When one is born in Texas, she will always identify as a Texan. The first twelve years of my life were spent first in the West Texas desert and then in the hill country of East Texas. As with all good Texans, country music is in my bones, and I mean real country, not the majority of pathetic excuses you hear on the radio today. I’m looking at you Luke Bryan and Jason Aldeen.
Just a few days ago, a medley of three of country music’s greatest songs was released. The song is a collaboration of 30 country artists spanning generations, and with the exception of a few artists, (Luke, Jason, still looking at you) it’s an impressive list. The song has been on repeat in my house for the last few days. There’s something beautiful about history and collaboration; a group of people with a common thread thinking we’re in this together.
Country roads, take me home to the place I belong.
As these words replay in my mind and computer speakers, I hear the faint sound of a bass guitar coming from the yard directly behind mine. I peer out the window and see a huge yellow tent. Under the tent at least 20 long folding tables, each almost overflowing with tools. In the yard, three lawn mowers, five file cabinets, four ladders, a deep freezer, car parts that I wouldn’t even attempt to identify, table saws, circular saws, boxes of siding and more. A work crew is listening to Oldies.
The boys want to go outside to see the action. A woman meets us at the fence and explains that she owns an estate sale company. She apologizes in advance for all the traffic our neighborhood will see in the next few days. She tells me people are flying in from all over the country to attend an auction for the three cars they’re selling. She’s asked the city to help control traffic but they refuse her request. It’s just an estate sale.
The woman at the fence explains that this isn’t your average estate sale. Jim is a little different, you know.
I smile politely, nod my head and keep my mouth shut, but an old Texas expression comes to mind: Jim is a few sandwiches short of a picnic.
We’ve lived in this house for three and a half years. It’s a 1960’s ranch, and the first home we’ve owned. When we moved in there was snow on the ground, but we ventured out to the backyard anyway. We only had one child then, who was sound asleep inside. We probably looked like wanna-be contractors outside, surveying our property. Our property. We moved our hands in the air, pointing out the places we could add a screened porch one day, where we could put a swing set, a dying tree that needed to be cut down. Then from behind us, You must be the people who bought Dorris’ house.
We turn around and see a short scraggly man with long hair, a beard and thick glasses leaning over our fence. I think to myself He could look like Santa if he took a shower. We talk for a few minutes. His name is Jim and he’s lived here for oh at least 20 years or so. He tells us he hopes we don’t have a dog. The other neighbor with whom we both share a fence tried to kill his dog once. Poison. We notice a twelve foot privacy fence dividing their yards. I sued her and the city made her put the fence up. It’s the only privacy fence in the neighborhood. Another neighbor later told us that Jim’s dog died of old age, not poison.
Jim points to a large wintered bush in our yard.
Yall like lilacs?
Oh I love them! Is that what that is?
Yeah, I was hoping you hated them and would cut this down. I can’t stand them. He tells us that the lilac is technically his even though it’s on our side of the fence. Something about property lines and the fence company being a bunch of idiots.
We’re polite and say it’s getting a little chilly so we head inside.
That man is crazy, and the lilac stays, I tell my husband.
From then on, we refer to him as Crazy Jim.
Crazy Jim often stands at our fence line and just watches us when we’re playing outside. It makes me uncomfortable so we avoid him. He seems harmless, but I still don’t like being watched. We learn to mostly ignore the gazes while we eat dinner on our back patio and give him a quick wave. He never seems to want to talk – just watch. Sometimes we see him leaning over the fence, watching us while we’re in the kitchen. We’ve got to get window treatments in here.
There’s a pile of what can only be described as stuff on his back patio. Random tools, bottles, car parts, yard equipment. Sometimes we catch glimpses of him standing in his living room window in his tighty-whiteys drinking a beer.
Forget window treatments. We get bids for a privacy fence. Crazy Jim, you know.
Each Spring the lilac blooms and I find him standing out there watching it. I imagine he’s wishing it dead. I consider planting an entire row of lilac bushes along the fence line. Maturity has never been my strong suit.
The years pass and not much changes. Civil exchanges and polite waves, but we avoid him. This Spring, though, we notice Jim moving a little slower than usual. His grass grows long, as does his beard. Everything looks out of control. But soon, we stop seeing Jim. Weeks go by, then a month. Another month, no Jim.
I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Jim has had several strokes, says the woman at the fence. Actually, he’ll be in a nursing home for the rest of his life.
We hadn’t heard. We had no idea.
His family is in Texas. A neighbor found him in the house a few weeks ago and contacted his family in Texas. No one knows how long it had been since he’d had his last stroke, but they think it had been several months. When they found him it looked like he hadn’t showered in months.
Did his family take him to Texas?
No, he’s here. He’s a ward of the state and he’ll spend the rest of his life in a nursing home.
I look beyond the woman at the fence. The contents of Jim’s house now sit in his yard, waiting to be sold to strangers. She explains that the tools being sold are a high end brand, and Jim had over $100,000 worth spread throughout his home. I asked why he had so many.
Oh, he’s a master mechanic. He also worked on computers for the hospital system, but his love was cars. He was also a licensed plumber and electrician.
I had no idea. It turns out Crazy Jim was actually a genius. She tells me he had some mental disorders, but she didn’t know the details. When Jim found out he’d never go back home, his blood pressure shot through the roof. They had to sedate him. He didn’t want anyone to take his things.
I thank the woman and tell her I hope the estate sale goes well. I walk back into the house and hear the words coming from my computer speakers.
Country roads, take me home to the place I belong.
In my speakers, community. In my backyard, a picture of desolation. The place Jim belonged, emptied and for sale.
In just a few hours, people will be forming a line to get into Jim’s backyard to buy the things he desperately wanted to keep and will never see again. They’ll go home bragging about their bargains while he lies in a bed alone in a nursing home, a ward of the state. It doesn’t paint a very good picture of humanity. I wonder if any of them will think about the man who used to own their new finds.
Because I didn’t. I lived next to Jim for three and a half years, and I intentionally kept my distance. I added to his desolation. I added to his loneliness. I learned more about Jim from the woman at the fence than I did from Jim, my own neighbor.
Jim was uncomfortable, and uncomfortable doesn’t feel good.
Regret feels worse.
We’re going to try to find Jim. If we can, I hope we’ll be able to give him a sense of belonging. We can’t make up for the last three and a half years, but we can start over. Mother Teresa said Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.
So let us begin.