“Before I die I want to…”
I owe it to all my followers, to myself, but even more so, tonight I owe it to a sweet and kind man. This is for him!
In the spring of 2007 I headed off on the first of my big adventures. I moved 16 hours away from home to take an internship in NC. This was my introduction into outdoor adventure programming and what cinched my love for the outdoors. During one of my days off I was indulging in some urban adventure with coworkers. As we stood outside Doc Chey’s I decided to fill the time folding an “origami” fish out of two $1 bills. Just before we headed in for dinner I handed it to a guy panhandling on the sidewalk, he took it from me so carefully, exclaiming how wonderful it was and it was too cool for him to accept it. I waved him off and told him to have a great night. This was the beginning of a simple friendship with a great man!
Happy, as he was known, became one of my favorite stops when I was in Asheville. Dinner out with friends included stopping for a conversation with Happy. He was always smiling and wishing every passerby blessings. During the next year and a half I adjusted my thinking to the point where Asheville and Happy were one and the same, a very accurate thought.
Leap forward, spring of 2015. My last meal before heading for the trail, Doc Chey’s in Asheville. I walked along the sidewalk taking in all of the beautiful things which surrounded me, I paused to snap a picture of cherry blossoms. Turning around I saw Happy, he was in front of a large chalkboard spanning the width of a store front. Gone were the chain link and old wooden fences. The smile he sent my way sliced through the nerves that surrounded tomorrows endeavor, the start of my AT thru hike. I rushed over to him and took his hand, “Gorgeous, where ya been?!” he asked. We talked, quickly exchanging high points from the years past, “I still have it!” he said in a strong voice looking me dead in the eye. I cocked my head and look at him quizzically, “the fish” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “never felt right spending it”.
One month and 273.8 miles in, a trail angel gifted me her car so I could spend a day in Asheville (she didn’t know it was my birthday). This was the last time I saw Happy. We talked about the chalkboard. We spoke of goals and aspirations. We talked about life. As I stood along side him I felt the connection he had with Asheville, the same as what Miss Janet has with the trail. A protector, well wisher, and believer. Happy was so proud of the community he took care of, the money he spent to replenish the chalk supply so people could write their dreams upon the wall for all to see. What was once a simple sidewalk now had a purpose and Happy was owning it. He worked diligently to make sure folks treated the wall with respect. This was not his project but one which is global. This didn’t matter to him, what did matter was that it was used for the right reason, to find passion in ones life.
I recall picking through his basket of chalk looking for just the right color. I needed to write my own dreams upon the wall “before I die I want to… take what the trail has to offer and complete my AT thru hike”
Happy, thank you for all that you did, you have made the world a better place!
Happy recently passed away and his presence will be sorely missed on the streets of Asheville!
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Wow great post, what happened to Happy?!?
Thanks for sharing this story, Erin. I’m teary eyed. I’m glad you were able to connect with this man, and connect me to him and his cause too!
Thank you. He was a remarkable individual who had his own battles and yet he worked hard to bring light to others.
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