By Susan Lakes
I’m remembering little things about my friend, Rodney, and all those memories have me smiling. Along with the memories, I’m thinking a lot about heaven and hell and souls and bodies and all, too.
Rodney Shaffer, 52, died over the Labor Day weekend. Dexter Stallings of Covington has been charged with his murder. The two men knew each other, and homelessness touched both of their lives. It consumed Rodney’s final years.
Homelessness. Homeless Rodney. Talking tearfully about that with a friend got us both laughing about the possibility of a special place in the afterlife called “Homeless Heaven.”
I know homelessness hit Rodney hard. How do I know that? He told me—-over and over again. He wasn’t one bit happy about going from a nice home with a big truck in the driveway into a tent that leaked, and later, into a tiny efficiency apartment.
That leaky tent and small digs didn’t take away his many skills and talents. He still knew how to be a great millwright, but nobody would hire him. He swore the felony record put up the big barrier to continuing that career—-but he never gave up trying. I watched him send out resume after resume, and I remember how dejected he looked at all the nothingness that resulted from all the attempts.
He’d get mad. He was angry at the prison system one day, and equally angry at human resources the next. He so very much wanted to work, you know, to practice that skilled trade that suited him best. I vividly remember asking him about his occupation not long after we first met a few years ago.
“What’s a millwright and what kind of millwright are you?”
Rodney squinted those big green eyes, smiled a sly smile and said, “The best.” No doubt he was being truthful.
I don’t recall hearing Rod talk about going on any job interviews, but I know he was prepared. He had a nice black suit he kept covered up with a pillow case in his closet. He had acquired that suit from some place that hands out free clothing, and it was a beautiful cut. I asked how it fit, and he put on the jacket. It looked like it had been tailored for his broad, muscular shoulders. Perfect. Perfect fit.
The pants were another story, though. He hadn’t bothered to try them on. He held them up to his waist, and the bottom crease hit him a little bit higher than mid- shin!
Here’s what my friend was so angry about. He’d say things like “I did the crime, I did the time, I paid the price and now it looks like I’ll spend a lifetime paying, even though I completed my prison time.” I had to agree with him there. He opened my eyes to the snowball effect of crime. In other words, his messed up life, including homelessness, directly resulted from an inability to earn a living. Simply put, his last DUI came with a life sentence, a sentence that meant career death.
Let me define Rodney’s life a little bit more so you’ll see that this guy was so very much more than just a homeless, unemployed felon with short suit pants.
Rodney earned bragging rights to his smile. His high school class voted his smile the nicest of all the graduates. That same smile stuck. It was there when I saw him a few months ago. (The scraggly beard couldn’t even hide it). Rodney worshipped dental floss and fancy toothbrushes.
He liked animals. I recall two of his dog’s names. There was Fritz, the mini-pin he had about a decade ago. He’d laughingly refer to Fritz as a mean little bastard that growled and snarled at everything that moved! Early on, he had beagles. His favorite was ZZ, a long-legged female dog that was a whiz at treeing animals and pointing. You see, Rodney liked hunting.
He liked fishing, too. And partying and swimming and camping and playing the drums and exceeding speed limits. He couldn’t carry a tune for crap, but he’d sing along when an oldie came on the radio. Stairway To Heaven comes to mind when I recall those traveling days.
My heart aches for Rodney’s two brothers, his daughters and, especially for his father, Wes. (His mother, he said, died a few months after retirement. I remember seeing him staring at the leather wallet she crafted for him. He didn’t use it, but he sure kept it close to him),
I did, however, get to see a touching encounter between Rodney and his dad a few Christmases ago. When it was time for his dad to leave and head back up north, Rodney pulled him close in a big bear hug and said, “Dad. I love you so much.” His father whispered something like, “I love you too, son.”
I’ll treasure my memories of Rodney. I haven’t yet reread all the emails he sent, but might do that someday when the shock and horror of losing my old pal wears off.
Dexter Stallings made a court appearance in Kenton County on September 15.