean, man who refused to give them back their baseballs when they went over his fence. His grinned and said while wiping away a tear, “I’m not. I left that man in the altar at the church that night.”
Papa Bruce passed away 7 years later, right after seeing his surrogate grandson graduate high school with highest honors. To those who knew him, they said in those last seven years that he was the sweetest man they had ever known. I guess that goes to show that even when you’re feeling like a zero and think the whole world hates you, God can still use you to make a difference even on your worst day. And Lucifer, well he’s kind of old now but he just lays around on his porch right beside Jimmy’s dad as he reads his bible each evening. I guess he had found it hard to be mean while he was living with a sweet old man like Bruce. Oh yeah; someone asked Bruce once why he had never came to church before. He had smiled and said, “No one had ever asked before.” Have a blessed day in the Lord!!!