Thursday, January 22, 2009

Old Jim

I found a job delivering papers in 1946. I had managed to get a paper route with the Winnipeg Free Press. The route they gave me was small with only about thirty papers and it really wasn't enough papers to make it worth while. So in order to expand I had to go out to the country. It meant some distance between deliveries. What made it even more difficult was I didn't have a bike. So being ambitious, I added another thirty customers to the route but walking took a long time and it was difficult. Finally after about three weeks I was delivering a paper to one of my customers and he called me over and said, "Where's your bike?" I explained that I didn't have one and I was saving up to get a bike. He told me to come over to his shop because he had a bike I may be able to use. It was an old bike but it looked in good condition except it needed a paint job. He said I could have it for ten dollars. That was fine with me but I didn't have ten dollars so he made a deal with me to pay him a dollar every pay day until I got it paid for. Fortunately it had a carrier on the front of it where I could put my papers. Well I rode that bike home and was tickled pink that I could now deliver my papers in one third the time; mind you, in those days it was a one speed bike but one speed or not it was a step in the right direction. Now having that bike meant I could add about ten more deliveries in the country. The folks were glad to get the paper and I was in business. I scraped the old paint off of that bike with a piece of broken glass and painted it with a brush. Blue with white fenders. The carrier I painted black . To me it looked great and I took some pride in it. One of the new customers on the route was an old guy named Jim. He was kind of a hermit. He had a ten acre farm with no electricity. A small house with coleman lamps for light and a wood stove for heat. He often would be sitting at the window
of his front room reading or just staring out the window which needed to be a cleaned. Since he was at the end of my route I would stop and talk to him. He was ancient to me and was in his late seventies and so he was born in the 1870's. He was about five foot six inches tall, stocky build with gray hair and beard. He wore works shirts mostly of a dark color and plaid shirt on the weekend. His furnishings were very plain and he had a small table he sat at to eat his food. I remember he would cut a loaf of bread in bigger hunks and dip it in soup or mop up the gravy with it. There was nothing fancy about Jim and he spoke with a slight English accent. I found myself helping him with chores he had and often would come out in my spare time to hang around a bit. Since it was summer he was busy with his garden and getting his firewood in for the winter. He told me he would be putting an oil stove in because he was running out of wood on his property and since he didn't drive, he had to do something else. He wasn't one to talk a lot so we just worked together. He asked me if I would like to help him cut the hay on five of his acres. I was hesitant because I had no idea of how you would cut hay without machinery and he didn't have any. He explained that we would be using a scythe. A long wooden instrument with two short handles on it and a curved piece of steel attached to the end that came to a point. He had both of them sharpened with a good cutting edge and took me out to show me how they worked. The idea was to swing the scythe in a right to left motion taking care to keep the blade somewhat level and yet in a curving up motion. Old Jim would cut a swathe and the two foot grass was cut even to the ground and the hay lay flat and cut clean. I was not doing as well as the first cut didn't cut right thru and the hay wasn't laid flat but more bunchy and uneven. He was patient with me though and worked with me until I could get a fairly decent swing and a better cut. You develop a motion instead of chopping or hacking the grass and cutting to wide a strip of grass. Much of the skill is in keeping the blade close to the ground and the cuts even. We worked on the five acres for a week with him staying for most of the day and I just filling in hours I could spare. When it was done he put his hand on my arm and said: "Now we have to stack." He had a large wagon with big wheels he had made that he pulled. The wagon had two arms coming out from the frame and a cross bar on the end. One could get on the insde of the arms and use your body to push on the cross bar and move the wagon ahead. Well, we had pitchforks then to fill the wagon with hay and transport the hay to a pile he had started. In three days we had piled up the hay off the field . It was a good size haystack and Jim sold it to a guy who came with a truck and he said Jim knew how to grow alphalfa and it was clean and a good price. To this day I love the smell of new moan hay
Well old Jim started to trust me and so he would talk more. The conversations ranged from his childhood to the present date. I don't remember a lot about it but one thing came across. He was gentle and well read. He had a room full of books and complained that his glasses were not as good as he would like them to be. He never bought a new pair for a while but I thought he just didn't have the money. I do not know how he supported himself but he was frugal and I guess that is why I was so surprised when the work was done and he called me into his house and showed me a generator, light and cable for my bike. He explained how it worked and helped me put it on. I knew at the time I coudn't afford it but it was a great gift and one so practical. It came in handy during the winter months when it got dark. I rode my bike for deliveries even then but their were many days I couldn't and had to walk. Many times I would see him from the road sitting at his table with his hands clasped together in prayer. He would have a bowl of porridge in the mornings and other times some cheese, bread and raw vegetables. He drank coffee and tea and loved butter milk which the neighbor alway got for him. Well what this all adds up to is the sweet soul he was. The neighbors liked him and he wasn't anti social just liked to keep to himself more often than not. I suppose that is why I felt so priveledged. I brought him home dinner to in later years and he enjoyed himself immensely. He came into my life when a young boy was alone and discouraged. He never demanded nor pushed for my help. It just came as he and I got acquainted. Slowly I seen the good in him and the upright man he was . He was a little stooped over and walked at a fast pace when he was going somewhere. We saw each other frequently and then I left Winnipeg and said goodbye. It was the kind of goodbye that said so much and he saw the tear in my eye and gave me a hug. I lost contact with him and heard later on that he had moved into a senior housing project. Who can explain a friendship that an old man and a boy have.Who can not laugh to see a tall gangling kid walking with an old man who took short steps. One trying to keep up and the other trying to slow down. That was one of the few times that old Jim laughed out loud and pointed to the fact that we were an odd pair. I can remember his voice and his manner. I can see his image in my minds eye and to this day it brings me a touch of well being. The old man who just was there and filled a void and gave some purpose to a young kid. God bless the Jim's of this world.


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