"Nothing you do for children is ever wasted."
His name was Dan.
I didn’t know his last name or where he was from, or even if he had a family; when you’re five years old, you kind of tend to overlook these insignificant details. I focused on the more important ones: Dan was funny, he was kind, and he made me feel important. And he was my friend.
I first met Dan when our family moved into the “big gray house” across from the train tracks. It was a sturdy one hundred-year-old house built from solid bridge timbers, but after being abandoned for over ten years, it needed a lot of repairs. Dan came to help us with the siding and the plastering; hence our nickname for him – Dan the Plaster-Man.
When he first walked in, I tried to hide behind my mom. My first impression was of Moses… a long gray beard that reached his chest and twinkling eyes. I would soon learn that Dan was like Moses in another way too… he loved to talk about his Jesus. The only difference was that instead of a long robe and a pair of stone tablets, our Moses wore work pants, scuffed boots, a worn green sweater, and carried a plaster knife.
Dan spent almost a month working on our house. He was quick, careful, and a hard worker… but he always found time for a conversation with me. I remember one warm spring day in particular. Dan was standing on a low scaffold, steadily putting siding on the front of the house. I was working hard as well, darting about the yard in pursuit of a flying saucer toy. You know, the kind that whirls and then flies away when you pull the string on the launcher?
“Look at that, Dan!” I’d shout. “See how high that one went?”
Dan would turn and shield his eyes from the sun. “I see! Be careful it doesn’t go near the electrical wires though!” he’d always caution.
Or I would hide behind the shrubbery in the yard. “Dan! Dan! Can you see me?” I’d pester.
He’d turn and look, and then laugh. “Oh yes, I can still see you!” he’d call.
Sometimes Dan would work late into the evenings at his plaster work. I’ll never forget watching him spend hours carefully working an intricate fan design in the wet plaster across the living room ceiling with a brush. He would do a few strokes, get down and move his ladder a couple of feet sideways, then climb up to repeat the process again. On many occasions it was long past my bedtime before he finished work. On those nights, my mother would give me a bedtime snack and say, “Run out and say good night to Dan now!” I would dash out to the living room, stepping over drop cloths and empty plaster buckets, and call, “Good night Dan!” And he would climb down from his ladder to tell me goodnight.
When I lost one of my first teeth, I couldn’t wait to show Dan. When I saw his old blue Chevy van with the ladder on top pull into our driveway, I flew down the stairs and out the door, meeting him halfway down the walk with an ear-to-ear grin. His first words to me were, “Hello, princess! I see you lost a tooth!”
One day, I had a special treasure to show Dan. I scampered outside, calling, “Dan! Dan!” I almost bumped into him as I rounded the corner of the house. “Look what I got!” I opened my hands to show him a jagged rock about the size of my fist. The top was streaked with sparkly yellow.
“Do you think it might be real gold?” I was almost breathless with excitement.
Dan leaned over to examine the stone. “Maybe it is. Maybe it is.”
My father rounded the corner of the house then, and I’ll never forget Dan’s words as he straightened up to look at my dad. “You know, your daughter might have found something pretty valuable there. You never know.”
For some reason, those words have stayed with me all these years later. Dan knew as well as I do now that the rock I’d found couldn’t have been gold; but he listened to me. He didn’t brush me off or laugh. He paid attention and took a few minutes to affirm my discovery. He even spoke of it to my father. I think what really made me feel ten feet tall that day was that Dan treated me like a grown-up; like I was somebody special.
On the day that Dan left, I remember feeling sad that my good friend was going away. The job was finished, and Dan was leaving early the next morning to return to his home in another community. But before he left, he took a few extra minutes to give me a special goodbye.
“You know, I’ll see you again one day,” he told me, pointing towards the ceiling. When I looked back at him, mystified, he explained, “I’ll see you up in Heaven one day, when the Lord comes back.” And then I understood.
The next morning, when I came downstairs for breakfast, I found that Dan had left before I woke. But he left a special letter just for me.
I still have the note in my possession. I’ll never throw it away. On rough beige paper, in penciled block letters, is this message:
Dear Hannah; Good morning sister. And He does love us greatly. Your a good friend and helper too. Our Lord loves that. I will see you again soon.
Keep happy. It is the glory of the Lord.
Your brother in Jesus.
I wonder sometimes, if Danny ever knew the impact he had on my life by just taking a little time to care. And I wonder where he is; if he’s safe and well. Wherever he is, I do wish him well and hope he has happiness. I pray that his love for Jesus is as strong as it once was, and that perhaps his last words to me might come true. If that happens, I look forward to walking the streets of gold with Dan and reminiscing on good times.
Until then, I'll always remember with fondness the short time I spent with my good friend Danny.