Esther was a proper Christian woman who never said an unkind thing about anyone and fed me the finest fried squirrel on the planet. I knew when it was fried squirrel time in her kitchen. She had a big old stove with lots of doors and there was always something in them.
She cooked her husband 3 meals a day every day and on time. He looked like the happiest person and laughed a big hearty fun kinda sound. When he told a story–which was often–his voice carried a clarity and mischievous tone no one else could mimic. She laughed at him as though each told was the best she ever heard–but her laugh was one calling him a true character.
I loved being around them. They were honest and hard working. JD as he is lovingly know—was a professional grader who never had to think twice about who was going to contract with him. He had big equipment and it was always clean and well cared after. He was the best within miles. Always was in demand.
I remember as a little girl looking out our picture window across the street and seeing JD roll up after work in his big dump truck with the trailer following dutifully behind. The trailer carried a big old tractor and bucket—he’d sometimes let us kids ride up and down in the bucket.
Today he showed me his massive garden space which will be asleep this summer for the first time in the 52 years I’ve known him–and he showed me his dump truck and tractors which are sleeping too.
JD is 89 years old and has always been my favorite most entertaining neighbor. I don’t live there anymore but he does and nothing has changed at that house. NOt the fish swimming in pastel colors over the kitchen sink nor the azaleas that were in bloom across the front of his house.
I thought about getting pictures and I’ll go back and do so but today was an unplanned trip and it was one gifted to me by the Lord. It was not a moment to spoil with worrying about recording it with a flashy photos–like you wanted to cheapen it somehow.
Some things are better told in the respect of words without pictures and this story is all about words and the way he used them.
He said—Did you know my wife died? Well no I didn’t and felt bad about that. He showed me pictrues of a memory book of her last days.
He didn’t recognize me when I came to the door. I said this is Anna Marie. Oh goodness and the welcoming began. Right away I was ushered in to the past. I looked at pictures of grandchildren, daughters, his wife–Esther–, and glimpses of his life with his bird dogs.
He–Esther got a call a few days before she died. The dr ask to speak to me. Told me right up that Esther’s test results were a 5. He said people were usually gone by then. Dr said they had a bed at the hospital waiting on her. So on the way to the hospital–I told Esther that we probably weren’t gonna come home together.
To this I cried and he teared up and I continued to listen through a deepening sadness in my heart.
He said–She only lasted a few days after that. She recognized me though. I ask her for a kiss and she raised up a little and gave me one. She didn’t recognize one of our grandchildren.
He showed me the memory book of last days. There was a very grieved daughter and husband. All were clearly grieving a much loved and admired woman–and I was too–I was remembering her immaculate looks…..tender heart…..delicious food….infectious laugh….and devotion to her family.
He said–she was in a state of not responding to anyone for a long time—and then all of a sudden she eased up and got alert—and said—Is that you Momma?
Well—shivers went down my spine–as a writer–I was recording this in my sight through my ears and I knew Esther was with her momma who she adored and had passed on many many years before. Esther was greeting her loved ones one by one. Esther was clear of brain cancer and right in her mind—and she had a peace that only heaven can bring.
Esther then turned to her husband who also believed her relived of her burdens–and then Esther told JD not to worry–but to live only one day at the time.
So today….I was given the gift of being a part of one day at the time. Oh what a hallelujah moment in the Lord I had. God was there with me and JD and we all knew it. When God shows up….it will not leave you frowning. It leaves you with a joyful spirit.
I said my goodbyes cause we were actually in the front yard standing at this point–under his old oak tree that was planted the year my parents built their house back in 1957. He said the workmen from our house came to help him maneuver the tree in place.
And as like Southern conversations go—we talked on. We talked about his little girl Amy who is smarter than any other human on earth–and I exclaimed that JD certainly did care a lot about his landscaping. He took great pride in his home, grass and all that grew there.
We looked at the azaleas blooming in shades of bright red and then he showed me the side of the house where they turned purple. And under the purple azaleas I said–use to grow some Tommy Toes as I called them–little tomatoes. I recalled having eaten so many that it gave me a bellyache. I admitted to hiding and eating his little maters.
In the vicinity of the purple azaleas is an old log cutter that we discussed in great detail. It belonged to Esther’s father. JD had put the A-frame up on 4 oil filter cans to keep termites from eating the wood.
The frame of the woodcutter was not made of today’s technology but looked like it was gonna last another few centuries. We talked of things made of old that still lasted. And this is when his windmill struck my fancy.
The fins of the windmill were made of old license tags and the propeller of a radiator of some sorts. The tags were commercial and right away I knew it connected memories of big equipment he’d owned.
We looked past that to the three big garages housing treasures I’d like to scavange–but this was a respectful time and no time to disrespect by disturbing it.
So I left that subject alone—it was all tidy stored and some of it advertised to sell. He is negotiating the sale of all his equipment and I would not want to be in the buyers seat. JD is sharp, knows his equipment can’t be bought today, is in immaculate shape, and carries many more miles of use.
Every square inch of JD’s mind is sharp. When I first arrived at the house—we went on back in memory to his wife’s good cooking. Nobody forgets that about her. JD sees what he is talking about and tells a good story–so he described her meals so that my mouth watered.
He came home one day and remarked that supper seemed a bit lean in squirrel. Esther said it seemed they had enough to eat with all her side dishes. That was all that was said until later at another meal when the most awful mound of squirrel heaped on a plate before him.
JD said he ate so much squirrel that he has been squirrely every since.
He said—I don’t know why I didn’t lose my first job the day I got it. I traveled all day on a train from NC to Washington DC. It was back in the day when trains ran off coal. I was wearing a three piece suit and when I took it off–I was looking like I’d changed to a white vest with black shirt.
He said—I was so tired from that trip that I layed down at the bording house and didn’t wake up till 8 o’clock. Jumping out of bed and having to be at work at 9am, I rushed to report to the FBI–my first employer. I ran down the stairs and past the family who was listening wide eyed at the radio—no tv back then—and rushed on down the blocks and blocks to my first job.
He said–I arrived and the guard said—where do you think you are going?—-to work I said cause I report every morning at 9am. The guard said well it’s 9pm so go home. I didn’t get fired but do you know how long I lasted?
He added—I had never seen street lights–so it seemed like daylight to me.
To this I said–no..I don’t know how long you lasted at that job.
He said–well only 9 days. The Army would not take me back at that time of WW2 cause I had a bum leg. It was almost cut off when I was a little boy and daddy carried me almost a mile to get help. We didn’t have a car. So daddy carried me till he found a fellow that had a Model T. They carried me to the hospital in that Model T and they wanted to cut my leg off–said it was too dirty and maimed.
Me—well how did you get in such a shape.
He–it was a big old belt on a piece of machinery that grabbed me up and the saw blade cut my leg off within a couple of fragments and ligaments of being cut clean off. The surgeon on duty said my leg had to come off but daddy called our family dr. The family dr said let’s clean it up and try to reattach. It worked but the Army would not take me.
He—a friend of our family got me a job with the FBI and here I was in Washington delivering their mail all day all over that building. It took 9 days for my whole leg to swell so badly I couldn’t use it and I wanted to come home.
He—The FBI said you can’t go home we are gonna send you to school. So I went to school to learn fingerprinting. I’m the guy who fingerprinted so many of our men who fought in WW2. It was sad job knowing I would be the last person to take their prints before they were sent home having none.
Me–well I sat speechless. I said that must have been hard.
He–look at these pictures on the wall—
Me–seeing him the sportsmen I remember comment that I remember him winning the Annie Oakley shooting contest. To which he confirmed. I said well how was it to shoot with Annie Oakely. He said you mean the real one—WEll yes I had—he grinned and said she opened that place in 1898-how old do you think I am.
We stood on the front lawn saying good bye a dozen times. And then I saw his white post all like little soldiers guarding his lawn from the road traffic. We lived at a dead end street and I saw no cars while we stood there and don’t remember many when I was a kid–but his yard stood guarded and that was just a part of being JD.
His last story—When Amy was little—she was showing signs of being a smart kid. She saw a sign on my post there by the driveway and ask what it said—I told her it said—Private Drive.
To which Amy thought a few minutes and said—Daddy–it ought to say—Keep off the grass. In her mind people were ok to drive in the driveway but not ok to be on the grass.
As a added bonus to this story and if you are still following—Amy has a son who is equally smart. JD bragged that the little boy was too young to attend the first school they went to check out and was told to come back about 8 months later.
8 months later they returned–and the little boy said—they changed furniture. So Amy ask the lady and sure enough the furniture was different. They lady excused herself just a bit and when she returned—the little guy said—that’s not the same pen you had a minute ago. It wasn’t.
### Thank you JD for a wonderful day.
===Friends–this meeting of friends was a happenstance but maybe not so–I missed a lunch date with a friend of mine by being a day off on my schedule. I thought today was the day-=but tomorrow I’ll go back for the real date. I just decided to go by and see my old friend because something said I should. And I think I should have too–don’t you?