Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Jim



Why am I sitting alone tonight,
when I could be out where the lights are bright?
It's all because of Jim, it's all because of Jim.

Why am I wasting these precious years?
Why am I crying these bitter tears?
It's all because of Jim, it's all because of Jim.

Jim doesn't ever bring me pretty flowers,
Jim never tries to cheer my lonely hours,
Don't know why I'm so crazy for Jim.

Jim never tells me I'm his heart's desire.
I never seem to set his love afire
Gone are the years I've wasted on him.

Sometimes when I get feeling low,
I say, "Let's call it quits."
Then I hang on and let him go
Breaking my heart in bits.

Some day I know that Jim will up and leave me,
But even if he does you can believe me,
I'll go on carrying the torch for Jim.

The first time I heard that song I was standing in the garage at my old condo.  It was a beautiful summer morning, I had just returned from my walk and I was getting ready to paint several interior doors that were laid out on sawhorses in front of me.  As soon as I heard the third line I ran out into the driveway and looked across the circle hoping beyond hope that our neighbor Opal was on her patio...or in her garage...or by her window...or standing in the middle of the street.  No...I'd never actually seen her standing in the middle of the street...I'm embellishing.  She was nowhere to be found.  I went back into the garage and finished listening to that song...giggling like a schoolgirl the entire time.  I got busy with my painting and within an hour she appeared in my garage to see how I was doing.  I told her that I had just heard a song that reminded me of her and I sang what little I could remember of it.  She said, "Oh!" and then continued, "Jim doesn't ever bring me pretty flowers..."  We both burst out laughing.

The reason this song was so important?  Well, Jim of course!  Opal and Jim lived across from us for gosh, was it fifteen years?  We couldn't have asked for better neighbors.  They were the very first people we told when we decided to adopt from China.  Although I love both of them dearly, I spent most of my time with Jim.  I think the first time I met him I was having a minor freak-out about the guys in my house who were currently putting in all of the new carpet.  I was standing on the sidewalk near the mailboxes.  He came up to me and asked me what was wrong.  Now, this was pretty major in and of itself because we'd never seen him talking to anyone before and by all appearances he seemed for lack of a better term, extremely gruff.  I told him what was going on.  He then told me how his wife was in the hospital, battling cancer, but it looked like she was going to be just fine.  Then he said, "You want to go for a walk?"  Two things began that day...my love for walking...and my friendship with Jim.

Jim and I walked together numerous times over the years.  He had his route, I had mine, but if we ever crossed paths we'd walk together, or I'd change my route.  ; )  On one of those chance encounters he said, "I need to go get a gallon of milk.  Walk with me."  And so I did.  For years he'd walk all the way downtown to meet his buddies for coffee at one of the local coffee shops.  When that place went out of business, they were welcomed into another.  A couple of years ago after I dropped Hope off at school, Claire and I stopped by to see how he was doing.  He was waiting on one of his buddies to come and pick him up for coffee.  He couldn't walk that far any longer.  He invited Claire and I in where he proceeded to tease her mercilessly...much like he had done to me for years.  She took it much like her Mama did...she gave as good as she got.  When his ride didn't show he asked if I'd drop him off downtown.  We all piled into the Jeep and before we had even gotten out of the condo development he said, "Make sure you drop me off right in front of the coffee shop.  I want to make sure that everyone sees I got a ride from my girlfriend and there's a baby in the car."

I don't remember exactly at what point he started referring to me as his girlfriend...it doesn't matter...I took it and still take it as high praise.  Jim was a cross between...oh...the two lead characters in the Grumpy Old Men movies...and the father from Shit My Dad Says.  He was also sweet, and kind, and totally endearing.  His speech was sprinkled liberally with colorful epithets.  He had extremely strong opinions about just about everything and wasn't afraid to share them. The word that comes to mind is curmudgeon.  I hold no negative connotations to that label.  I love curmudgeons...and curmudgeons have always loved me.  It's a gift.  ; )

We spent quite a lot of time in or around each other's flowerbeds.  We had very different tastes, but still appreciated each other's work.  Every year he'd plant several pots of begonias and say, "Now don't you think those are pretty?"  Each year I'd tell him the same thing, "I suppose so...if you like begonias."  He'd give a little growl...followed by a smile...sometimes even a laugh.  I'd tease him about the number of tomato plants he'd put in.  I was usually told, "Shut up."  He would appear behind me while I was weeding...scare the living daylights out of me.  I tend to weed by "standing on my head" as The Spousal Unit calls it.  I don't sit, I bend...and stick my backside up in the air.  Jim, or The Old Man as I took to calling him, never missed a chance to point this out.  Once he yelled something across the circle at me while I was in said position.  Me, being me of course, continued what I was doing, and yelled through my legs, "What?!"  He eventually walked over and let me know that I had one of the prettiest "backs" he'd ever seen.  If it wasn't my "back" it was my legs.  I heard about those frequently.  Once he added, "They remind me of my wife's legs."  That one will never be forgotten.  And as for him "never bringing me pretty flowers"?  Simply untrue.  He brought me at least one red rose that I can remember...and when we were getting ready to move he gave me one of his flower boxes.  He said, "You're going to have to have some flowers at that new place.  Here's something to get them started in."

I've got a million little Jim Gems...like...

He was working in his flowerbeds while I was standing in the circle talking to someone.  If I remember correctly it was my brother.  After he left, Jim walked over, put his finger in my face and said, "You, young lady, are a flirt."  I leaned in and said, "It takes one to know one...young man."  I hadn't had that out long before I got a swat across the butt with his garden spade.  ; )

He got out his hibachi one spring, put it under the tree in his front yard, and lit the coals.  I have no idea how much starter fluid he used but I kid you not, the flames were shooting at least four feet in the air.  I remember driving past him, standing right there next to it, flames inches from his face.  I could hardly keep from laughing...he just smiled and waved.  Shortly thereafter he brought the hibachi and all of it's supplies over and offered it to The Spousal Unit.

Jim and Opal used to spend their winters in Florida.  Garry and I would spend two weeks every January or February at Walt Disney World.  During our last trip as a couple, we stopped in for a visit.  Jim had just gotten out of the hospital and I was, well, scared.  When we got there he was sitting in a chair, under a blanket and he just didn't look like...Jim.  Yet, when I walked in, his smile lit the entire room.  His fire returned...his eyes sparkled again...it was one of the best gifts I have ever received.  He got up out of the chair and showed us their home.  In one room there must have been at least three dozen pairs of his shoes lined up on the floor.  You guessed it...I smarted off about it...called him "Imelda".  He offered up a few dozen choice words about my mouth...but I got a hug later.  I think I even got two.  Oh, and yes, I called him Imelda several times after that.

He was an avid sports fan.  You know me...born without the sports gene and proud of it.  It galled him no end that I had no interest in golf...or Ohio State football.  Politics?  Ours couldn't have been any farther apart.  He referred to a certain president as "Your President" and he knew I had no love for "His President".  None of it mattered...none of it.

I bake pies several times a year for the church suppers.  This didn't go unnoticed.  One day he finally said, "Why don't you ever bake me a pie?"  I said, "What kind do you want?"  He replied, "Apple."  I think I baked him at least 3-4 over the years.  He always said the same thing, "You make a good crust."  Again...coming from Jim?  High praise.

Oftentimes if I was baking cookies and saw either of them out I'd take a plate over.  One such day was exactly two weeks after 9/11.  I had baked gingersnaps...and I was more than uneasy.  Garry had been ordered to fly to Dallas for a meeting that day.  I will never forget sitting in their cozy, warm kitchen with the two of them...eating cookies and sipping tea.  I mentioned being scared.  Jim looked at me and there was none of the usual michief in his gaze.  He said, "You can't be afraid.  You can't let those people make you afraid.  If you do?  They win."  That's all it took...just those few words from a decorated World War II veteran.  I felt safe again.  He knew that too, because he immediately got up from the table and ordered me to help him hang a shelf.  My job consisted of holding the tools and handing him whatever he needed.  At one point I was told, "Ok, now hold her steady."  I looked over my shoulder at Opal, grinned, then grabbed him around his waist, braced my legs and said, "Ok!  I've got you!"  He looked at Opal...he looked at me...shook his head and said, "The ladder...the LADDER."  We knew what he meant...but where's the fun in that?

Again, I've got a million of them, but I'll end with this one because it is so Jim:

One summer quite a few homes and condos in our area were vandalized.  Things were stolen, landscaping was ripped up, cars and homes were spray painted.  Our fence and birdfeeders were spray painted, and our phone line was cut.  The police sent an officer out early that morning to assess the damage.  He and I walked around the outside of our unit and I pointed out what I had found.  After he left I went across the circle as Opal had graciously offered the use of her phone so I could call the phone company to come out and repair our line.  I had no sooner ended my call when Jim said, "Hey!"  I'm not sure, but I think that's what he called me the most, "Hey!"  I said, "Yes Jim?"  He said, "Were you wearing a shirt when ______ came to your door?"  He called the police officer by his first name...I don't think there were too many people in town that Jim didn't know.  I raised my eyebrows at him and said, "What?"  He said, "I watched the two of you walk around the side of your building.  I swear you weren't wearing a shirt."  My reply was something to the effect of, "Yes Jim.  I know that when a police officer is going to be stopping by, I always make sure I'm not wearing a shirt."

If you haven't guessed it already, Jim is gone.  I was reading the paper on Sunday and there "it" was...in the obituaries...Jim.  90 years old...leaving behind an amazing wife, two wonderful children, two loved beyond measure grandchildren, and more friends than you can count.  I can't imagine what they are going through.  I only had the smallest piece of him and I can barely function.  I asked Garry if he would call Opal and see if there was anything we could do.  I couldn't...I still don't think I can.  He said she sounded like Opal...which is a very good thing but she is of course, going through one MAJOR adjustment.  He said the last thing she said was, "Tell her (Mel) that just because he's not here anymore...doesn't mean she still can't come and visit."

Earlier this week, Claire and I went out to buy a sympathy card.  I wanted something with flowers on it...and nothing sappy.  I didn't have a whole lot of luck.  Each one I picked up was even worse than the one before it.  I could actually hear him saying, "Ohhh God..." as I read the saccharine sentiments to myself.  I was just about to give up when I picked up this one:

Some men leave their mark
on the world
by the way they live
and the difference they make
in the lives they touch.

It didn't have any flowers on it, but the words were perfect.  Jim LIVED.  I've said it before about certain special people in my life...they have a spark...or a light that draws me to them.  Jim had a FIRE...much like the flame he was cultivating on his hibachi that spring.  The man lived life on his terms...and he died the same way.  Never have I loved a human being the way I continue to love him.  And he was...is...the only human who ever told me he loved me...that I never doubted.

This spring I am going to fill that flower box that he gave me with begonias...and every successive spring that I am allowed to spend here on this earth.  I can't help but remember the last time I talked to Opal on the phone.  I heard him mumbling in the background.  She said, "Did you hear that?"  I said, "No...what's he on about now?"  She replied, "Jim says, 'Tell my girlfriend I still love her.' "

I love you too Old Man...I love you too.

Some day I know that Jim will up and leave me,
But even if he does you can believe me,
I'll go on carrying the torch for Jim.

8 comments:

Carolina said...

Oh Mel, I'm so sorry.
He sounds like a wonderful character who leaves a big empty space on earth.

Love,
;-)

Mel said...

You got that right Carolina...he was one in a billion.

Bear said...

A fitting tribute

Mel said...

Thanks Bear...that means a lot coming from you.

Carol said...

Oh, Mel. I've never met Jim, but feel like I know him well. He sounds like a gem. And such a fitting name. I'm married to the other gem!

I know your Jim will live on in your heart. And I know you'll check in on Opal, often. xoxoxoxox

jay said...

What a wonderful tribute. Your love for Jim shines through every sentence - he must have been a wonderful guy. So sorry to hear he's gone, but it seems he left the world a better place, and that's really all any of us can wish for, isn't it? Hugs.

Mel said...

Carol---you would either love him or hate him...that's why he and I got along so well...that's how folks feel about me too.

jay---he really did make such a difference...and I planted some begonias last weekend. ; )

Carolina said...

Hi hon, just wondering how you are.

Love,
Carolina

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