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August 29, 2001
My printer may land me in jail
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By: Virgil Adams
The Jackson Herald
August 29, 2001
Next door: Mighty close to home
I had to sit at the kitchen table to write this one.
The kitchen is at the west end of the house. It is about 100 feet from the house next door.
I am looking at that house right now. It is empty.
Malcolm Morton lived in that house for more than 50 years.
Next door is about as close to home as you can get. When you've lived that close to someone, for that long, you get to know him pretty well.
In two short hours Sunday morning, Aug. 12, I got to know him really well.
Visiting with a dying neighbor and friend, when he knows he is dying, will help you know the real person.
There's no pretense. The masks come off. This is real reality - not that faked stuff you see on "reality" TV.
On Saturday night, Aug. 11, the doctor told Malcolm and his beautiful and courageous daughters, Alice and Paige, that death was near.
Of course, the grand and glorious Physician, who is in charge of life and death, could have reversed that. But this time He chose to go along with the earthly physician.
So Malcolm knew.
When I walked into his room that Sunday morning, he reached for my hand, thanked me for coming, and said, "God sent you, Virgil. You are on a mission." (That will humble you, friends.)
For two hours, we talked. We talked about a lot of things. Important things.
We talked about our dogs.
We recalled stories of Ace, Tanny, Clarence, T-bone, Stumpy, Brownie, Lady and an assortment of unnamed mutts that showed up on a regular basis.
Malcolm's Stumpy (so named because of his short tail) spent as much time in Clarence's doghouse as Clarence did. (Our dogs were close, too.)
Brownie belonged to Bobby. We nicknamed him "The Consultant" because, when all the other dogs were running around doing what dogs do, Brownie stood on the sideline and watched.
Lady was Mary's dog. Why she named her that, I'll never know.
Lady was not very ladylike. She showed up in the back yard one day, very pregnant. Mary turned the crawl space under our house into a maternity ward, and that is where Lady delivered.
One day Mary decided to take Lady and her five puppies to the Humane Society shelter in Gainesville. She loaded them in the station wagon and pulled out of the driveway, squalling. In about an hour she was back, still squalling. Lady and her babies were still in the station wagon, yipping their happy heads off.
All of the dogs and some of the people (too many people) who lived on Westmoreland Drive are gone. Malcolm and I had a good time reminiscing about them.
And we talked about our golf game.
Bobby lives on the east side of the house, about 200 feet from the kitchen. That's pretty close to home, too. Tom lives clear across town, be he also is pretty close to home. That's the way close friends should be, regardless of how far apart their houses are.
Anyway, we were an awesome foursome on the golf course: Malcolm, Bobby, Tom and me.
We used to spend fall weekends at Callaway Gardens when Georgia played Auburn, and we'd get in a round of golf Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.
Jimmy McElhannon was our fifth wheel. He went along for the ride.
Jimmy didn't play golf at all, and Malcolm, Bobby, Tom and I didn't play golf very well. Jimmy drove the one cart that the five of us could afford, and the golfer with the best score on each hole got to ride in the cart with Jimmy to the next tee. A score of 8 or 9 was usually good enough to get one of us a free lift.
I don't know this for sure, but I like to think that Malcolm and Jimmy are reliving those fun times today just as Malcolm and I did on August 12.
And we talked about our gardens.
Not that we needed one, But Malcolm, Bobby and I used our back yards as an excuse to check on each other just about every day. Our gardens, like our dogs and kids, touched. They were close to home, and were the source of bragging rights and tall tales.
Yes, of course, we talked about the kids.
In the 1950s and '60s there were younguns and dogs everywhere.
Say what you want to about Hillary, she was onto something other than Bill. Westmoreland Drive was not a village, but everybody who lived on the street helped raise everybody's children.
On Sunday morning, Aug. 12, as Malcolm and I talked about how close we were, we agreed that Westmoreland was not really a street. It wasn't even a neighborhood. It was family.
Parents were free - in fact, expected - to discipline the kids - their own and their neighbors'. And when one of the little fellows fell down and skinned a knee, he or she ran to the nearest house for a Band-Aid and a hug.
From one end of the street to the other, our houses were next door, close to home. Johnnie, Mary Alice, Mary, Betty, Sue and other mothers on the block - they were everybody's mama.
The couple across the street didn't have children of their own, but T-bone and all the kids belonged to Mr. Garnett and Miss Emma Nell, and those kids, now grown, still benefit from their teaching.
A lot of changes have come to Jefferson and Jackson County in the 50-plus years Malcolm and I have lived here, and we talked about some of them. Malcolm shared at length about the dramatic change that was going on in his body and life that Sunday morning.
He mentioned Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar," that noble address to death, and talked about the huge welcoming committee that would greet him when he crossed over.
It seemed that Malcolm was seeing clearly a new life that those of us who are left see only through a glass darkly.
As I left his room that Sunday morning, it hit me. Hey, Malcolm is not worried. He is at peace. He has the assurance that everything is all right.
He knows the Guide for the trip he is about to take, and he is not afraid.
What a comfort to those of us who wish to join him someday!
Virgil Adams is a former owner-editor of The Jackson Herald.
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