Thursday, June 7, 2012

JIM

I sit on my front porch with a glass of tea and look at the house across the street, one lot down.  The garage door is open and the light is on.  You can't really see it from my vantage point but I know what that garage is like.  The walls are lined with peg boards with tools hanging from hooks installed in the boards.  The tools are not just anywhere but precisely organized so that a person can find any tool at any time when it is required.  Ladders are resting on the joists hanging from the ceiling, again organized in a manner that is almost too neat.

The house is a neat little split level with the same layout as my mom and dad's.  It is painted barn red.  It has always been painted barn red as long as I can remember and I can't imagine it being a different color.  The man who lives there use to paint the house every summer.  He wouldn't paint it completely, but would find spots that needed painting and, on one Saturday during the summer, would paint those spots one at a time, so the house has never been, as far as I know completely painted at one time.  A few years ago, they put siding on the house to take away any painting at all.

This is the home of Jim and Martha.  This entry in the blog will mainly be about Jim.  Jim and I are good friends.  I can go over and be welcome in his house and talk to him whenever I want to,  It wasn't always that way though.  When Barb and myself moved in to our house over thirty years ago, Jim didn't care for me and I certainly didn't care for him.  To me he was an old man.  In reality he was probably fifteen years younger than I am now.  He had a daughter approximately the same age as me.  I figure he was a little younger than my dad.

To Jim I was a lazy, wild, young kid who played music too loud and had too many other young men hanging around the house bouncing basketballs and playing music too loud.  I didn't keep my yard as clean as his.  I did not mow every single week the way he did because I had too many other things to do.

As far as I was concerned, Jim was just a grouchy old redneck.  Back at that period in time, CB radios were a big hobby with a lot of people.  Jim was one of those people who loved his CB.  He didn't have just an ordinary Cb radio though.  He had an amped up one that put out a lot of power and a very strong signal.  The result of this strong signal of his power CB was that my strong and powerful stereo receiver would pick up his CB broadcasts.  There is nothing more irritating than trying to listen to some good rock and roll music when you are in your mid twenties and hearing this redneck language pushing it's way through the music.  This was how things started and got gradually worse as the next few years went by.

Jim's best friend was a man two houses down from me named  Bob.  Every morning before the day started these two sat in Jim's garage and had coffee together.  Bob knew of me through Jim, so there wasn't much love lost there either.  These two did everything together, including keeping an eye on the neighborhood and helping keep the neighborhood up when work needed to be done.

As I grew a little older I began to notice how hard working and how nice these two men were to the neighbors that were in their good graces.  As I grew older I began to see that Jim wasn't so bad.  I felt like I could get to know this man and maybe at least make an acquaintance with him.  Then the opportunity came, even though I didn't realize it at the time.

Winter was just coming on when we had an ice storm in Kansas City.  Ice storms are not that unusual around here and chances are that eventually you will be effected by one.  This particular ice storm effected my immediate next door neighbor by breaking off branches from his tree that bordered my property and eventually it became clear that the whole tree would need to come down. 

I was sitting in my living room the Saturday after the ice storm hit when I heard the roar of chain saws outside.  I had this feeling that I should go out and help with the clean up of my neighbors tree.  I didn't own a chainsaw but I did have two good hands at the time.  I decided to go out and help pick up the remnants of the old tree and put in my two cents worth.  I got dressed up warm and stepped outside.  there I saw Jim and Bob each with a chain saw strategically going after the limbs to clear the tree out.  I walked next door and with out saying a word, started to pick up branches that were being sawed off and dragging them out of the way.  For a split second the chain saws became quiet  as Jim and Bob looked at me out there helping clean up the neighborhood.  It was just a second but I think they were a little surprised.  We worked all day on that tree, and through the day, Martha would bring coffee over to us to drink.  When we were finally finished we stood around and chatted.  Well, they stood around and chatted, I just stood around listening to them chatter.

Maybe I grew up a little that day.  Jim's had grown bored with his CB radio and I hadn't had a problem with that for quite awhile.  There had not been any friction between Jim and myself for a time.  That day was a new beginning for me in the neighborhood.  Slowly things began to change.  Jim and Bob would start waving to me as I drove by their houses.  Before I knew it, they would start to say hi and maybe even more of a talk. 

Eventually it turned into a friendship.  If Jim saw me out working on my lawn mower or car,  he would walk over to see what was going on and if there was anything he could do to help.  I would get home from work every now and then and notice Jim sitting in his lawn chair in his garage and go over to chat him up a bit.  We had some things in common that Jim really liked to talk about, like car racing.

Before long I was one of the guys who was watching out for the neighborhood and helping clean up yards that the owner needed help with.  Jim, Bob and myself had become friends.  It took a few years, but looking back on it, it was definitely worth it.  Jim has been a good friend for many years now.

Several years ago, Jim's friend Bob died.  Jim was devastated and it took him awhile to get back into the groove.  He still misses Bob, but I made sure I went over to talk to him when I could.  When they would lose electricity during a storm, Barb would make some cookies and coffee for Jim and take them over to him so the time without electricity wouldn't effect him too much.  Little things like that made us stronger neighbors and he would keep an eye on our house while we kept an eye out on his.

Jim is truly getting old now.  I first noticed it one night when I was up working late and noticed that his garage door was open at one o'clock in the morning without the lights on.  I was afraid someone had broken into their house and so I went over and knocked on the door.  When I didn't get an answer I called the police to come check it out.  Meanwhile, Martha was getting ready to go to bed and took a last look outside and saw me standing across the street staring at their house.  she opened the door and asked me if everything was okay.  After explaining that I had called the police because of the garage door, Martha sighed lightly.  Jim has been forgetting things a little more often.  apparently this wasn't the first time he had left the garage door open.  The police showed up and we explained the situation to them.

Since then Jim has really slowed down.  He has lost weight and I don't see him outside much anymore.  His son in law and grandson are now coming over and taking care of his lawn.  Jim doesn't walk like the strong proud man he once was, rather he has more of a shuffle to his stride.  He moves very deliberately and not very fast.  His daughter has moved in with her mom and dad and says that Jim's mind isn't tracking as well as it used to.  This is sad because Jim was a very knowledgeable man and very smart. I am afraid age is finally catching up with him.

Looking back, I wish I had made friends with him earlier than I did.  He has proven himself to be a good neighbor and someone I could trust as a neighbor.  I have been extremely lucky in the neighbors I have had (except for one set of neighbors that I will write about later).  I could not have had a better neighbor than Jim has been.

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