Just got home from a quiet dinner celebrating the 60th wedding anniversary of my friend Jim and his wife, Mary Ellen.
Our wives attended the same girls’ Catholic high school in Detroit in the waning years of World War II. Later, Jim and I were classmates at the University of Detroit Law School, and when we discovered that our wives were sorority sisters, we reluctantly assumed the role of sorority brothers in law.
A few years later, we found ourselves colleagues on the Wayne County Circuit Court, ambitious young bucks, full of ideals and ideas, dreams and schemes, and a shared determination to make a difference in the public arena. We quit smoking and took up playing squash at noon with a half a grapefruit for sustenance.
He taught me to play squash. I got to where I could give him all the game he wanted. I shall never forget the day we played to see which of us would run for presiding judge. I won, though to this day he denies it. Neither of us got the job that year, although later he was elevated to the position.
Jim was just a tad older than I, and better situated. He belonged to a golf and country club. Was the president for a while. He gave me my first set of golf clubs, a nifty bag full of Haig Ultras. I hacked around with them for more than a decade.
I was often his guest at the club. A hale fellow well met and a man’s kind of man with a booming stentorian voice, his presence in the locker room or the grill was always welcome and obvious.
Six decades is a long time; a life time. A lot of things can happen and did. Jim left the bench after he had been the presiding judge and went back to the practice of law. Bright , hard working and well connected, he prospered in the practice, trained up and ran in some marathons, then somehow stumbled into some troubled times.
The details are unimportant now, after so many years. What matters to me, to his family and his many friends and I’m sure to the final judge who awaits us all, is the way he has coped, the way he has survived, the way he has kept on keeping on day in and day out.
He retired from the law, but not from life. He has become a fixture in our little north Michigan town, a welcome friend, a tireless worker, a dependable neighbor, a leader and volunteer at the club, a raconteur at banquets, a chairman and organizer of tournaments, a gardener, book club regular, Catholic parishioner, faithful dog walker, a devoted husband, a loving father and a doting grandfather.
Jim and I have joked for many years that we don’t really like each other. I tell people that I bought a house in his neighborhood and joined his country club so I wouldn’t have to be his guest at the annual member guest tournament.
That’s mostly true. We have been partners in golf, tennis, gin rummy, you name it. We never win. We are much better at competing than cooperating.
In sixty years I never said anything he agreed with, never did anything he approved of. He always drives the golf cart and if I pick him up in my car, he tells me when to turn and where to park.
Jim has been wrong many times, but he has never been in doubt. His knowledge of people and events is encyclopedic and his recitations are exhausting.
Even since his by-pass surgery. Even as his heart has slowed, his voice softened, his walk slowed, his weight down by fifty pounds.
Even now his gregarious, cheerful crotchetiness makes for great dinner table company.
My friend Jim is a lovable old curmudgeon. He may yet outlive us all.
When he was a young stud he used to say that in life the one with the most toys at the end wins. He would say it again today with a wink and a smile.
That’s just the way he is.