Thursday, February 3, 2011

Johnny D Gnomes

As it often happens, out of no where a day can change, a life is lost. I was at my computer typing on facebook helping a friend collect donations for a get together in honor of an old high school friend who had passed away when my daughter’s text interrupted my thoughts. She informed me that our old next door neighbor John Smith had passed away. For my friends on facebook you have probably seen his funny comments on my page, he is Johnny D Gnomes. I didn’t even know John was sick. I knew he had a heart valve replaced several years back, and had some heart trouble but never once did he mention to me he was not feeling well or was in the hospital. Of course I don’t think he ever would, he never liked anyone worrying over him.

When he lived next door the way John informed me of his major surgery, after I asked him where he had been, I hadn't seen him in a while he responded, “Denise guess what I have a pig’s valve in me.” Then the two of us sat on my front porch and he told me all about his surgery, his valve, his medication. He ended our very serious conversation with “Don’t worry I plan on giving you grief for a very long time.” Last time we talked on facebook we were both excited about being grandparents. Both our girls had beautiful, healthy babies. He commented on how lucky he was, how lucky we both were!

When John, Erin, Kaysea and Bailey moved in next door our neighborhood was never the same. They helped “liven” the place up. The first memory of John. They were moving in he and Erin were on their driveway unloading. I had just pulled into mine. He waved and yelled howdy neighbor we are going to be good friends. He was correct, we all became great friends. Our kids cheered and hung out together. As an only child my daughter was happy to add two more “sisters” to her family and another “mom and dad” to look out for her. I always knew as long as John and Erin were next door I had nothing to worry about.

I know many times during our years as neighbor I amused John with my antics. Many times he would walk out his back door laughing hysterically, always with a funny comment or two but always there to help when I needed it. One morning after my usual run I headed to the backyard by the shed to pick some blackberries for a morning snack. When I reached through the vines I saw a snake, screamed, ran and jumped up on the back steps. John was outside cleaning his bird cages. He heard me and came rushing over. I pointed to the garden and yelled big snake. He had to control his laughter when he saw it was a little garden snake. Being the good soul that he was, he took the snake and carried it to the woods so it would not find it's way back to my yard.

I had the pleasure of coaching both his daughters in cheerleading. After the second practice where I had done some major conditioning with the girls , I was surprised to find John knocking on my door the following morning. When I greeted John, he had this serious look on his face and said “Denise we need to talk about Bailey.” For a second I was worried I pushed her too hard and she wanted to stop. Then he burst out laughing, and asked if it was wrong he laughed at his daughter when she yelled she couldn’t stand up from the toilet. Then we once again sat on the front steps and had a great conversation about how our kids were growing up too fast. John ended our conversation with "Keep torturing my daughter I love it."

The first night Jim came to pick me up for a date, John and Erin both had seen his “redneck” truck parked in the driveway. The next day John came over to ask about the guy that “came a calling”. I still smile remembering John telling me as long as I like Jim and he treats me well, he will like him. If he ever treats me badly the gators love white meat in the everglades he didn’t mind making a road trip for me!! When he found out Jim was eleven and a half years younger than me for a long while he would call me the cradle robber then wink. Erin of course gave me a high five!

I am sitting now in my office listening to Buffett play from my iPod. Buffett and John go hand and hand. The Smith family are the ultimate parrot heads. My daughter’s first Buffett concert experience was with John, Erin, Bailey and Kaysea. Kathryn was so excited to be heading to Nissan Pavilion with them. That night severe thunderstorms suddenly hit Northern Virginia. I sat watching the news alerts interrupt the television programing alerting everyone to the tornadoes dropping all around Northern Virginia, right near where they were. I tried to call their cell phone to make sure everyone was alright but no one answered. I was worried but at the same time I was not. I knew Erin and John would take care of my girl, she was family to them. About one in the morning my phone rang, it was John he told me very solemnly we have a problem. Concerned I asked what was wrong. John laughed, then announced, "Your daughter is hooked on Buffett!" then handed the phone over to Kathryn. My girl had an absolute blast with them. For the next fifteen minutes she told me all about the slip and slides, the “costumes”, the singing, the pouring rain and the best time of her life!! Kathryn has not missed a Buffett concert since!!

Tin Cup Chalice is now echoing through the house and a million John memories are floating through my mind. The numerous times in the morning when I would return from my run he would comment I was not sweating enough he thought I needed to do another lap. Or comment I was slow that morning must be age catching up with me. Washing my car and being hit with a water balloon. Our conversations on lawn darts and other fun childhood toys from our youth that are now banned. Laughing at me trying to get the coals to light on the grill. Finally yelling he couldn’t take it anymore, it was torture watching and coming over starting the grill for me. Rum marinated pineapples! The Renaissance Festival conversations, the beauty of the food and costumes. The arguments over what was the best food booth there!!
Laughing my butt off when he sprayed the guys in the jeep who always sped through the neighborhood with the garden hose as they raced by. He looked at me and said, “Damn the hose does spray that far. That was cool I don’t think we will see them anymore.” I was laughing so hard I fell on the ground. He had a way of delivering a line that caught you off guard.
I have clear memories of him laughing at me trying to slide down the hill after it snowed, reminding me of my age. “You know that is going to hurt later on.”
His love for birds, teaching me how to hold a parrot. Afterwards smiling and saying “Wow that went better than I thought. The last person who held him lost a finger!” Erin yelling at John to stop it.
Remembering his comment that we could probably get a volume discount on chastity belts if we all went in together, as we watched our girls go off to their high school dance. Him betting me ten dollars I couldn’t tumble across the yard. After tumbling, he paid and then laughed, “That hurt like hell didn’t it?” my answer, “Heck yeah but I won”. He followed up, “You should have held out for twenty I would have paid it.”
The numerous times Erin, John and I sat around trying to figure out how we could possibly embarrass our children more. We had a saying, it was our job as responsible parents to embarrass our children and d*mn it we took our job seriously.

John had a fun side but he also had a very caring, serious side. After I was discharged from the hospital in 2003 he was there. He had been on coumadin since his heart surgery. He called to check on me often. The first time I went outside, to test my lungs with a walk, he was there. The two of us again sat on the front porch this time our conversation was serious. He schooled me on the ends and outs of being on a blood thinner. He told me of all his mistakes, he wanted me to avoid them. He reminded me he and Erin were only a door away. Then as he walked away, he added, “I don’t know from first hand experience but I hear you need to be careful when you shave your legs.” He was always caring, always there for me, always saving my butt and always left me smiling.
You are a good soul John. I will miss you!!

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