Yesterday—Tuesday--on the solemn recommendation of Jim, I made a trip down to the historic community of Gruene, Texas. This central portion of Texas was settled heavily by German immigrants obviously. I can capture Gruene for you in a three-word phrase: “quaint, unique shops.” Got it? It is very much like the Amana Colonies. The entire population of Gruene has entered into one grand conspiracy to vacuum American dollars out of tourists' pockets.
In all fairness there is one very interesting building in Gruene, the huge old dance hall and community center called Gruene Hall. I did not take notes at the historical marker, and I should have. But this is a very large, obviously ancient, building of wooden construction with a stand-up bar in the front and row after row of well worn trestle tables and benches in the back. There is a stage. The plank floor is patched in places with old Texas license plates. A very charismatic building and larger than you are envisioning it as you read this, believe me.
That was Gruene, Texas, and I do not need to go back now.
My neighbor, Jim, is my age. His arrival here about a week ago was inauspicious. A pickup drove in. Jim was the passenger. Jim and the driver offloaded some very sparse camping gear, a two-person tent, a tiny cooler, a small table-top charcoal grill, some other odds and ends, along with a miniature chihuahua. Of course I expected both persons to stay along with the pickup. But as soon as the pickup was offloaded the driver got back in and drove off leaving Jim and the chihuahua. I paid no further attention for a time.
As Jim and I slowly got acquainted, I came to suspect strongly that Jim is homeless. I am sure that Jim has come to suspect strongly that I am homeless. However, we are both gentlemen enough that neither of us has ever confronted the other with these suspicions.
Here are the salient facts that I have learned about Jim:
1.Jim is a widower.
2.The miniature chihuahua is named Muffy and belonged to his deceased wife to whom the dog was greatly attached.
3.Jim flew an AH-1 helicopter in Vietnam.
4.Vietnam is where his leg was blown up, and it is painful to watch him walk at the end of the day.
5.Jim lost his house in 2006 in a county foreclosure action by reason of unpaid property taxes.
While it might sound as if Jim is a walking, talking country and western song, he is not at all that dramatic about any of this. These spare facts have come out quickly and cleanly in the midst of conversations about other things entirely.
You may wonder about the Vietnam aspect of his background, but I am absolutely convinced it is factual. I have spent 40 years sniffing out Vietnam veterans who embellish their service and even men who claim they were there and never were. More than 80% of the men who served in Vietnam, though they served honorably, were the equivalent of supply clerks in Danang or Pleiku and never heard one more shot fired after they requalified on the M-16 range coming into country. Jim is definitely not in that category, I guarantee you.
In any event Jim is a fine Texan and a fine American. Muffy loves him now, and he has his own teeth. So life is bearable. He has been a great source of information about the local area, and most of that information has been accurate. (Jim has a charming way of tipping his hand when he does not really know what the hell he is talking about.)
A couple of nights ago I learned that Jim has been sleeping on the bare ground in that tent. I lent him my yoga mat, which was admittedly a half measure, but it was better than nothing. Today, Jim invested some of his wages in a brand new, yellow air mattress. We pumped it up with my bicycle pump this evening. It was a big night here.
Jim, the yellow air mattress, Muffy, and me in my very high end Tommy Bahama tee.
Jim works for John, who in turn operates Maricopa River Rides, which is a concern that rents out tire tubes, rafts, canoes, and kayaks to drunk college kids so they can float on the Guadalupe River while they get drunker. Jim and John go back a long way. I have been taking Jim into work at 10:00 a.m. and picking him up at 7:00 p.m. For this John is going to furnish me with a tube gratis for a two hour float tomorrow. Pictures will follow.
In the meantime it is a beautiful night, and the whip-poor-will loves it, too.