John Long was puttering around in the yard of his home about a mile from the nearest paved road in Louisa County when the Virginia State Police cruiser drove up.
“I thought,” Long recalled, “‘What in the world have I done?'”
Unbeknownst to Long, his nephew from Louisiana had contacted state police out of concern for his uncle who was in his 80s, suffered from serious health issues, and was living alone after the death of his best friend and partner of 50 years.
The nephew was trying to determine how he might go about finding someone to check regularly on his uncle. State police generally do not provide welfare checks on citizens, but the nephew was told someone from the Louisaoffice would look in on his uncle to make sure all was well.
That someone turned out to be trooper Aaron Wyatt, who volunteered because Long lived not far from Wyatt’s home.
“I didn’t know what I’d gotten into,” Wyatt said with a laugh.
Wyatt explained about the nephew’s call, and Long started showing him around the place – 18 acres surrounding a home first built in the late 1700s or early 1800s and expanded over the years.
Then they got to talking about antiques – a subject of interest to Wyatt and one about which Long has a deep knowledge. He worked as an antiques dealer for more than three decades, collecting, restoring and traveling across the nation selling to big-name clients.
The upshot? Wyatt started coming around on his own time to check on Long and to help him with chores. Since that initial visit in 2014, the two have become close friends.
Long, who has no children, considers Wyatt a member of his family and invited Wyatt and his wife, Lauren, to hold their 2015 wedding at his home; Wyatt, 35, thinks of Long as a grandfather.
“I don’t know why God allowed our paths to cross,” Long said, “but I’m enormously grateful.”
In fact, Long says Wyatt has saved his life at least twice.
Long, 84, has Type 1 diabetes, and although he checks his blood-sugar levels frequently and injects multiple shots of insulin every day, he is prone to sudden drops in blood sugar, without warning, that render him unconscious and could lead to death.
On a couple of occasions, Wyatt was visiting when Long passed out. He was able to get food to Long and help him regain consciousness.
“I just can’t tell you what this friendship means to me,” Long said.
Long has lived in Louisa since 1972, when he and longtime partner Doug Christie acquired the home and moved there from Richmond.
It is a perfectly lovely setting, even as late autumn hints at winter, surrounded by woods and harvested millet fields.
But it also can seem isolated, particularly for someone with health issues who has been living alone since Christie’s death in July 2014.
Long is far from friendless, and he is quick to say that others routinely keep an eye on his well-being. But Wyatt offers a peace of mind he could not have imagined two years ago.
“He’s an absolutely marvelous man,” Long said.
Wyatt said simply, “He needed help, and I’m here to help him.”
Wyatt served eight years in the and has spent the past six years as a state trooper.
He seems almost destined to the work: His father is a state trooper, and his mother is a retired sheriff in Hopewell, where he grew up. “This is all I know,” he said. “I love to help people. I did it overseas… and now I need to help my local people.”
Peacocks strutted on an outdoor patio while burning logs in a massive fireplace crackled as the three of us spoke on a cool, rainy day.
Wyatt said one of the things he enjoys about knowing Long is that he learns something on every visit.
Long holds degrees in English and interior design (with minors in Latin and religion). He attended seminary and taught a variety of subjects at the university level before he entered the antiques world.
“Almost like a college course,” Wyatt said of visits with Long.
“You’ve got to make sure you take notes, because there will be a test,” he said with a laugh. “It’s the old professor in him.”
Long isn’t sure where he’d be without Wyatt, though “not here” is a distinct possibility. He no longer worries about where he lives or being there alone.
He’s thankful to have someone like Wyatt to look out for him.
“A true friend,” Long said.