Posted by: Jim E | November 29, 2011

Late, One Time…Boy Scouts…Death And Good Neighbors…

This post takes me back a bit…well, to my birth, February 3, 1942…that’s back a bit, I guess…almost 70 years ago…that number surprises some people, I know…it is easy to go back within your own span of years, but very difficult to go back much further…so let me give you a scenario that may help you get there…how about this, when I was born, one of our neighbors was already 70…and later I officiated his funeral…does that help?…I know, caused only more confusion…then let me tell you a story that goes along with all this and the title of this post…it might not get you there but may take your mind off trying to get your head around 70 years ago…

My memory goes back only so far…so how can I expect you to go there…when I was born we lived just outside the Minneapolis, Minnesota city limits…as hard as it is to believe today, it was quite rural…I don’t mean farmland…but very close to it…there were farms just to the west of us…and it used to be farm land a generation before I was born…but housing was moving out to our area…my grandparents and their 4 kids bought land in Glenwood Addition…it was land that was subdivided into small lots…in that day it was considered substantial…but by the time I was growing up, a generation later, it was small…and today, you couldn’t even build a modern house on that kind of lot…but to them it was wonderful to live outside the city proper…

Three lots to the south of my grandparents lived a couple who were the ones who handled the selling of the lots in the “Addition”…their names were Jim and Mary Burton…he was from England and Mary was from Norway…they came to this country very young…made a living in many jobs over the years…they ran a restaurant…he was a jeweler…there may have been others but I forget some of their background…but by the time I came on the scene he was already 70, Mary was 18 years younger…we lived next door to my grandparents on the north…the Burton’s lived to the south, three empty lots away…let a picture tell more of the story…first a picture of Jim and Mary in the 1940’s I believe, in their huge garden…and then a picture of their house before I can remember it…so it must have been in the late 30’s or maybe the early 40’s…(I have no idea what is going on in the picture, but see my Mom and Dad…the rest I don’t know)…

Mary and Jim Burton were wonderful neighbors…we went over there a lot all the years they lived there…my younger brother Jerry spent more time than any of the rest of us did except my Mom…she went over everyday or most days…Mary was losing her eyesight and ultimately did go blind…they had a wood burning stove in the kitchen…the house was old and dark as I remember…but both of them were full of “light” and life, so we didn’t mind…clocks filled the house…grandfather clocks, mantel clocks, regulator clocks…clocks of all kinds…Jim gave us one of his wall clocks for a wedding gift…I will add a picture of that, it’s still on our wall today…he was in his 90’s in 1963 when Judie and I were married…when we were over there to tell him we were going to be married (he was like family remember)…he said he wanted to give us a clock for our wedding…and then he said that he needed to clean it first…I mean he knew how to clean the clock, I didn’t doubt that…but he hadn’t done that for years…and, I mean, he was 91…I could just see it…a box of clock parts as a gift…and sure enough when we visited him later (and you have to know, he was as “sharp as a tack” but he also was 91!!!)…we walked in and talked for a few minutes and he then pointed to the table full of clock parts…he said he was working on it…but the next time we visited…it was all together and working fine…what a guy…

Let me go back a year…it was 1962…Judie and I had been going together for about a year…I was about to get into my 1953 Ford flathead six (I throw that in for the motor-heads out there) and go down to Northwestern College in Minneapolis to pick up Judie for a date that night…it was September 28, 1962…as I was going out to my car, (a picture of the car and me in about the spot I was parked that night) I noticed Jim walking on the road toward our house (behind me in the picture)…that was totally out of the norm…I ran over to him, he said, “Something’s wrong with Mary.”…I had called to Mom and she was coming to meet him too…I ran over to their house…Mary was in their bedroom, struggling to breathe…I told Mom to call an ambulance (no 911 then)…

(Sidebar…late in my growing up years I joined the Boy Scouts…about 7th or 8th grade and went about earning different merit badges and learning all the boy scout “stuff” I needed to know…the Boy Scout Motto is “Be Prepared”…and I needed to be prepared that September night…End Sidebar)…

It was the first time I was around someone who was dying…we had some training in what was called then, “Artificial Resuscitation”, the CPR of its day…we had practiced this in Boy Scouts…and now at 20 I had to use what I had learned…it is odd how many times I would repeat this in my life…being called into a situation like this…but this was the first time and I was trying to be in control of something I had no control over…I used the mouth to mouth method of that time, chest compression…and all the other stuff that comes with it…and then thankfully in came the police and ambulance people to take over…I told them what I had done…and then left the room…they worked on her a while and then came out…Mary had died…the policeman told me what I had done no doubt helped or they would not have worked on her that long…but I knew he was just trying to make me feel like I had done something…but like I think most people who do that kind of work, it doesn’t help much if the person dies anyway…I don’t know if I was “shook” or not…but I suppose I was…and I was, of course, late for our date…Mom took it from there…took care of Jim and made sure he was okay for the night…she told me to go ahead with my plans…

Late for a date…one time…if you know me and most don’t…if I’m not there 15 minutes early…I’m late!!!…and this was late…Judie said later that after a year of dating…and me always being on time…she thought she had been “stood up”…now, that’s an expression that is not used today…but I finally showed  up…explained…She knew I was shaken by the situation…I really didn’t think I was but I guess I was…she told me to just go home and we would see each other the next day…

It was the next year Judie and I were married…finished college…and moved to our first teaching job in Croswell, Michigan…we were there for three years and then returned to Minnesota…lived in my grandparents house for a year…1967-68…it was that year, October 1968 that Jim died…he was 96…I was 26, I had known him my whole life at that point…I was serving as interim pastor at the time and had Jim’s funeral…it seems almost surreal when I think about it…good neighbors…lived around them my whole life…saw them almost everyday of my life as I grew up…and was able to serve them in many ways…and then at Jim’s funeral…

Life is no doubt complicated…and sometimes hard…but so good…I think about the Burton’s often…the clock on our wall reminds me of the times we spent there…with all the clocks chiming at the same time…the many times on Christmas Eve where we spent talking and laughing…the overstuffed chairs and couches in their living room, almost a Charles Dickens feel…the Christmas lights glowing off our faces as they retold their many Christmas stories…all told over a cup of tea, cookies and warm friendship…strengthened over the years by living with this wonderful couple…how to explain all these feelings is impossible…I only tell this to touch the depths of what real relationships mean…Jim and Mary had no children…I guess my Mom was like their child…and us, their grandchildren…We loved them…


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