The other day, my husband, Richard, received a shocking phone call. Our friend, James, was dead at fifty-four years old.
When my husband told me, I just looked at him in disbelief. James couldn’t possibly be dead…not old James as I lovingly called him.
When my husband and I started our janitorial business in 1991, James was the first person to respond to a job ad we ran at the Employment Security Commission. Richard remembers me telling him, “I just interviewed a prospective employee on the telephone. You’re really going to like him!”
James became our first JDR Cleaning Service employee other than immediate family. He and Richard worked long hard hours as the JDR crew. Eventually the staff grew, with James stepping in as supervisor when needed. Without James, Richard and I could not have taken any time off from our demanding 24/7 business. When my Father was dying, there were four trips back and forth to Miami Beach. James was always there for us.
I had this ritual with James. Wherever we traveled, I brought him back a shirt. I would spend a ridiculous amount of time picking out his gifts. Once I almost missed my flight because I realized that I forgot to buy James a shirt. I ran to the airport gift shop to buy him one. He loved every shirt and wore them all the time!
Years ago, James had some health issues that landed him in the emergency room. My husband rushed over to the hospital and tried to get in to see James. His family said that he was giving the medical staff a very hard time. The Doctor told Richard that only family was allowed in. Richard looked the Doctor in the eye and said, “That’s my brother and I need everyone out of the room while I talk to him!” The Doctor stared at my husband for a moment and then quickly cleared the room.
My husband walked in and found James sitting on the side of the bed sulking and muttering under his breath, “I want to go home!”
“Listen buddy” Richard said, ” you have a choice. You can either get back in this bed and behave yourself or I’m going to go home, get my .38 and take you out of your misery. What’s it going to be?” Then he gently added, “Look James, I’ve already got a wife and four kids. I can’t take on another big family, so you need to listen to the Doctor and do what he says!” The two men locked eyes and then James put his head back down on the pillow. After that incident, he took his health seriously!
Nineteen years went by really fast. I’ve spent the last few days reminiscing… Lots of memories of a man who was supposed to stick around so that we could all grow old together!
I write human interest stories about the guy on the street. Asheville just lost one of the best of them!