This afternoon, I received a call that I have dreaded. Melissa called to tell me that Wendell had passed away.
Wendell and I first met in 1970 at my daddy's garage on Asheville Highway. I started working there during the summers to help daddy out and, as I found out later, to keep me out of trouble. I was standing in the office, looking out of the window that looked out into the shop. I saw a big man, with a not so friendly face, walking across the shop. He jerked open the office door and said in a surly voice.... "Where's Johnny?" I turned around and glared at him and snapped.... "Out in the shop!" He shut the door and it suddenly dawned on me.... that was Wendell Wiggins. Suddenly the door opened and the man stuck his head in the door and said.... "You're Johnny's daughter." I replied.... "You're Wendell Wiggins." He smiled and it was love at first sight.
I had been hearing about Wendell Wiggins for several months, and I knew that he was quite a character. After that chance meeting in the office at Superior Diesel .... I found out, he was! He had the most amazing laugh and his face would light up when he laughed. His eyes were icy blue, his voice was quiet, but when he spoke, you listened.
Even though there was a 17 year age difference, we had a special bond. He was so intelligent, and he loved to read, one of the many things we had in common. Driving a truck had allowed Wendell to see so many different places and meet lots of interesting people. I always loved to hear my daddy, Pa and my uncles, tell the most hilarious "truck driving" stories, and Wendell loved telling "truck driving" stories too. Wendell always had a story, he was very opinionated and he loved to experience life. He actually moved to Australia for a year, to drive a truck! He also loved his boys.... Kent, Greg and Bo. Bo passed away many years later and he had recently told me that he and Greg were not on good terms. In later years, he married his 2nd wife, Melissa and they have a son, Jesse. This son, born in Wendell's later years, was the apple of his eye. Jesse was born with a nub for one of his lower legs and was eventually fitted with a prosthetic leg. As Wendell would say, Jesse never missed a step, he played basketball and whatever he set out to do, he accomplished. Wendell was so proud.
I could always make Wendell laugh, and I did so quite often, because I loved his laugh. He always made me laugh too, with all of his stories. I really think Wendell had a great deal of love and respect for me, even though I was just a kid. He said that I was a very smart young lady and he was amazed at how I could carry on an adult, intelligent conversation, but still have that little girl smile and that twinkle of mischief in my eyes.
He loved to take pictures and he always took pictures of me while we were talking. He said it helped him to remember my face and my smile. He could be so sweet like that.
Over the years life happened, and we lost contact with one another. I knew in my heart that our bond of friendship would always hold fast and that one day we would reconnect.
I never gave up on finding him and one day we did find each other again. It was just as I had thought, nothing had changed. Well, maybe a few things, but he was my Wendell, my friend. About 5 years ago, Meredith and I went to Alabama with Ronnie on a service call and he took me to see Wendell. I wanted two of the favorite men in my life to finally meet. We met at a restaurant and as we pulled into the parking place, I saw Wendell getting out of his car. My heart was beating so fast, I was so excited. He saw me and he smiled that smile. He was smaller and a little older, but he spoke, we embraced, and the years fell away.... this was my good friend.
Melissa told me that Wendell had a stroke over the weekend, and there was so much bleeding, there was nothing else they could do. She said that they had taken him off of the ventilator and she and Kent and Jesse stayed with him. He left this world and walked into the arms of Jesus, at 4:56pm on this day.... Sunday, August 30, 2015. My heart is heavy, I'm so sad.... my thoughts and prayers are with Melissa and his sons, and I pray that the Lord will comfort them and give them peace. Wendell was the kind of man, that when you met him, you would never forget him.
I will never forget him.... his smile, his laugh, our talks. He treated me with respect and he never once made me feel like I was not enough, smart enough.... pretty enough.... good enough. To him.... I was just enough. I can't travel to AL and Melissa understood this, she told me that Wendell would have wanted her to call me, he would want me to know. One day, if the Lord tarries His return, He will lead me into Heaven. I will see the beautiful faces of my family and the wonders and beauty of Heaven. Suddenly, I will hear this familiar voice saying.... "you're Johnny's daughter," and I'll look around and reply.... " you're Wendell Wiggins." He will smile that smile, we will hug and it will be as if nothing had ever changed.
I love you.... Wendell O'Neal Wiggins. You taught me so many things, you made me feel special, you made me laugh and today.... I cried.