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Under my hat: Farewell to my buddy

By Donald R. Serfass


It was unusual last week when a day passed without hearing from Jim.

But I wasn’t alarmed. Not at first.

He’d been working hard, lifting and moving heavy blocks. He was dismantling a stone wall in front of his house. I figured he was tired.

Jim Rodick was my retirement buddy and we looked out for each other.

We’d met by chance several years ago when I stopped at Beacon Diner for a fast breakfast. He walked in and sat at the next booth, facing me.

We chatted while waiting for coffee. Small talk. We’d both recently wrapped up careers although he was five years older. He had been a crane operator and more. For a brief time he even worked in the Detroit auto industry.

Turns out, we had a lot in common. We both owned a house not far from the diner and lived alone. Neither of us had spouses or children or grandchildren.

We both enjoyed art, science and nature.

It was only natural, I suppose, we’d connect and become friends. Kindred spirits.

Friendship with Jim was a much welcomed gift. At our age, we’d experienced tough loss of family members and plenty of hardship. So we enjoyed each other’s company. A strong bond formed.

Jim was a United States Marine Corps combat veteran in heavy artillery. In Vietnam, he manned a howitzer during the famous Tet Offensive of Ho Chi Minh. Thousands were killed, a turning point in the war.

Understandably, he didn’t like to talk about battle. Scars run deep. Occasionally he’d open up to me.

“In that setting, you just did what you were told to do.”

Jim paid a steep price in service to his country. He suffered lifelong injuries, both physical and emotional, and was awarded the Purple Heart.

Back home, he transitioned to civilian life and carried himself with military aplomb. The tough Marine. Yet, he yearned for peace and quiet. He particularly enjoyed fishing in his boat with Dan, a friend and neighbor.

“I just like to be on the water. I’ve always liked to be near water.”

Makes sense. Water is mostly calm and peaceful.

He also pursued a remote control airplane hobby and returned to his early passion for painting.

In fact, he regularly showed up at my place to surprise me with his newest works, paintings he’d done just for me. He asked me to display them in my living room.

We’d sit for hours and talk. No topic was off limits. War. Religion. Humanity. Aliens. We’d even discuss feelings, something men don’t typically do.

Jim had a very open mind. That fact, perhaps, was key to everything. An open mind absorbs the universe and all possibilities. Our long talks dared to explore the meaning of life, discussing the infinite using finite minds.

He revered key figures of history, such as inventor genius Nikola Tesla. So “Tesla” became a nickname I called him. He’d chuckle. He always called me his buddy, so I sometimes called him buddy in return.

We visited museums, attended cultural events and lectures. There were times we were together nearly seven days a week. We celebrated holidays together, too.

We both agreed it was special for two totally opposite guys, Oscar and Felix, to forge a bond of steel.

Ever the guardian, Jim texted me at the same time every night using key words to which I would reply a certain way. It was a strategy he devised for both of us to signal that all was OK. It reminded me of a military code.

And it worked.

So when he didn’t signal for a second day, I knew something was wrong.

I jumped in the car and raced to his house.

There, I found him, appearing as if he had been waiting for me. But I was too late. My buddy was gone. My devoted pal, the guy from the next booth, had cashed out and left.

I’ve been doing some crying. A lot. Maybe he wouldn’t approve. But I’m human and the flesh is weak.

Jim wasn’t ready to die. Not even close. He was healthy, strong, in good shape. We had plans.

Instead, today is his funeral, on Armed Forces Day. Semper Fi, Jim.

The human condition is fragile. Nothing is certain and our days aren’t guaranteed.

We can be gone instantly, without warning.

It was an honor to be part of Jim’s life. I’m grateful for time spent. I’m indebted he shared insight into his world and offered me a window into experiences I never had.

Through his vibrant paintings, he left me a big part of his magical Candyland soul.

In each brush stroke, I see richness of a mind that had much more to offer. And a special, caring friendship that had many more years to go.

But life has a 100% mortality rate and the timing isn’t ours.

So take care of yourself, my friend. Enjoy each day and embrace every moment of happiness.

Above all, stay in close touch with those you love.

After surviving horrors of war, United States Marine Corps veteran Jim Rodick used artist brushes to create a panorama of color during retirement years. These are just a few of his countless paintings. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS