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A Kuna man’s ‘social media’: Signs, waves and smiles that lift spirits of ‘followers’

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KUNA (Idaho Statesman) — Depending on the day of the week, the exterior of Roy Lunsford’s Kuna home varies.

On Mondays, a large sign with a crying emoji graces the side of the garage. On Tuesdays, a flower in a grassy meadow with the sun beaming down is joined by the words “smile and wave.” Wednesday is, of course, a camel. Thursdays feature a giraffe wearing glasses, sipping what appears to be soda. And on Fridays, beach chairs are huddled around a small bucket of beers; above them are the letters “TGIF.”

There is one constant through the various iterations of signs, however: Lunsford, sitting in a chair, just inside his garage, smiling and waving, trying to spread humor and joy.

Lunsford, 81, has lung cancer — diagnosed two years ago — and a pacemaker, and he isn’t sure how many more years he will “be able to milk.” But he chooses to smile and laugh. It’s what he’s always done, he said, and now this is his social media. It requires no app or electronic device, and anyone can “follow” him.

“You get two choices. You can cry or laugh,” Lunsford said of his condition. “I prefer the humor.”

His neighbors do, too. And they appreciate his kindness.

“He’s definitely a day brightener,” said his next-door neighbor, Mary Ostyn. “He’s always fun and entertaining.”

Lunsford and his wife, Pam, have lived in Idaho for 25 years. He worked in construction and his wife was a teacher. For nearly his entire life, Lunsford has preferred to look at the sunny side, he said, even when most would be unable.

When he passed out in the basement of his home and was taken to the hospital for pacemaker placement, Lunsford refused to be negative. When the wiring in the pacemaker broke and he underwent surgery, he chose to stay positive. When that surgery revealed lung cancer, Lunsford, who smoked for 68 years, said he took it in stride. And as he goes through cancer treatment, Lunsford makes jokes at the expense of hospital staff.

When a worker dressed in a protective rubber suit came to gave him radiation therapy, Lunsford saw an incredible irony: If you don’t want to touch the needle, why would I?

“You have to laugh at things, even when they’re bad,” he said. “That’s the humor I like in life, just have fun with it. And sometimes it backfires. But what the hell.”

After his initial heart procedures, Lunsford was given orders to exercise more. That meant walks around the block, several times a day. He waved at everyone he saw. That turned into him perching outside his garage and waving. And, a few months ago, it turned into large signs with chalk paint, specially drawn by a friend.

Lunsford can still be found waving on days he receives cancer treatments. Even if it’s only for an hour in the morning, he makes it his mission to bring neighborly cheer. Ostyn said she knows Lunsford is at treatment when the garage door is closed; otherwise, he would be out there.

“He gets up at 7 a.m. The coffee’s ready, and he takes his coffee out there and he doesn’t come back in … until at least 5 or so,” said his wife, Pam. That’s because he has to wait for some of the evening traffic to pass.

Family is everything to the Lunsfords. He and Pam have five children, 25 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren. They serve as motivation to remain strong, even in the toughest of times. His eyes light up when he talks about one of his great-granddaughters, Raelyn, who occasionally imitates his cough. He glows speaking about one of his grandsons, Braden, who he used to read pop-up books with. Naturally, Lunsford purposely identifies animals incorrectly, leading the child to tell him that he “doesn’t read too well.”

“It would have been easy to just give up and say, ‘The hell with this,’” he said, recalling the lung cancer diagnosis. “But no, I have a family still.”

In a similar vain, Lunsford hopes to make connections with his neighbors or others passing by, even if it consists of a brief nod, a wave or a yell. He has broken down the responses he gets: Men usually don’t wave, some women do, and if the person has a sun roof, they almost always stick their hand out of it to say hi.

Yes, there are times when people do not appreciate Lunsford’s extroverted tendencies. Not everyone can feel comfortable waving to a stranger. But that’s the point of the exercise — your community shouldn’t be strangers. And his goal is to always win over those who didn’t wave.

“There’s so much negativity around all the time,” said one of his granddaughters, Megan Dean. “And it’s nice to see even something so little as somebody waving at you (can make) you happy.”

Ostyn said that Lunsford’s kindness is not limited to his daily “social media.” When she and her family have gone on vacation, the Lunsfords have taken in their mail and packages — without prompting — leaving a note on the front door to let them know the items are in safe hands. They move trash cans for collection and have been known to shovel driveways covered in snow.

Ostyn said it reminds her of times gone by, when sitting on the porch in the evening and talking to neighbors was a rule rather than an exception.

“He wanted a connection with the world. If you just sit in the house all day, it can get pretty boring,” she said. “It does give you a sense of community that (sometimes) isn’t there because we live insulated lives. … It’s a good reminder.”

Roy Lunsford said he quite literally just takes life one day at a time. On his wall is a counter, updated daily, of the days he’s been alive. He’s getting closer and closer to 30,000. On the kitchen counter is another marker, one for him and one for his wife. It counts the years, months and days of each one’s age. His is nearly at 82; hers is at 72.

The ever-changing digits stand as constant reminders about each and every day being a gift, Roy said, and despite his health, he believes he has things pretty good.

“I don’t sit around feeling sorry for myself or anything like that. I’ve been here on this planet a long time,” he said. “Me and the wife, we’re not negative people … We get one shot at this. Let’s make the best of it.”

This article was originally published in the Idaho Statesman. It is used here with permission.