We all know and see people like him every day.........

Discussion in 'UPS Discussions' started by dannyboy, Mar 24, 2011.

  1. dannyboy

    dannyboy From the promised LAND

    lu with 2.jpgLu with one dog.jpg

    A few decades ago, Louis Perna II wanted see the country and figured the best way to behold it would be by foot. For a year he saved his money; then he and his dogs walked away from home in Pennsylvania. They traveled from coast to coast twice, hiked the Appalachian Trail.

    Over the years, Perna – or Lu as most people knew him – became a barefoot institution on the roads in the businesses around Exit 5. He had a scraggly gray beard, clothes safety pinned together and was, in every conventional sense, homeless – though his many friends said he had all the home he wanted. In the mornings, he would leave his shack in an overgrown field between two streams and walk wherever he wanted to go. Usually he had two dogs with him, lately just one – a German Shepherd called LuLu.

    “He chose the life he wanted to live,” said Goad, who runs a State Farm insurance business near Lu’s shack. “He was unburdened, dependant only on himself. He wasn’t concerned with what you thought he looked like or didn’t look like. He was just a man who wanted to live by himself – out in the open.”

    At first, maybe 20 years ago, he stayed in Bristol for the summers and went south for the winters. But one of his dogs got sick and he didn’t have quite enough to pay the vet bill. He wouldn’t leave a debt behind, so he stayed and worked to repay it. Come spring, he decided the winter wasn’t too bad and the people were nice, and he made Bristol his full-time home.

    He never begged. He never met a stranger, said Sherry Taylor, a cashier at the Exxon station on Lee Highway. He knew everybody’s name and came by to tell stories and make funny faces. Taylor’s favorite was his pirate impersonation.

    Over the years, he so endeared himself to the people who lived and worked nearby that he was constantly fending off offers of shoes (he had some, just didn’t like to wear them), food (he ate only beans and only once a day) and indoor places to sleep on cold nights (he was tough and he liked it better outside).

    “I’d have given that man a key to my house and relax knowing he’d leave it better off than when he came,” said Bristol Virginia Police Lt. Sean Carrigan.

    Lu grew up in Hazleton, Pa., near Three Mile Island, and he never quite lost his Yankee accent, his friends say. Years after the nuclear meltdown there, both of his parents died young of pancreatic cancer. Then his sister died, too, and he had no family left.

    He was a K9 officer in the Air Force during Vietnam, but he never told his friends much about the war. He was a private person, they said. He wanted to talk about their families or his dogs or the books he was reading – from War and Peace and Mark Twain to the romance novels he gave to a gas station cashier once he’d finished them.

    On the narrow trail to Lu’s shack, his dogs’ graves lay off to the side adorned with flower pots and a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Lu would sit in a folding chair across the path and remember them, his friends said. He once told Goad that “dogs don’t think;” they are loyal and loving and not because of what you look like or where you live.

    “They were his best friends,” said Rhonda Harley, who works at Black Wolf Harley Davidson. “He was never worried about Lu, he was always worried about those animals. Even in the end.”
    Just over two years ago, Lu learned he had prostate cancer that had metastasized to his bone, likely caused by Agent Orange exposure in the Vietnam War. He spent a week in the intensive care at the VA. Doctors told him that nothing could be done – he had two years to live.

    He got a prescription for painkillers and went home to his shack, where he continued a long-standing competition with a beaver over a spring that ran past his dog memorial park. The beaver would build a dam, Lu would tear it down and the beaver would build it up again. Rain made Lu’s bones hurt, but during one storm, the stream flooded and Lu watched the dam, and the beaver, float away. He told his friend, Goad, that he “had the last laugh.”

    The pain got to be too bad to walk like he was used to. He had just one dog, LuLu, left and he worried what would become of her.

    A year ago, after decades of only walking, he went to Crabtree Buick GMC, where Jim Clifton, his friend of 20 years, is the sales manager. He said he’d gotten his driver’s license, wanted a truck and liked a little red one sitting on the lot.

    It cost just over $20,000 and he paid in cash. He had just a few thousand dollars left in his bank account, Clifton said. He was not an eccentric millionaire, as rumor had it.

    Lu drove the truck, with LuLu at his side, to and from his monthly appointments at the VA. He was independent and contrary, Clifton said, and didn’t want to bother anyone with his illness.
    Lu was in excruciating pain, but he never complained, his friends said. They could see it in his eyes, his walk.

    On his 62nd birthday, he signed a Do Not Resuscitate Order, pre-paid his cremation then gave his book collection to Highlands Juvenile Detention Center. A woman who works at the Harley Davidson store promised to take LuLu to her farm.

    Last Tuesday, he met with Goad and said the pain was unbearable. He could barely walk, barely stand up. He gave him all the papers he would need – the funeral arrangements and the Do Not Resuscitate Order.

    “He did things his way,” Goad said. They next day, Lu was taken to the hospital and he held on until Monday morning. He had dozens of visitors.

    “Some people always said, ‘poor Lu,’ ” said Lt. Carrigan. “But maybe he’s the one who had it figured out. He lived at peace with the world. He didn’t cause problems; he didn’t have problems. And I’m glad to have known him.”

    Goad found a composition book in Lu’s things. Lu was left-handed so he’d started at the back of the book and wrote forward.

    “How have we come to the assumption that you have to be housed, propertied and well dressed in the modern world?” Lu wrote. “True manliness is non-conformity.”

    lu with 2.jpgLu with one dog.jpg
  2. packageguy

    packageguy Well-Known Member

    For those who knew him, sorry for your loss.
  3. curiousbrain

    curiousbrain Well-Known Member

    Some years ago, I lived under very limited circumstances in Florida - almost homeless, but certainly did not have it as bad as others.

    In any case, I was friends with a homeless man down there, John; how we met is unimportant, but he was a fixture on the strip down there - he not only knew all the other homeless folks in the area, but was also friendly with a lot of the local business owners. Everyone liked the guy - he was one of those people who was just good company, regardless of your disposition.

    He also had terminal cancer, but never told me about it; once a year, I would head back up to New England for the winter months, and come back down when spring arrived. I went through this cycle three or four times, and generally regarded John as a very close friend and an older man with exceptional wisdom whom I greatly admired and really valued his advice. The last time I went down there, I walked the strip and went through the usual cycle of looking for him, all the while meeting and greeting many of the homeless folks and friends down there. The first evening, I ran into this guy Moke, and he told me that John was dead.

    Apart from the initial and obvious shock of his passing, Moke proceeded to tell me that John had money and didn't have to live the way he did, but when he had found out about his cancer he had decided to "get the land back beneath his feet", quit his engineering job, and lived homeless in the area. He wound up living for years, whereas the initial estimates were months, maybe a year - I'm not positive his life changes extended his life, although I'm not positive they didn't, either.

    Suffice to say, it was an extremely profound event at that point in my life (perhaps it still is, hard to say).

    Your post just reminded me of this.
    Lasted edited by : Mar 24, 2011