Our friend Harold is a man of the last century. Maybe even the one before that. His formal education stopped with a high school diploma from a little bitty farm town in Mississippi, solid as a rock schooling that served him well and made him hungry for the more he would never get.
Harold used to aggravate me sometimes, showing up for coffee at seven in the morning when he knew darned well Buck would still be asleep and I’d be bare-faced, barefooted and clad only in a black tank top and jogging shorts. He knew that was the hour to monopolize me and my coffee pot for an hour of storytelling while he swiveled around on a bar stool in the kitchen, happy as a Jack Russell terrier with a hot squirrel up a fresh tree.
But now that he’s gone, I miss the old son of a gun. Don’t worry. He’s not dead. Nope. He and Louise just up and quit the place. Put their little frame house up for sale, Louise’s flower gardens and all, the one where they raised their boys, and moved an hour away to Atmore, Alabama. Just like that. Buck and I didn’t even know it was happening until it was a done deal.
Harold tried to act casual about it when he told us one morning this past April. He wrapped those thick old welder’s fingers around a coffee mug and acted all mad about how the traffic in nearby Beulah where they lived had become intolerable. “I cain’t even get out on the 9-Mile Road without waitin’ ten damn minutes. And when I do, I take my life in my hands. I ain’t gonna put up with it no more.” He glared as if daring us to say a word.
“Besides,” now his voice cracked, “I ain’t a gonna live much longer and I got to get Mama closer to the boys.” Eyes red now, he spun off the stool, walked over to the sink and set his coffee mug down hard. Still fierce, he tucked his chin and said, “I got to go.”
We walked him to the door. He stopped there, heavy shoulders slumped. I touched his arm. “Harold.” Heat radiated from him. It always has. “I’ve got some moving boxes in the red building if you and Louise need some.”
He turned toward me, pulled out a big white cotton handkerchief from his pants pocket, sniffed loudly, wiped his eyes and nose and stuffed the cloth back into his pants pocket.
“Give me a hug, sugar woman.” I did. So did Buck. We were all a mess.
Buck squeezed Harold’s shoulder. “You’ve got to take care of yourself, Harold. I need you. Don’t forget, you’re one of my six.” That just about got us all weeping.
Harold straightened up, then, all business. “Ill be by in a few days for some of them boxes.” He opened the door and walked out onto the brick patio toward the portecochere, then turned and gave me a purely Harold full-of-mischief grin. “Now Miss Beth, when you want some of my baby okra and sweet corn, or some of them purdy little yellow squash, you’re gonna have to come up to Atmore and get ’em outta my garden, ’cause I don’t do no cross state deliveries!”
And with that, he was gone, flooring his little red pick-up truck, spinning gravel all the way to the gate.