The men in my life part 3: Josh

Josh moved next door when he was eight, and he’s now seventeen. He wants to design and build motorcycles for a living (he has already built one), but he’s planning to go to college too, and his grades are good enough for a scholarship. Since he’s skilled with tools, enjoys detail, is undaunted by complexity, and has the maturity to see a job through, I would expect him to succeed with motorcycles. I envy Josh his good sense; when I was seventeen I was flunking school, getting drunk every weekend, and my sole ambition in life was to avoid Vietnam.

When he was a child, Josh would come over after school each day to help me with whatever I was working on. When I took every last piece of siding and sheathing off the house, puttied the nail holes, insulated the walls, sanded the siding on both sides, painted it on both sides, replaced the felt and such boards as were rotten or split, and put everything back up, Josh was right there beside me with a hammer in his little hand. Likewise, when I lowered the crawlspace under the entire house by three inches, Josh was there, flat on his belly, crawling alongside me through the filth, mouse skeletons, and spider webs.

The only problem I ever had with him was that he would take a job away from me if I wasn’t careful. For example, when I ran a 220-volt line for a clothes dryer, he was hell-bent on making the final connection to the live breaker box himself. Every time I would turn around, there he would be, back in front of the box, holding a screwdriver and trying to figure out what to do. That kind of thing can get on a person’s nerves after awhile.

He also loved power tools, and again, my protest and his lack of experience didn’t deter him from firing one up when I had my head turned—and sometimes when I didn’t. I was in awe that such a little kid had such big self-confidence. By the time he got old enough that he really could have been a help, he lost interest in coming over, and I felt very alone.

Then, I became disabled for any real work, and Josh returned. He would either ask me or come right out and tell me what projects I needed help with, and then he would do them. Sometimes, he would mow the grass or rake the leaves without even letting me know (of course, I figured it out when I heard the mower), and he always seemed to do them right when I needed help the most. Other times, I would do a job alone that Josh had told me I needed help with, and he would get mad when he found out. Only he wouldn’t tell me he was mad; he would tell his mother, and she would pass it along. Then I’d start thinking about how I might get back on Josh’s good side. This was never hard because I don’t think he has it in him to hold a grudge against a friend.

The last time he got mad was in October when I had the Ponderosa Pine removed. It was a big tree that he liked, and it had to be cut from the top down. Josh opposed the project, but he said that if I insisted on having it done, he would do it. I knew he was capable, but I would have worried too much about him. I think he interpreted my refusal as an insult, but his mother never confirmed it. I like Josh enough that I would give in to him on almost anything, but I had to stand firm about that tree, although it hurt me to do it.

I don’t condescend toward young men because although I know more about many things and am more prudent and skillful in many ways, there are still areas about which they know more—and they’re also stronger. For instance, Josh can weld, and I can’t, and his mechanical ability is so far beyond mine that I had rather have him work on my car than to do it myself. And although he opposed having the tree cut, he came over when the job was done and spent most of a day using wedges and a twelve-pound sledgehammer to split three and four-foot rounds into firewood. As I watched him swing that hammer hour after hour in an accurate arc that took it high above his head, I was in awe because when I was seventeen, I was still a few years away from having such strength and coordination (I only weighed 115), and I sure don’t have them now.

I have no one to care for me when I get old, no son or daughter to hold my hand when I die, and no one to leave my junk to. Sometimes I wonder if Josh will still be in my life twenty years from now, and what role he will play. I’ve never known anyone but Peggy and my parents who so consistently went out of their way to do me good. Josh’s friendship humbles me because I can’t see my way to thinking that I deserve it. Western novels describe a friend you can depend upon by saying, “He’s a man to cross the river with.” That’s Josh all over. I love him.

Photo courtesy of Josh. You wouldn’t know it, but he has a beautiful smile.