This story comes at the close of summer. The last couple summers have not been the same at our home. I have not been able to pinpoint the issue until this year. One of may favorite neighbors James passed after a battle with the Big C.
Jim was the best neighbor. The day I met Jim was the first month we moved into our new home. I was gardening on my two acre property pretending to be a landscaper. The weekend prior, I bought 8 bags of lawn fertilizer and a $19.99 seed spreader and walked the entire two acres to fertilize the lawn. Jim who’s only landscaping accomplishments were those he could achieve from his 30-year-old tractor, rode across the street to see what I was doing.
I was standing in amazement over my accomplishment of one acre of lawn perfectly striped like the American Flag, highlighting every area I missed with the seed spreader. Jim reached in his each of his pockets and pulled out 6 beers then said while he was shaking his head, “First Lawn? “I pledge allegiance to the flag…,with his hand over his heart” Then he handed me the first beer that would become a Suburban Saturday Tradition. The SST became the best part of chores around my home.
My kitchen faced Jim’s T.V. room. As you might have guessed from the recipes on my blog, I love to cook. I spend a lot of time baking and cooking in my tiny kitchen, sometimes when the sun rises on until late in the night. One summer Jim was obsessed with baking bread. He studied it, the fermentation process, the temperature, types of yeast and flour. He lectured to prove that understood the science of making bread perfectly. What he could not master was the art of the baker. He loved to bake bread but he complained it always turned out too heavy with a soft crust. I swear he would leave his window open so he could smell when I was baking bread.
One SST day, I woke up early left the house in my Pj’s to get the newspaper from the driveway. As I walked toward the road I saw a sack at the end of the driveway. At first I thought it was garbage, but as I approached it was a 50 pound bag of bread flour. Confused at first, I looked up and there was Jim standing in the garage, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, wearing his favorite t-shirt (bright orange, reading… PROPERTY OF MILWAUKEE COUNTY HOUSE OF CORRECTION) with his hands over head saying, HOORAH! the forecast calls for rain it is a bread baking day! So that we did, bake and break bread all day and through the night. This SST called for several bottles of wine, a trip to the italian deli and a pound of butter.
Our first Christmas in our new home needed to be one to remember we declared. We had this great idea to have a cookie baking contest in our home. So we invited all our family and friends to bake cookies, listen to carols and drink way too much Christmas cheer. We laughed, baked and ate cookies all day until late in the evening. True to our Suburban Saturday Tradition, I invited Jim to be the Judge. Being a lawyer who spends most of his days in a court room, he participated in full form.
In the early evening, one of the kids yelled, “Look out the window, here comes the Judge!” Yes Jim came to the party wearing the customary judicial black silk gown perfect for the most noble court. “Had I known this was a martini drinking contest too, I would have been here at noon!” Judge howled (my new name for Jim from this day forward).
Jim had one neighborhood rule that he seriously worked to enforce in suburbia. When ever he met a new neighbor, he would say, “You know the village ordinance requires that anyone who host’s a party must invite all the neighbors.” He worked hard to enforce that rule by leading with example and attended any picnic, bonfire or backyard event. Neighbors welcomed him not because he would always come with beer in tow but because he brought an evening full of jokes or stories to tell that kept a crowd rolling in laughter for hours.
There was one particular hot Saturday in August that will be etched in my memory forever. I was late getting on the tractor that particular day. I did not see much of Jim that summer as I was traveling a lot for work and barely had anytime to for outside gardening. I was drinking coffee on my front porch when suddenly I heard a saxophone sounding from across the street.
Cars, cars and more cars were parking all up and down the block in our subdivision. Everyone was carrying black cases filled with musical instruments and heading to Jim’s driveway. I walked to the end of my driveway and there was a circle of chairs where Jim sat outside the circle in a lawn chair looking thin, pale and weak. He yelled,
“Hey get over here, its Jazz in the Driveway!”
So, in our tradition, I made my way over and sat right next to Jim in his lawn chair facing the band that was about to play what became Jim’s last concert. Jim had prepared the musical arrangement for his funeral and commissioned his symphonic band friends to play for his funeral.
On that day in true Suburban Saturday Tradition, Jim pulled out of his pocket an orange crush pops for both of us and snapped the top as we were serenaded by his symphonic band. “Today my friend, no Budweiser, it doesn’t work well with the chemo”, he said as he passed me a red pack of Marlboro’s. So, cigarettes and orange crush in hand, Jim and I listened to the what I will always remember as:
The Judge’s Final Opus-A Suburban Saturday Tradition that is embedded in my heart forever.