Jeff, is a typical American. But he is not a Native American. I am not that good to guess the ancestry of people, especially white Americans. Black Americans will have root somewhere in Africa; Brown Americans will be from anywhere in Asia. But white, if they are not Native, they may be from anywhere in the world.
I don’t remember exactly when I met Jeff for the first time.
He is very thin, about 5’ 5” tall and probably weighed 150 lbs. He may be in his late fifties.
He always wore a battered hat. His hair is mostly grey. His eyes are the most prominent feature. They were sky blue.
He came to our house once to deliver some firewood for the winter, but eventually ended up helping me in anything and everything I needed help for. He has a full time job in a shop from 8 am to 2 pm, and when he is free, he did odd jobs for anybody who needed a helping hand. He is a jack of all Trades.
One afternoon he came to my house to fix some leaking pipe. I was busy in the kitchen frying some fish. He liked the smell of the fried fish with its masala of red pepper, black pepper, garlic and Vinegar. So he asked me what I am cooking.
I am always enthusiastic to share my Indian Culture with anybody. So I asked him, “Do you want some to taste?”
He was not that keen, but when I compelled, he agreed to taste. I gave him one piece of fried King fish. It was boneless. He broke a piece and put in his mouth…the rest of his actions were very fast. I could see his pathetic look, he didn’t know whether to swallow or spit it out. For him the masala was too much, especially the pepper taste. He swallowed what he put in his mouth & then in a hurry took few swings of Coco Cola on the table in a gulp. His face changed color. All red! It was red like a Tomato. I felt very bad. I didn’t mean to put him in a difficult situation like this.
“Sorry, Jeff! I didn’t know that it would end up like this.”
“Hey, it’s not your fault. I am not used to spices at all. That’s the problem.”
After that episode I made sure to give him only sweet stuff to taste.
Jeff doesn’t ask for his money after each project. When it adds up to 100s he will bring his Bill.
One day he brought his dog with him. It was a big one and very friendly. It was actually too big I was scared and closed my eyes tightly when it came near me to smell me out. I wondered how Jeff feeds this big Dog.
Some days in the middle of the work, Jeff will go to get nails or something like that he needed for the repair from a shop in the town. Then sometimes, he will not be back that day.
I was upset one day when Jeff disappeared in the middle of the work. Next day when he came, I confronted him about his vanishing act. Later I found out the secret of this. There is a bar near the shop where Jeff went to buy stuff and bar was Jeff’s weakness. Once inside the bar, he forgets everything else and goes home happily after his drinks.
So I told him, “Jeff, there is Beer in my fridge, anytime you need, please help yourself. You don’t have to ask me.”
It reduced his vanishing acts, but did not stop it fully.
Bar is a Bar! I knew.
At times, Jeff helped me to move furniture and plants from the house to the Patio or bring them from outside to inside the house when weather changed to spring or fall. When Jeff carries them all by himself, I often wondered how a thin person like him can carry that much heavy load. When he carries the big plants outside, it reminded me of a small Ant carrying a load ten times heavier than its own weight. If I try to help him, he wouldn’t let me, saying that women are weaklings. He had carried more weight than this. This is nothing comparing to that.
Half of the stuff he tells me, I don’t understand because of his accent. He couldn’t understand most of the things I told him because of my accent. But we never had a communication problem, somehow we understood each other. He had a limp, when he walked. One day he told me it was the aftermath of a cow charging at him, when he was in his twenties.
In that accident, he broke his back bone and had to spend few months in the hospital. Even now, he can’t sleep on a flat bed. So he sleeps in a “Recliner”.
“Anyway I can’t sleep with my wife. She will spring out of the bed if a Telephone rings at night. So we keep our phone off its cradle at night. With my snoring she will not be able to sleep at all, if I sleep in the same bed with her.”
He made me laugh!
Once or twice in a year Jeff goes for two weeks’ vacations. His father-in-law has a Cabin near a lake.
When he goes there for vacation, if he is not fishing, he may be fixing that cabin. Sometimes he goes to another big Lake near Canada. One day when he came back after a fishing trip, I asked him.
“How many fish did you catch?”
“May be 10 or 12 between my grandchildren & I.”
“So what did you do with the fish? Did you fry them?”
“No, I let go off them.”
“Then why do you catch them, if you don’t like to eat them?”
“For the fun of it…”
I couldn’t understand the fun in catching the fish & letting it go… But most Americans do that.
“Do, you like fresh fish?” He asked.
“Yes, I do. I grew up near the Sea, so fresh fish are readily available and they are cheaper than meat. So we used to eat fish on a daily basis.”
“Ok, then I will bring some for you, next time when I come back after fishing.” He promised.
After that, any time, when Jeff went for fishing he made sure to bring me few fish. Also I made sure, to send “fish Molly” which is the mildest fish curry to him, prepared with his fish.
Our “Unniyappam” (banana fritters), “Ethakkaappam” (plantain fritters), “Bread Caramel pudding”, “Aviyal” (Vegetable Mix) etc. are few of the stuff he liked. I was happy to pack them for him to give his wife too.
Once there was big thunderstorm and power was out. Gas was also off. Electric Company informed that power will be re-stored only after 4 or 5 days.
‘The food in the Refrigerator or the Freezer is not going to survive.’ I thought.
We called almost all the big stores nearby to enquire about the availability of a Generator big enough to run the Refrigerator and the Freezer at least. But all of them had run out of Generators small or big suitable for a home.
Roads were littered by fallen trees & other debris of thunderstorm and not yet in good condition to travel.
‘What am I going to do with the food? Two days they will survive, but after 4 or 5 days, for sure, all those foods should be good only to throw away. what a waste!’ I thought.
I thought about the poor people in this world. Somehow, I have to save the food. But I didn’t know how to.
There were not any cars or other vehicles in the road which was near to our house. Because of the bad conditions of the road, people may be staying home.
Why take risk? Then I heard the sound of a truck coming to my driveway. Who would take a risk and travel in this condition? I was surprised.
I saw Jeff with his small Truck in my driveway. There was a small Generator at the back of his Truck.
He just walked in and announced.
“You guys will need a Generator with your Refrigerator & Freezer. So I borrowed one from my friend and brought for you.”
He was an angel sent by God at my difficult time.
My eyes welled up. I just touched his hands and said nothing. He understood what I meant. There was no need of saying anything.
But other than all these things happening in our friendship, something he told me later changed all my opinions about him. One day casually he told me that even though his children are all grown up and left home, one friend lives with him.
“How long he has been living with you?”
“Actually, he is not a friend of mine. He was a homeless person and he wanted a place to stay. He is living with us for more than 10 years.”
“After few months, I added a room to my house. He lives in that room. He goes to work and makes a living for himself.”
That conversation turned everything upside down for me. I thought of myself. I live in a big house with 5 bedrooms. Since my kids are all grown up and moved away to faraway places finding jobs they liked, not all the rooms in my house are occupied now. But will I ever have the humbleness or broad mindedness to share my house with one or two homeless people, anytime in my lifetime? I am a Christian. A Christian is one who follows Christ teachings. I felt ashamed of myself. My respect & love for Jeff grew up to the sky. Jeff may be a Christian by birth. May be he had attended the services in a church with his parents when he was a kid. But I don’t think he attends any church now-a-days. What difference does it make by going to church? I don’t know any more…
For all my gratitude to Jeff, I started remembering Jeff & his family in my daily prayers. Then I thought, Jeff doesn’t need anybody’s prayers, not mine for sure, his name is already written in St. Peter’s Good Book in Heaven in golden letters and also his home in Heaven will not be a small one, but it will be a Mansion.