John Grindrod: Drawing a friendship line from present to past

When it comes to acts of kindness, there are indeed so many ways positively to impact others.

My friend for the last several decades, Harry Johnson, and I almost daily swap texts as a means to stay connected to bridge the gap between our current lifestyles. Harry grew weary of driving those big rigs back in 2001 and retired at 57, which, I think could be considered the teenage portion of the retirement years. As for me, at 71, I’m still slugging it out working full time and working my side newspaper hustle.

During baseball season, our texts always ramp up, since we share a love for America’s grandest game. Now, whenever there’s a story that requires more depth, Harry will simply text, “Call me.”

You should know that Harry has always been an ardent supporter of the young men who arrive in Lima each summer to call themselves Locos, as in rarely does he miss a home game.

When I called Harry, he told me the following story. He said he was walking to his car after the previous night’s game and a few feet away, one of the players was walking with a woman. Harry said he stopped them and told the player that he really appreciated the fact that he’d come to Lima that summer to play and that he really enjoyed the energy and skill he brought to the diamond. Harry said his words struck a chord with the woman, who was the player’s mom. She thanked Harry and was so moved she started to tear up.

As Harry finished his story, my mind instantly flashed back nearly 25 years to another time in my life, a time I rarely allow myself to return to, a very painful time, and Harry was very much a part of my flashback. The reason I rarely think about that period in my life, I think, can be filed under that adage that has helped so many of us to overcome adverse circumstances that we must surmount. That adage is, “What does not kill us will only make us stronger.”

It was a time long before I knew that whatever role I may have played in our failure of a 20-year marriage would do nothing to diminish the bond between my beautiful daughters, Shannon and Katie, and me and also a time before I ever could have imagined that a certain Lady Jane would ever come into my life and bring me such joy.

Back when the divorce process was playing out, at the advice of my counsel when I told him I had every intention of keeping the house and paying my soon-to-be ex half its appraised value, I remained there with her and with Katie, while Shannon was away at college in Columbus. It was a most difficult time trying to be a great dad to my girl while avoiding her mother until such time that she closed on a house she was purchasing and moved out.

Finally, the day arrived when she would move with a young girl who wanted none of this circumstance but felt, rightfully, that a young girl’s place is with Mom. It was the day before Thanksgiving, ordinarily a time of great joy for the teacher I was at that time, the last day before a four-day weekend, highlighted by the Thanksgiving feast my sister Joanie would engineer the next day. In the pre-dawn quiet at my usual departure time of 4:45, I silently closed the door and hit the garage-door opener for the drive to St. Marys Memorial.

After school, driving home, I knew my walking into the door to an empty house would be emotional, and I was right. After arriving, I walked from room to room, recalling family events in far happier times and conjuring different snapshots of my girls growing as the years unfolded and asking myself, “Why?”

Just as I was starting a pity party of potentially epical proportion, I heard a loud rap on the front door on a night I’d invited no one to share my grief. When I opened it, there stood Harry Johnson, with a 12-pack of Bud Light in hand, the same Harry who, for several years arrived on Christmas mornings in full Santa attire to make a special day even more so, the same Harry who’d already started working on donating what is now over 22 gallons of blood, the same Harry who, years later, would stop a Locos player and his mom on his walk to his pickup.

He immediately saw the emotion on my face, grabbed the storm door handle, swung it open and said, “Grinder? You and I are going to have some cocktails and set the world as straight as we can make it.”

There at that kitchen table, where once for so many evenings, all four seats were occupied, on this night, there were just two, and we sat for quite some time setting that world about as straight as we could.

And, I will tell you in closing that I have always been so very thankful on that particular lonesome evening that two seats were occupied rather than just one on the night I was, so very much, a friend in need.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]