I was born in Augusta, Georgia in 1981. The address listed on my birth certificate is 612 4th St. The house was my grandmother’s and it sits on the edge of Olde Town, next to May Park. Her neighbors were the Crooke’s. They were a married couple named Blondie & Louise. Our families lived along side one another for decades. Their house was two stories, wooden & blue. They ran a neighborhood grocery on their bottom floor & lived in the back & upstairs. It always fascinated me that their house was above their store.
My family moved out of the house on 4th Street shortly after I was born, but we remained in Augusta & returned often for holidays and summer visits. As a child, every time I went to my grandmother’s I immediately wanted to go next door and visit Blondie. At that age he had already taught me the art of a deal. He wanted to talk and I wanted candy. So I would listen & tell him about my life and then he would let me go through his glass cases of candy and pick a few things for myself. A lot of times I’d just sit outside with him on his front stoop. We’d open a glass bottle Coke and he’d let me smoke my fake bubble gum cigarettes he gave me and we’d watch the cars drive by in silence.
In 9th grade my family had to move back into the house on 4th street and Blondie became a fixture in my life. My family was struggling and my siblings were away at college, so I was left alone to entertain myself. Blondie’s wife had passed and he was also alone. I spent a lot of time skateboarding and riding my bike downtown, but when I would come home I’d always go and talk to Blondie. I’d talk about my day and I’d listen to him ramble on about politics or rant about our neighbors. He had an ongoing feud with the neighbor’s behind us and the arguments would often end with Blondie pulling out his shotgun. He was a testy old man who let very few witness his kindness.
As kind as he was, there were times when I wouldn’t want to visit him. I was a teenager and sometimes listening to a sad old man wasn’t the most fun way to spend an afternoon. During those years I had to take the city bus home because I went to school out of district. I would get off the bus a stop early so I could walk home without him seeing me arrive. If he saw me, he would call out for me and the rest of my day would be spent conversing with him. I’ve always felt guilty for that, I felt guilty then and I feel guilty now.
My mom & I moved out and we spent a year in North Carolina. When we came back I had to move in with one of my friends, but I still visited Blondie from time to time. It killed me to think he was spending so much time alone. I knew his family was taking good care of him, but they couldn’t be there all the time. I couldn’t be there all the time. When I would go see him, he was different. He had given up. He slept with a shotgun beside his bed and he often smelled of piss. My family didn’t know about these visits.
There was one day in particular that I remember knowing it would be the last time I would see him. I was 17. I think he knew it was our final goodbye as well. We talked for about an hour and I listened to him go on about how much he loved Louise and how he was looking forward to returning to her. He missed her so much, she was largely the topic of most of our conversations. Before I left, I remember thanking him for our conversations and all the candy and I told him I would see him sooner than later. He smiled and he told me “Boy, you have such a life to live. Go live it. Stop worrying about an old man like me.”
In 2000, Blondie passed away. I was almost 19. It had been at least a year since I’d seen him and when I heard the news I wasn’t surprised. I knew the loneliness would get him. I’ve carried a heavy weight since his passing and I always regret not talking to him more. I remember his funeral. I remember not telling my girlfriend where I was going because I wasn’t ready to be that vulnerable. Blondie touches a special place in my heart. At an early age he taught me what it meant to really listen to people, to really give people your time and love.
I’m 36 now. I still think about Blondie fairly frequently. Every time I go back home to Augusta, I visit his and my grandmother’s graves. I also drive by our old street. It’s a pilgrimage of sorts. I pay my respect to my elders and I let them know they are fond in my memory. I will carry them forever and Augusta will always be my home where Blondie taught me what it meant to be a man.