Standing Tall

Photo by M.A.DornbuschA friend of mine is dying.

We met Jim 14 years ago, when we bought our house. Our new neighbor and his wife, Mary, were friendly and welcoming.

Jim and Mary are one of the original homeowners in this subdivision. They bought their house new in the late 70s. They raised their family on this street.

When we were looking for a house to buy in 2000, we deliberately looked for an area with lots of retired folk in it, because we were tired of the cacophony of multifamily housing.

We used the Travis County Appraisal District’s online database to determine whether homes around a house of interest were occupied by people with “Over 65” exemptions. This particular neighborhood was full of retired people.

Little did I realize at the time that, 14 years later, these older people would grow even older and eventually pass on. Of course, new families will move in, and we will start all over again. Then one day, we’ll be the old folks on the block.

Over the years, we got to know each other a little better — as neighbors often do — just enough to keep an eye out for each other. Is that a usual visitor in the driveway or should we keep a close eye on it for a while. Are they on vacation and should we take in their paper? That kind of thing.

We watched them slow down. Jim handed his business over to his son. Mary lost a dog and a cat. Jim lost the tall cottonwood tree in his backyard to a storm. Jim told me they planted that tree when they moved in. I could tell that it hurt him a lot to lose that tree.

A couple months ago, Jim was diagnosed with stage 4 bone cancer. Why it was diagnosed so late, I have no idea. Nevertheless, he and his family decided to treat it. But after a few rounds of chemo, they found that it wasn’t working, and he made the brave decision to stop treatment and die naturally. He has very little time left.

Jim kept his front yard green and spotless. Every week, like clockwork, Jim would be outside, watering his grass, doing his best to fight the drought and keep his yard emerald green. A lawn service that Jim had used for years came by once a month or so and cut the grass, trim anything that needed trimming, edge, and sweep up. (The owner of this lawn service was older than Jim, but he still did his own work, even in 100-degree heat.)

Our yard was not so lucky. We refused to water, for various reasons. And after a couple of years of watching the lawn turn crisp in the summer, we started hauling in rock to transform the front yard into a drought-tolerant xeriscaped mini-golf course. And every spring, Jim always had some remark about our front yard, delivered with a twinkle in his eye and his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

The first year of the front yard transformation, we laid the limestone. Because the limestone crisscrossed the yard in an asymmetrical pattern, he remarked “I would hate to have to mow that yard.”

The second year, we started planting. His remark: “I would hate to be a burglar trying to get out of your house.”

Subsequent years, he would remark on the various aspects of the lawn, including the wildflowers that came up every spring. This year, because an abundance of volunteer sunflowers that grew as high as the house, his remark was “Your yard is… tall!”

And so it was.

And so is Jim. He will always stand tall in our hearts.