THE LAST CALL
Sweet Nancy and I live in a small town on a short street in a state that ranks forty- first of fifty in population size. We have breath-taking autumns but bone chilling long winters. We need each other to huddle for warmth and to watch over our old people, so they don’t fall on ice or walk too close to snow covered metal roofs. I now qualify as a certified old man in need of watching.
Years ago, soon after one of our world class ice storms, I was checking our generator. Walking in the hall in the dark, I flew through the air of an open door to the cellar and kissed the cement ripping out my rotator cuff and fracturing a couple of ribs. It was 3 am when the ambulance took me to the hospital.
The next day our neighbor, Paul Diekmann, an ER nurse at New London Hospital, came over and asked, “Why didn’t you call me?”
“At 3 am?”
“Yes, call me next time. I am across the street. I can get here faster. Call me.”
Under her breath Sweets muttered, “If he does it again, I’m calling the undertaker.”
For the next month Diek blew our driveway clean of snow and regularly checked on our well-being, and helped us when needed. In regular times, Paul always knew just the right carpenter, plumber, or any other craftsman we might need. He showed me how to fix a hole in the driveway, gave us a self-made trap to catch rodents, and sometimes he just fixed the problem himself. He and Sidney gave us produce from their garden, raspberries, blueberries, and the tastiest Kennebunk potatoes ever to cross our lips. Through the years he became our first responder and guardian angel wrapped up in one big bearded guy.
We tried to pay him back, only to hear, “Don’t worry about it.” So instead we invited him and Sidney for dinner, dropped off something we baked or cooked, or when I carved something I made out of wood. We didn’t want to be a burden or overload his life with our problems, yet always he said, “If you need my help, call me. I’ll come as soon as I can.”
Sometime he came without being called. Once I overfilled the oil in my lawn tractor, and black smoke filled our yard and blew into his. He came running. After making sure I was not on fire, he checked the oil. Then he went home and came back with a device he had made, a tube he dropped down the fill shaft. He removed the excess oil and with a grin said, “I bet you won’t do that again.” I have a long list of times when he saved us from disaster. Without pay, a well felt, “thank you so very much,” seemed enough for him. He would always end with “Catch ya latah. Call me if things don’t work out.” I knew he answered calls from others, but I did not know how many until two days after he had helped us once again. He went to bed and did not rise the following day.
Sweet Nancy, a minister, was asked to lead a spiritual service, since she was his friend. Through tears she told stories learned from family and friends. I read a poem written for my friend. Family, friends, and coworkers told of Paul’s kindness, humor, love of family, and how they called on him again and again for help and support. The police, first responders, fire fighters all knew his name and, unknown to me, he had been a part of their service to our community for decades. Now I knew why he had a police scanner as part of his living room décor. At the end of the service, a voice crackled from a police scanner in the front of the church, and called “Last Call for Paul Diekmann,” and thanked him for his years of service.
Thank you, Paul, for being a daily part of our lives, for watching over us all these years, and for being a beloved friend to us and the town we have grown to love. It is because of you and others like you in our small town, only a phone call away, that make life worth living and the winters a little warmer.
Codger and Sweets
NEWSPAPERS, THE GLUE OF COMMUNITY
To My People:
A newspaper is more than a wrapper for fish or a sponge for Old Blue your retired hunting hound. It is a center where a community decides what’s important and informs their people. It tells you who was born and who has died. It prints a picture of your granddaughter when she scores the winning goal; you buy a dozen to send to your relatives in far flung places and then claim bragging rights to your friends.
As a young man my shoes had wings and my bag was always packed. Each time I set down in a new city or town, I bought a newspaper. The front page featured important issues of the area, antics of the political arena, bits and pieces of national news, and at the top their slogan: “Voted the Best Newspaper (i.e. ONLY) Serving ANYTOWN USA and Surrounding Area.” Inside I found an editorial page, letters to the editor, want ads for jobs, the size and scope of sports, business and religious announcements. Within an hour I was able to hold lively conversations with the customers at the Doughnut Delight and to ask Judy the waitress for her recommendation for fun places to visit.
That was yesterday. Now my travels are closer to home, but when I do go away, I discover people have let their newspapers wither. Those remaining are owned by corporations who know how to make toilet paper, or by a wealthy individual in a far off city, often in another state, who talks funny. People walk the streets with their smartphones unaware of what was lost. Getting the news only from electronics is like sitting at the table when you are hungry, and getting crackers when only a full meal slowly digested will satisfy. That’s why we can’t put the phones down; we’re still hungry! I feel proud when I can cut out a photo of a graduating grandchild so that I could give it a place of honor on the fridge. I have tried social media, but there is too much advertising. I have concluded that using the net to communicate to others is futile. There are too many people in need of a crash course in manners 101 along with a mandatory sentence for anger management.
Sweets and I live in newspaper paradise. I am able to drive three minutes, and for a dollar or two I can choose from two local daily’s, one state wide, four national, and about five weekly newspapers. The clerk, Paul, will smile through his beard and say every time, “Have a great day, enjoy your paper.” If my name is not listed in the obituary, I can ignore bad news, look for the Rotary Club Barbeque, or turn to the Life section where I read an eighty-five year old man climbed to the top of Mt. Tom to celebrate his birthday. Buy a paper, use your phone this week only to send and receive calls. You may discover something wonderful about this place we call home and the people in your community.
Until the next step on the journey
Codger Tom and Sweet Nancy, Editor/Censor