You know how sometimes you don't sometimes see people for months or years and then one day something comes over you and you have to know where they are right that very moment? I finally wondered where Jesse McDaniel had gotten off to so I called up the boys' father and asked him. What kind of response do I get?
"Hell, Jesse died back last fall."
Now why in the hell don't people ever tell me these things? Everyone knows I don't read the paper, don't look at the weather and don't watch the news so it's very important that someone calls and lets me know if I need to put on a coat, check to see if my Malt-o-meal cereal is being recalled, or buy a dress for a funeral. My best friend always calls me with weather updates and gas price reports and very rarely does she forget to keep me up to date. But other people are falling down on the job.
And really, I'm rather sad about the whole thing because Jesse was his own person and not one of those people you ever forget. I met him 10 years or so ago at the old Huddle House on 441 North. And maybe a random Huddle House doesn't seem like a big deal, but this was the Huddle House and there was always somewhere there I knew. It's where I went for grease to soak up the alcohol when I got plastered and it's where I spent a lot of time with the boys' father before they closed it down. It was old as hell with orange laminate tables, fake wood benches, chipped floor tiles and horrible, horrible greasy dark brown paneling straight from awesome 1972. God. I miss it.
Jesse was always there. He was a veteran of some war, though I can't ever remember which one - maybe Korea. Sometimes he lived at the Veteran's Home, but I guess sometimes he got tired of putting up with other people's rules and shit because he'd leave and rent a room at the New Milledgeville Motel, this little shit dive, right next to the Huddle House.
When he stayed at the Motel, he was in the Huddle House three or four times a day for tea and dinner, or bullshitting and companionship. He wore these ancient old overalls, brogans and had liver spots on his head but no hair. If you ever met him, you never forgot him. At times, he'd talk and talk and you'd have no idea what in the hell he was talking about because the pitch of his voice was so odd at times. Everybody at the HH knew him and everybody tended to him.
Whenever he saw me, he'd pull lint-covered pieces of candy from his overall pockets and say, "Give this to RAINey!" and shove candy in my hand for my daughter. Double Bubble bubble gum or now & laters. Whatever he had on him at the time. He always remembered to give me candy for Rain, although I don't think he ever realized or remembered their kinship. He was Rain's great uncle on her father's side. Maybe he did remember, I don't know.
My Huddle House closed almost seven years ago. People went in for dinner early one evening and the employees were sitting in front of the locked door wondering why no one had bothered to tell them they weren't going to have jobs. Everybody wondered what Jesse would do now because the Huddle House was his home away from the Veteran's Home. Folks fretted about who would look after him and worried about him walking up and down the main dragstrip looking for a new place to bullshit and get tea. Not everyone was going to appreciate a rheumy-eyed, overalled old man with lint-covered candy in his pocket.
I don't know where he went after that. The Huddle House was closed and their was never another grease joint that felt greasy and icky enough with paneled walls to appropriately be called a grease joint. Maybe he went to the new Waffle House across the street, but it seemed more like he roamed from one place to the next. He'd walk to Kroger or Walmart. No place was ever the same as the Huddle House. The last time I saw him, I was walking into Kroger with my youngest and there he was on the sidewalk.
"You tell John SoandSo I said I'm waiting on my hogleg! I need me a hogleg to take care of these hoodlums!" he said.
The boys' father (John SoandSo) had been promising Jesse a hogleg (a long barreled gun) for months. I think it was a bit of quandary for John. Everyone worried about Jesse walking up and down the highway by himself, but it was a more worrisome thing to give a crotchedy old veteran a gun to wield at hoodlums. John gave Jesse a lot of rides over the last few years to try and keep him off the highway.
I told Jesse I'd get on to John about that hogleg for him. Then he asked me,"Where's RAINey?" and I told him she was at school. He reached into those endless overall pockets and pulled out a couple of pieces of lint-covered candy. "Here, give her this candy." I took the candy and stuck it in my pocket.
Jesse passed with hardly a ripple through this town, but there should have been.