“We are all different”… A Testament to the Power of Faith in Delaware, Ohio
I just returned from Delaware, Ohio, after delivering a car load of my daughter’s dorm clothes and supplies as she starts her junior year at Ohio Wesleyan University. While we are in Delaware, I usually get up early (as my wife prefers to sleep in a bit) and take my camera and head into town to shoot in the early morning hours. When we were there in November of 2009, I happened upon a trailer residence on one of the Delaware streets that was heavily decorated. So I stopped, of course, to shoot this place for my Ornamental America series.
On the recent trip, I happened back down the same street to take another look and discovered that the place had changed a bit with new decorations. So I stopped again to shoot some new images. This time, however, I was rewarded with a very serendipitous experience as I walked around the side of this glorious setting. I say “glorious” because I am so intrigued by places like this and this one is a true standout in my series.
As I walked around the side of the house, by the small garage space, I found the trailer’s owner, squatting in the entrance, dipping into a can of yellow paint, to spruce up the color on an iron railing. I introduced myself and was fondly welcomed by Jim Van Buskirk. Jim is a retired gentleman who has, for years, decorated the outside of his residence with all manner of trinkets, statues, tools, signs, and other artifacts, found items and, as he explained to me, things that people just bring him. We spoke for a while and as we spoke, Jim began to relate to me how this project, the ever changing whimsical exterior, is what he does to, one, occupy his time, and two, to fight depression. Then he began to relate his story to me.
Jim, as I said, is retired. For years he had problems with severe nervousness and was on medication for it. Jim was alone since the death of his wife and most of his friends were dead too. He had survived a bout with colon cancer. His wife passed away from kidney failure after an overdose of Percocet. His son, who was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic had been on medication and was told he was not allowed to drive. After being warned and caught driving for the third time, he was imprisoned for 18 months. While in prison, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Jim fought to see his son, but was consistently denied. After finally writing a letter to the governor, he was able to get his son released to a hospital, but he died two months later. Jim’s daughter worked for the mental health facility in Delaware. While being visited by one of the patients who she had had in her home many times, the patient got agitated and violent. She managed to get him to leave. He later came back to her house with a deer rifle and shot her and her young daughter to death. Jim, as might be expected, suffered from severe depression. As I listened to Jim’s story I thought to myself, “how have you managed to survive all the tragedy in your life? It’s a wonder you haven’t just checked out.”
Jim said, “come inside with me, I want to show you the inside.” We went into his trailer and I was amazed. He said, “this is what I do. I don’t sleep much, so I have to keep myself busy.”
Jim explained to me how he had eventually realized the depression medication was keeping him drugged up and unable to function. He went to the doctor’s office and in front of his doctor, threw the pills in the trash. He said, “I’m not taking this stuff anymore.” The doctor told him, “we won’t be responsible , Jim”. And Jim said, “You’re not responsible, I am.” He told me he quit “cold turkey” that day and has not taken anything for his depression since. He said to me, “I’m not a religious man, but I do pray. And when I feel nervous or depressed, I just stop and say a prayer. Then I just go on.” And he smiled widely.
I took pictures of Jim’s house and visited with him for quite a while. I thanked him for talking with me and he said, “Thank you. You made my day.” I left so filled with awe and inspiration and the strength and sustaining faith of this simple man, his friendliness, his since of joy and imagination that could not be extinguished. I will visit Jim again when I return to Delaware. I need that reminder of how lucky I am, how blessed. Thank you, James A. Van Buskirk.
Images are Copyright © George Cannon, All Rights Reserved.