(This was first published on Red Room and it’s a nice one to read again. . . .)
James was the neighbourhood character that every neighbourhood should have. When Hubby and I first met him, he was adamant on how he would be called.
“Puh-leez, don’t call me “Jim” or “Jimmy”–my name is James and that’s what I want to be called.” After a brief moment, he added with a theatrical shudder, “And never call me Jack!”
Once we got past the name thing, James was a fountain of information on where to get a specific bolt, screw or nut; the freshest eggs, “still warm from being pooped out by the chicken;” the lowest-price-but-best-service for car maintenance and repairs; the best craftsmen for painting, cabinetry, woodworking, plumbing, installing floors and so much more.
James was a retired cabinet-maker and carpenter who produced triple A work. And he expected no less from anyone he hired or referred. His standards were high but you just knew that whoever he recommended would do the best work available.
When it came to animals, it seemed James had an affection for all of them—from the wild squirrels that scampered up his oak trees; the dogs that occasionally roamed in his yard; the deer that knew where James kept the deer-food for them; the family of raccoons who carefully crossed his yard without digging up his lawn; the wild rabbits who knew where James left the carrots and greens for them. Of course there were the numerous bird houses James had built and hung in the apple, pear and peach trees. The birds seemed to know not to peck all the fruit, just a few, so James’ trees yield an abundant harvest which he willingly shared with all his neighbours.
We didn’t see James before we moved to our new location, but I did tuck a short note in his mailbox to let him know where we were and to come for coffee. We didn’t hear from him at all–not even a phone call to say he was in the neighbourhood.
Last week, I saw James as we were both exiting the same building. Hearing his name and recognizing my voice, he gave his cheerful “James” smile and exclaimed, “I’m so glad to hear your voice. Thank you for your note with the new address but I think I misplaced it again!” Chatting with my old neighbour, I realized something was amiss. James was wearing dark glasses that wrapped around the sides of his face, yet the day was a somber gray with a fine drizzly rain.
“Are you okay, James?”
“Oh yes, never better but I’m afraid I’m gradually losing my vision to macular degeneration. Rather makes you do things a little differently.”
“I’m so sorry, James. Do you have access to help and support?”
“Honey, have you already forgotten all your neighbours?”
“Oh, I’m so glad the neighbours are looking after you.”
“Got that part right, Sweetheart! Mal and Bryan drive me wherever I need to go. Betsy and Kathy leave me casseroles and stuff to reheat in my microwave; Mike makes sure my yard and garden is kept neat; Lyssa sends her kids over to sweep off my driveway. I feel very humble to have such caring neighbours nearby. All I can offer them are the fruit from my trees. I was worried about my animals but someone has been leaving carrots, greens and apples for them.”
“I’m so glad the neighbours have rallied ’round you, James.”
“You know, I loved doing what I did around the neighbourhood, but Life was never meant to run smoothly. You get tossed a lemon now and then and really, it’s what you choose to do to make your life better. Do you want lemonade or a rotten lemon? And you know me, I go for lemonade every time!”
“James, do you have time for coffee or are you heading somewhere?”
“I have an appointment with someone who wants to commission me for some cabinetry work. At the moment, I’m referring another cabinet maker to him. She does great work and I’ll introduce her to this client and see how it goes. It’s hard not to do the job myself, but I’ll figure a way to do something later.”
And with a jaunty wave of his hand, James casually unfolded a white cane and strolled down the street–confident, dignified and cheerful–as only James, never Jim or Jimmy could be.