He was Southern old school. Unless it was something extremely urgent, he would always wait until he saw me out in the yard. Then I would hear: “Hey, bud! Got a minute? I need some help. Come on, I’ll show you what I’m talking about.”
Sometimes it was as easy as putting the screen door back on its tracks so he could enjoy the cool fall air. Other times he would ask me how to use his new I-phone – the one he bought because all his buddies had one. Or maybe his TV remote quit working because it needed new batteries. Like it or not, I became his bridge to all this new-fangled technology that had long since passed him by.
There are some people you can set you watch by. He was one of those. In the warm summer months, I could look out my kitchen window and see him sitting in a chair under his carport having his coffee and his cigar reading the “Shreveport Times.”
He would often complain how much thinner that paper had gotten over the years and how little time it took to read it now.
Monday night was card night for him. On Tuesday, I would yell over, Well, did you take their lunch money last night? He’d always say either, “You bet! I won a little” or “Naw, they got to me pretty good last night!” In terms of wins and losses, I never knew what either response meant. What happens at the poker table stays at the poker table, I guess.
Even though he was my neighbor, I didn’t know a lot about him. He liked to keep to himself as the saying goes. I knew he had been in the U.S. Navy and was stationed on ships during the Vietnam war era. He grew up in Minden on Homer Road, graduated from Minden High School and Louisiana Tech – roomed with another Minden High grad – Dr. Ed Brown – and earned a degree in Petroleum Engineering.
He loved to fish off the coast and would always bring us back some fish or shrimp. We were always swapping meals. He’d smoke a ham and bring it over. Wife Linda would always cook an extra pork chop or two and take a plate over to him. Provided I let him pay for the gas, I mowed and edged his yard.
He once read an article I wrote for the local newspaper about a black housekeeper we had when I was a preschooler. She burned her hands getting a burning robe off of me that had caught fire while I was reading a comic book too close to a space heater.
He told me he too once had a black housekeeper growing up and that she was beloved by his family. “Her house caught on fire, and she called Mama instead of the fire department. She died in that fire. Your article made me think of her.”
I could see the hurt on his face as he recalled that incident. That one day we had the most in common. At an early age, we were both nurtured – and came to love – a person of color. And still remember them to this day. When I wrote my story, I had no way idea it would lead to his.
Mr. Robert Drew Simmons – our ‘Mr. Drew,” – our world-class neighbor, died yesterday – two days after his 84th birthday – of pancreatic cancer.
If there’s a good neighbor Hall of Fame, he should be in it.