Joe in South Lake Tahoe

While living in South Lake Tahoe in the 1970’s, I would regularly take hikes along the lake shore where I would often see the same homeless man who would always say, “Brother would you buy me a drink?” For the longest time I wouldn’t answer him and just kept walking.

One especially cold and snowy late afternoon, he saw me and pleaded for me to buy him a drink. He was huddled under a poncho with a couple of inches of snow on his head. For some reason, I decided to talk with him. He told me his name was Joe.

Joe told me he was a Korean War veteran. At least we had a little something in common. As our conversation progressed, I found him to be quite intelligent and our discussion was for me enlightening. It was getting dark and growing colder, so I said goodbye and started to leave. Joe pleaded, “Can you buy me a drink?” I said, “Sure.” I walked across the street to the market and bought a quart of beer and a pint of whiskey. I hid the whiskey in my jacket and carried the beer in a paper bag.

When I returned to the beach, Joe’s eyes lit up when he saw the bag. However, when he discovered it was just beer, his smile disappeared and he said, “I can’t sleep with just beer, I need something stronger.” I said, “Sorry Joe but that’s what you get.” We talked for a little while longer and then I began to walk away. After a short distance, I turned, looked back at Joe and noticed he was drinking the beer. I walked back and said, “Joe, I’m sorry I forgot to give you this” and I handed him the pint of whiskey. Wow! the smile he exhibited was worth it all.

During subsequent hikes, I stopped more and more at the beach area where Joe hung out and had long conversations with him. Only on one occasion did we ever talk about his time in Korea. I found out he was involved in the battle at the Chosin Reservoir, which was probably the most horrific battle of that war. He started out a Private First Class and five months later, at 19 years of age, he was a Master Sergeant with his own platoon.

Joe was a big guy with an amazing physical body. He was a little over six feet tall and around 250 plus pounds with not an ounce of fat. I later found out his main income was from chopping wood, which he did with an axe rather than a wood splitter. This kept him in good physical condition.

Over time, our conversations drifted into cosmology and spiritual stuff. One day I brought my Urantia Book with me and was sitting at a table reading it. Joe saw me, came over and said, “What are you reading?” I said, “Just a book about God and the seven superuniverses.” Joe was always reading something. If someone discarded a book or newspaper Joe would pick it up and read it. Joe took the book from me and went through the table of contents. Suddenly something in him just seemed to click. He asked if he could borrow it for a little while. I said, “Better yet, I will lend it to you if you promise me you will take care of it.”

After that, we had many conversations about his personal relationship with God. He told me his biggest struggles usually entailed his attempts to ask God to come into his life.

Over the next few years, Joe tried to quit drinking but periodically he would land in jail after a binge. When that happened, he would end up losing his copy of The Urantia Book, and I would get him another copy.

Eventually I left Lake Tahoe, but I periodically returned to camp for a few days. During one such visit, a casual friend, who called himself “Railroad,” saw me and came over to where I was sitting. “Ed, it’s good to see you. Where have you been?” We had been talking for a little while when Railroad said, “Did you hear about Joe? He was killed in an automobile crash on Highway 49, just outside of Grass Valley. When they pulled him from the car, next to him on the front seat was that big blue book he always had with him. I remember when you gave him that book. Did you know he had been clean and sober for close to two years?”

Someday on the mansion worlds, Joe and I will continue our discussions.

So, if you ever decide to buy an alcoholic a drink, make sure friendship is part of the deal. God will do the rest.