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story.lead_photo.caption Courtesy Photo My good neighbor, Roy James "R.J." McCool.

As I sat on my sofa with a newspaper on my lap, I realized that I had forgotten a very important aid, my reading glasses. I find that as I approach the anniversary of my seventh decade taking up space in this world, my degree of laziness seems to significantly increase. Knowing that I could not read the now-too-small-in-size printed words on the pages, I knew that I could read the headlines.

I made a decision, again based on laziness. I would peruse the pages and, if a headline captured my fancy, I would then make the arduous trip, all 15 feet or so, to the kitchen bar top where my reading glasses rested in a large bowl. Then, and only then, would my eyes focus on the words beneath the headlines!

My logic was sound, but something in the newspaper that Thursday immediately caught my attention. The page which contained the names, general information and sometimes photographs of the dearly departed had the name of a not-recently-seen friend of mine, Roy James McCool, known to me and everyone else as R.J.

My memory, or lack thereof, has become a source of interest and concern for me. I find that I can, in great detail, recall a Christmas Eve night when I was seven years old, but I can't tell you what I had for dinner last evening; or, for that matter, even if I remembered to eat dinner. However, the printed name of my former neighbors spawned, at least in my mind, the rebirth of one very hot August afternoon some years past.

I realize now that I had become such a predictable creature of habit. I ate the same things for breakfast, I sat on the same sofa cushion each day and I looked for the mail carrier around 1 p.m. each afternoon. I never got any mail worth mentioning but, as sad as it now sounds, I looked forward to the possibility that something worth reading may someday find its way into my plastic mailbox.

The mail carrier's white pickup truck was a little late arriving that afternoon and, not wanting to appear too desperate for a glimpse of her delivery, I waited until she made a U-turn at the end of the street and went on her way. I made the short walk from my front door to the end of the driveway and to the mailbox and opened the door. It was then, and as I scanned the inside of the box, that I heard a strange sound.

I looked around trying to listen for the sound to once more reach my ever attentive ears and, just then, there it was once again. Standing perfectly still, I glanced up the street toward the home of Maggie and R.J. McCool. Their house was no more than 150 feet away. I noticed that the couple's pickup was backed into the driveway and a flat-bed trailer was attached to the rear of the truck.

There, there was that sound. It sounded like someone said, "Help, help me."

Well, the time for wondering about the sound's origin had passed, so I walked up the street to the McCool house. I recognized the truck as one belonging to R.J. A washer and dryer rested on the wooden bed of the trailer and I noticed something lying on the ground near the rear of the trailer.

"R.J. is that you?"

"Yeah, I need a little help."

There sprawled on his back was R.J. and, lying across his legs was a large steel drill press.

"Well, I guess you need someone's help. Here, let me lift this thing off you."

As I bent over and began to remove the steel that was pressing against him, I asked the most obvious of questions.

"Are you all right?"

"I think so. I just lost my balance while I was trying to get this dadgum thing on the trailer."

I pulled the press off R.J.'s legs and midsection and rolled it out of the way.

"Just lay still a minute while I get a chair."

"I don't need no chair, just help me up," R.J. replied.

"No, just give me a minute."

I found a folding chair under the nearby carport and placed it just a few feet from my friend.

"There, now let me get you up," I said as I placed my hands under his arms and raised him to his feet.

I saw a little blood on the ground and noticed a gash on the elderly neighbor's leg but he seemed otherwise uninjured.

With a little help, R.J. made his way to the chair and I heard the sound of air being pushed from his lungs as he slowly lowered himself onto the chair's welcoming seat.

"Wait here and I'll get Maggie."

I knocked on the rear door of the house and, as the last of the knocks faded, I turned the door handle.

"Maggie, are you here?"

A few seconds passed before Maggie rounded the corner of the narrow hallway.

"Well hi, how are you?" she asked.

For just a second, I thought it odd that she seemed unconcerned that I had almost burst into her home completely unannounced.

"I'm OK, but R.J. had a little accident. A drill press fell on him while he was trying to load it on the trailer."

"Oh no," she replied. "Is he OK?"

"Yeah, I think he's all right, just a cut on the leg as far as I can see, but you better take a look at him."

Maggie didn't ask as to his where-a-bouts. I guess she figured that he was outside and probably free of that heavy drill press.

We walked outside where R.J. was still seated in that folding canvass chair.

"I told you not to try loading that stuff by yourself," she said to her husband.

I thought the words came from some sense of relief when Maggie saw that he appeared to be OK.

"He never does what I say and he thinks he's still young enough to do these stupid things. He just doesn't listen to me."

I waited for a while as Maggie asked about his injuries.

"Just a little cut on my leg and no worse for wear."

Maggie seemed to accept his response, but I had the feeling that she was afraid, afraid that something more serious had narrowly been averted.

"You better stop what you're doing. Anyway, it's too danged hot out here."

Maggie and R.J. thanked me for helping.

"You're welcome," I replied "but you better take Maggie's advice. It is too hot to be loading that trailer, especially by yourself."

Maggie put her hand on R.J.'s shoulder, "Now you listen to Stan and come into the house and cool off a bit."

I walked down the hill and, as always, passed through the laundry room door and made my way to that oh so familiar living room sofa. I always come to rest on the same sofa cushion and I find that after all these years, it's the only cushion that seems to feel comfortable. I guess you might say that it just fits my tired old derriere so well.

It was then that a feeling which I had come to experience more and more frequently came over me. It was as if I had forgotten something but, as I began to retrace my steps that afternoon, I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was that I might have forgotten.

Then it came to me. Why had I gone outside in the first place? Oh yeah, I had walked to that beat-up old mailbox to get the mail.

Well, I finally did retrieve the mail and, as it turned out, there was nothing of interest in the box, just a Walmart ad which held nothing of interest to me whatsoever.

R.J. and Maggie McCool did eventually move away. I think the two became acutely aware of the advancing years and needed a smaller place. Things never seem to work out like you think they will. Maybe we're just not given the gift of predicting fate and the movement of life itself. Maggie became ill and died in 2017. R.J. lived alone for a time but; well, who would be there to scold him when he worked too hard. My friend soon went to join his lovely wife, whom he loved so very much. R.J. died on the 31st day of December in the year 2018. He was 87 years old.

Maggie loved to tell me about her youthful years when she worked at Truitt's Cave Restaurant, while R.J. talked about his long-ago encounter with my grandfather, Noel's City marshal, at the Main Street "Drug" store.

I miss both of my once good neighbors, Joan Margarette, "Maggie," and Roy James, "R.J." McCool.

Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 01/31/2019

Print Headline: Just Being Neighborly

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