Tuesday, December 18, 2012
When I first met Jesse, it was 1951. I was 16, a junior in High School and working at our Buick – Pontiac dealership as a “gopher” Jesse was the car wash guy. He was at one time a tall man but was not stooped over and now looked older than what I assumed to be his real age. He was a black man who had one problem. He loved his wine and I would see him bending over the seats of the car in his stall, pretending to be cleaning, but really taking a long drink from his bottle “hidden” in a paper bag. He would give me a wink as I walked by.
Everyone knew he was a drunkard, as they were referred to in those days, and his shenanigans were ignored. A common practice then. It certainly didn’t bother me, in fact over time Jesse and I had formed a rather close, if unconventional, relationship.
I also had a paper route that passed his house and on Sunday mornings when I peddled by, he would often stop me and ask me in for a coffee – and other libation which I honestly never accepted. Nonetheless, I would spend a few minutes with Jesse and his wife. I don’t recall her name, which is really too bad because she was obviously the real strength of that family.
When the Christmas season came upon us, I couldn’t help but notice that there was no Christmas tree in their home. I was certain that they simply didn’t have the funds to purchase one.
As was the custom in my family, we always drove into the forest to get our tree. We were looking for the perfect tree (an impossible task) and I remember my dad getting frustrated as Mom always said that there must be that perfect spruce just a little up the path. Well, as we trudged through the snow I spotted a small very bedraggled tree and I suddenly knew that I had to have it as I knew the perfect place for it.
The very next day I took it over to Jesse’ and gave it to him and his wife. Mom had given me a few ornaments and small string of lights so there I was at his door early in the morning with this ugly little tree and was welcomed in and we placed that tree on a table in front of the window. It looked like that tree in the Peanuts strip.
I offered to help set it up and proceeded to do just that. While decorating this tree I had my back to them and when it was effectively finished, I thought I heard a sniffle and turned around to see this tall weathered friend of mine standing there with tears streaming down his cheeks. I think I remember turning away so he couldn’t see me starting to tear up as well. We were both overwhelmed with emotion. I gave them both a hug (real men didn’t do that in those days) and it felt good. I wished them Merry Christmas and went on my way feeling pretty good about myself.
In the following weeks, I saw that tree in the window as I delivered my Sunday papers. It was going bald, so to speak, and after all the needles were gone, it was still there. Sadly, one Sunday in April or May, I forget which, it was gone. I had left my dealership job a few weeks before and I subsequently found out that Jesse has passed away and that his wife had moved on.
I remember this particular Christmas every year and I always give a toast to Jesse.
A friend I will never forget.