“A Greatly Blessed Life” is a 2018 column about Mr. Charles Speight of Unadilla, Georgia. He was almost 96 at the time and constantly on the go. When I inquired about the secret to his longevity, he had answered without hesitation. “Not dying,” he said with a smile.
His quick wit and joyful outlook are fully intact as he approaches centenarian status. On April 2nd he’ll celebrate his 100th birthday, a milestone especially noteworthy because of his optimistic approach to life. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Mr. Charles is living proof.
In late February I called him about a rumor he’d be throwing the game ball out for the Atlanta Braves on his birthday. He explained that John Offenberg had tossed that idea around town. “I asked John,” he continued, “whether I should work on my curve ball or knuckle ball, but he wants speed.”
“My fast ball is up to 15 miles per hour,” he added, “and staying in the air over 17 feet.” Whether Mr. Charles will get a call from Atlanta I don’t know, but I can’t think of a better way to start a game than having a decorated World War II fighter pilot take the mound.
On a sidenote, I’ve never publicly thanked John Offenberg for a personal favor from several years ago. John called me aside at a Chamber of Commerce meeting in late 2015. “I know you have a lot to take care of before leaving the bank,“ he said. “I thought it might be helpful if I wrote your retirement speech for you.” On a business card he’d scribbled, “Goodbye tension. Hello pension.”
Mr. Charles and I visited in his backyard on March 18th. Covid protocols have kept him close to home recently. He had returned to church for a while and resumed teaching the A. B. Hosea Sunday School Class, a men’s group he’s taught since Father’s Day in June 1956. When Covid surged again, he took his doctor’s advice about limiting his exposure.
“The hardest part of this pandemic for me,” he said, “is not getting out and seeing people.” Those who know him understand perfectly. Until the coronavirus interfered, he was teaching Sunday School weekly, meeting with The Coffee Club Monday through Friday, participating in Lion’s Club and Chamber of Commerce activities, and visiting friends who could no longer drive.
Driving is on a temporary hold due to a fractured bone in his leg. “I didn’t fall,” he politely corrected me. “I just tripped over the hearth.” He wasn’t going to mention the mishap to his family, but his daughter, Patti, and oldest son, Charlie, were checking on him as usual and stayed until bedtime. He reluctantly confessed he might need help getting out of his chair.
One medical option was to slowly recuperate by severely limiting his movements. The other was to repair the fracture with three screws, which would let him to do whatever the pain allowed. It’s not surprising he chose surgery. He’s walking for exercise, watching old westerns on his iPad, reading The Atlanta Journal and Macon Telegraph, and calling friends regularly.
With typical modesty, he declined to offer any advice for young folks. “I don’t need to be giving advice,” he said with a grin. “I need y’all to give me some.” I trust he knows how much his wisdom is valued by others, and how inspirational his godly example is for young, old, and those in between.
I asked how he remains so optimistic. “I love people and the Lord has blessed me,” he answered. “Teaching Sunday School has been one of the greatest blessings I’ve experienced. I wasn’t prepared to teach those men when they elected me, but it caused me to study my Bible more. And that’s helped me have a better understanding of how I should live.”
He’s taught Sunday School longer than anyone I know, sold tons of onions for the Lion’s Club, and been a community leader for decades. Now he’s anxious to get back in circulation. “I’m keeping up with how many hugs I’m due from the ladies,” he said, noting the pandemic has taken a severe toll on hugs, handshakes, and visits.
“What do you want for your birthday?” I asked, figuring he wouldn’t say more shirts or ties. “Just good friends and good health,” he quickly replied. “I don’t need anything else.”
As we shook hands to say goodbye, I had a better perspective of Solomon’s proverb. A merry heart, I realized, affects far more than one person. I understood that better, because Mr. Charles had shared a generous dose of his merry-heart medicine with me. Happy birthday and God bless. Play ball!