NEWTON — The smell of dressing penetrated every room of the small, modest home on Thames Street here Wednesday.
It is one way for a community to comfort the grieving. Friends, family and strangers came to the Poland home with food and prayers.
It had been 25 hours since 66-year-old Dale County school bus driver Charles “Chuck” Poland gave his life by taking three bullets in defense of 21 children.
Chuck’s wife Jan Poland wasn’t measuring the time in hours, but in cups of coffee.
It was their most treasured time of the day and it usually took place when Chuck came home from his school bus route or after he had spent time working around the house. They would share a cup of coffee and watch the sunset, or listen to the rain while sitting in their enclosed porch.
Sometimes they would recite their favorite Bible verse. Wednesday, she held hands with her daughter Lydia as they said it again in tandem.
For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day. -2 Timothy 1:12
“That,” Jan said as she squeezed her daughter’s hand, “is what I hold onto right now. God knows. He is the one who is going to have to bring closure to my heart.”
They loved the simple life they made for themselves in rural Dale County. In the backyard were two swings that overlooked a cleared-out area that might soon become a garden. A few chickens clucked in a nearby coop.
Eyewitnesses have said a gunman approached the school bus Poland was driving Tuesday afternoon and demanded a hostage. When Poland resisted, the gunman shot him three times.
Friends, fellow bus drivers, nor family were surprised to learn Poland was willing to die to protect the children on his bus.
“He loved them. He loved everybody and he was loved,” Jan Poland said.
Those who knew Poland described him as a quiet but honest man who was faithful to his church, who sought out people to help but shunned recognition, whose gentleness was evident to everyone who knew him.
Chuck Poland, they said, was a man who hated to discipline the children on his bus because it hurt his heart.
“It says in the Bible the meek will inherit the earth,” brother-in-law Melvin Skipper said. “He was the meekest man I knew.”
The man who never sought recognition in life is being hailed a hero in death, worldwide.
Poland’s neighbor, Hilburn Benton, said Poland used his own equipment to complete a yard project at Benton’s home two years ago when Benton was battling health issues.
When Benton tried to pay Poland for his time and expenses, Poland refused.
“He told me, ‘You’re my friend and you’re my neighbor. I’m not charging you a dime,’” Benton recalled.
Lyvon Gilmore, longtime head of the Dale County Schools transportation department, hired Poland as a substitute driver in 2007 and later moved him to full-time in 2009.
“He knew I was having a rough time one day and he came into the office and told me he was praying for me and asked if there was anything he could do for me,” Gilmore said.
Longtime friend Dean Stanford said he first met Poland through a Newton PTO meeting.
“From the moment he met you, he knew you and he would always stop and take time to talk and ask about your family,” Stanford said.
Thursday, Jan Poland will miss a third cup of coffee with her beloved husband of 44 years. She will lean on her daughter and on 2 Timothy.
“Cherish every second you have now because you are not promised tomorrow,” Poland’s daughter Lydia Hancock said. “Love them while they’re here.”