Mitch, and his wife Debbie, bought the place shortly after it went on the market that year. I still remember driving home from the local hardware store the day they first started in on sprucing the place up. (For those of you who’ve not yet purchased your first home, I can promise you that you’ll be on a first name basis with the Home Center folks within 3 months, if not weeks, of the time you do!!) It was summer, a rather hot and sunny day and as I approach my place I could see the activity in the old Jones place.
I went home, put away whatever it was I’d purchased, grabbed a cold 6-pack and headed over to meet my new neighbors.
Now one of two things was likely to happen, either they’d be appalled at my showing up, unannounced, with beer, and an offer to lend a hand, or, as I was hoping, they’d be hot and thirsty enough to be glad to see me.
Fortunately for me, they were glad to see me!
I don’t remember ‘exactly’ what I helped them with that day, if it was removing that wall to install the wood-stove, or that came later… maybe I just helped slap some paint on a ceiling or two… whatever it was, it was the start of a close personal friendship that lasted 10 or 12 years. Well, as I’ve said before, I truly believe if I moved back to North Bay, we’d all be friends still, again, as I consider us friends now. We just don’t see each other any more as I’ve moved over 800 miles away.
Mitch and I did a lot of things together, more than I could possibly relate here. We were always at his place or mine, building, fixing, improving, adjusting, or removing something. If we weren’t doing that, we were fishing… and man did we fish!!
One of the great things about Mitch and I is that we had nothing in common from a ‘career’ standpoint… he could gripe about his job, I about mine, and neither of us ever felt compelled to help the other ‘fix’ a job problem. I had no idea how to do what he did, and he didn’t know about what I did… perfect synergy in my eyes.
We had plenty of other things in common though, love of family, cars, trucks, fishing… did I mention fishing?
Mitch is one of the strongest, yet gentlest men I’ve ever known. If ever the saying “walk softly but carry a big stick” applied to anyone, it certainly applied to him. He rarely ever has a cross word for anyone, and the only times I can recall his temper even beginning to show was when there was something that threatened his family in some way. In most cases he just didn’t get upset.
Of course maybe that’s because we expended so much physical energy, all the time. We’d cut firewood when the weather was cool (and often when it wasn’t), repair and repaint cars when it warmed up, fix whatever was broken on our ‘estates’ as required, and when we weren’t doing that, well, weather permitting, well…. we were fishing. Walleye fishing….
For those of you from the South, there is one fresh water fish that’s the absolute finest eating fish in the country, and that’s the Walleye. A fish far more difficult to catch than say Bass, or Perch, or even Trout in certain situations, but once you land one, and have it for dinner, you’re hooked!
The process of catching them can become an obsession (oops… Passion) all it’s own. Once you begin to learn the ‘soft touch’ of one of those rascals ‘taking the bait, and are able to start actually catching them, you’ll do what he and I did. Spend every possible moment out on the lake in pursuit of the Walleye.
It was during those fishing days that I really came to appreciate our friendship. We’d sit fishing, sometimes for hours or more at a time, and not say a word. Just drifting around the lake, catching a fish here and there (and we always did catch fish!!) often talking only to exchange information on what lure we were using when we caught that last one. We’d talk too, about work, what bonehead stunt his boss or one of my customers (or my boss if I happened to be employed) had pulled last week. About his kids, what funny things they’d done, our wives (all good of course), the homesteads and our plans, our dreams, our desires for those we loved…
When I decided to move away from North Bay, it was partly because my wife at the time no longer wanted to live there, partly because I’d taken a ‘job’ again and the daily commute was getting harder. I know this, that had I been single (divorced/separated) then, I most likely would not have moved. One of the reasons I really enjoyed living in North Bay was having Mitch as my neighbor.
He spoiled me you see, ruined me for every other neighbor I’ve ever had. There’s been no one like him (and his family, they were a wonderful and inseparable package) since, not remotely close. It’s possible I’ve tweaked the memory somehow, made it better than it actually was. The truth is though; I really doubt that I have. I can still look around my garage today, see a particular tool, and remember something Mitch and I fixed, painted, built, repaired or deconstructed with it. Every time I complete building anything out of wood, I can still hear his Dad say: “Not bad for a wood butcher”.
When ever I’m stressing over one more detail on a project, I can still hear Mitch say: “Bill, it’s good enough, for who it’s for” meaning that given it was him or I it was ‘for’, and we’d be changing it in a month anyway, it was fine for now.
I can still hear Debbie’s laughter the night she came home from a night ‘out with the girls’ and Mitch and I were on the back steps (taking a break and drinking a cold beer) between coats painting that big blue Van.
I remember the ‘Clambake’, man that was good eats and good company. The ‘roof raising’ weekend where his Dad and I outpaced a crew of five, (on the other side of the roof) as we all nailed shingles down. How Mitch nearly had a heart attack as hi Dad sat on the edge of the roof placing the starter strip. (His dad was in his late 60’s then, and could still work most guys in their 20’s to their knees). So many good times, like the time I used his garage one very cold winter morning to throw new brakes on the front of my VW… Mitch went in to make coffee, his Dad was there too, I came in and we sat around drinking coffee, talking and such. Eventually, his Dad said, “You ain’t gonna get them brakes fixed sittin here”. All he did was grin at me when I explained I’d done the job while the coffee was brewing. I remember we went on to fix something else that day, but, for the life of me I can not remember what it was.
Ok... So… The lesson in here? It’s:
I’m hoping Whit runs into Mitch, and that they have some sort of internet access at the Fox household these days, as I’d love for Mitch to stop by and read this. We talked some last fall, there was hope he might stop by on his way to Florida on vacation, or I’d get back up North and have time to stop by, but neither thing has happened yet. Too bad, I’m sure he’s got at least one project I could help with, I know I’ve got one or two with his name on them!
Again, I appreciate you all continuing to read about these folks. They’re unique bunch for sure, and I wouldn’t trade a minute of these experiences for anything!
Please leave a comment if these tales touch you in any way, I appreciate the feedback.