The watch ticked away the moments slower than Jim Brown could ever remember. He stared at the shining, ticking consolation prize: mandatory retirement, lame party, ‘here’s your gold watch for fifty years of hard work’. He breathed a prayer. “What now, Lord, for an old widow like me?”
He fished the silver winter lake for a few days. Never been much for fishing. Golfed a little, but nothing to write home about, or take up enough of the slowly ticking time. He prayed for his friends and family, volunteered at church, fixed his leaky pipes and broken steps, learned to cook a few gourmet meals, and watched the news.
One afternoon the quiet was too loud and his still healthy muscles buzzed to be doing something. The ticking of that golden watch piece mocked him, strained his last nerve. He chunked it in a drawer and escaped the house for a walk.
One block over on Cherry Tree Lane, he noticed a small sign on the broken down gate of the Widow Rainwater.
HANDYMAN WANTED - PAY NEGOTIABLE
Jim didn’t want money, just something to pass the time in a meaningful way. He fairly bounced back to his house for his tools.
The smooth handle of his old hammer pounded nails, each slam making Jim feel more at home in his skin. He repaired the gate and straightened the house number: 214.
“Straight is the gate, and narrow the way that leads to life…,” came to mind, and Jim felt the joy of a purposeful path.
He saw the homeowner peering through window blinds. He’d hoped to do the deed and spirit away. Caught, he waved his hammer, lips full of nails, and then continued his work.
“Will you take a cherry pie for payment?” Mrs. Rainwater called from the porch.
“I love cherry pie, Ma’am, thank you very much. Have anything else that needs fixing?”
“No, but next door Jack Morgan’s hot water heater went out. The store delivered it, but didn’t stay to help him put it in. He can’t lift it.”
“I see, I’ll run over there and see what I can do.” Jim’s heart lightened considerably with a sense of usefulness, and the thought of a cherry pie to eat with his lonely supper.
Jack welcomed Jim to the door with a big, toothless grin.
“That pie from the Wider Rainwater? He, he, he. I know she likes me.” He took the pie from Jim’s hand.
“Why, yes, it’s for you, and she said something about a hot water heater?” Jim mourned momentarily for the loss of his pie, but scooted past Jack’s wheelchair. Jack pointed to the closet where the broken water heater sat cold.
“Nothin’ to it,” Jack said as he watched Jim install the new appliance and get it humming.
“Anything else, Jack?”
“Naw, but Miz Jones ‘cross the street has a leaky bathtub. Ya might check on that, if you’re a mind to keep workin’ today.”
And so it went the whole weekend. Jim chirped out of bed each morning and headed for the next block, where he was needed by numerous elderly residents. He fixed all manner of leaking faucets, broken chairs, loose porch planks, and changed air conditioner filters. He was invited to play bridge, cards, and watch TV football games.
The minutes flew by with speed that Jim couldn’t seem to ever remember.
Sunday night he walked toward home, thinking of going into business for himself: JIM’S HANDYMAN SERVICE.
Jack Morgan rolled out onto his front porch as Jim passed by.
“Hey, you want this pie? It’s cherry. I don’t cotton to cherry pie. Must be her way of sayin’ she ain’t int’rested, cuz I’ve told her I don’t like cherries.” He held the pie out at arms length.
Jim cleared his throat. “Well, sure, I’ll take it. Much obliged.”
Mrs. Rainwater was standing on her front porch as well. Jim saluted his hammer toward her as he passed by.
“Jim, would you like to share my supper soup with me? It’s hot and ready to eat right now.” She pulled her shawl closer around her, as though to protect from a possible rejection.
Jim stopped in his tracks. He was tired of eating alone. A new smile shined on his face. He breathed a prayer of thanks and then whirled a 180º toward his supper, including cherry pie for dessert.
And that is how Jim Brown came to live at 214 CHERRY TREE LANE.
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