A mystery no more

August 18, 2008

“How old are you, Jimmy?” I ask. He’s sitting behind the wheel of his thirty-year-old, faded blue Cutlass Calais, fiddling with hearing aids in both ears.

I’m standing in the street next to my home office, leaning down to talk to Jimmy through his open car window. For years I’ve wondered about this gaunt man who pulls up to the curb for a minute or two — always in the same place — then drives off. I saw him stop about lunch time today and decided to end the mystery.

“Eighty-seven,” Jimmy shouts in a raspy voice, as if I have the hearing problem. Thick glasses magnify his eyes. One looks at me, the other turns outward. Jimmy seems pleased that I’ve introduced myself.

“Bad fever with double pneumonia when I was five left me mostly deaf,” he says. “Got worse from there.”

Turns out Jimmy has a friend down the street, a woman about half his age. He stops by occasionally to give her a ride to the store but often arrives early and doesn’t want to park in front of her house.

Jimmy came to Portland from Pennsylvania in 1943 to work in the shipyards and stayed. I want to know more but hold my questions for another time.

I tell him I’m headed to Florida at the end of the month for my father’s eightieth birthday. “He’s a young fella,” Jimmy says, grinning up at me. “Hope you make it that long.”