Neighbors are a funny thing. They are often people we rely on who impact our lives and yet we have very little control over who they are. Other than a common taste for a locale, realistically neighbors can be as random as a stranger on the street. I know my parents have been very lucky as some of the most important people in my time in Chicago were neighbors or people in the neighborhood. On moving to Milwaukee, the same was true.
Personally, no neighbor meant more to me once I moved to Wisconsin in 1994 than Mr. James Love. That summer I met some local kids who immediately became friends. Yet, as my mother has reminded me, it was often me yelling, “Can I go ask if Mr. Love can play” that she heard more than anything else. In recent years she told me she had some concerns that a then 68 year-old might not have had the same energy or desire to run around Menomonee River as a 9 year-old. Yet, that never crossed my mind: I had a new best friend.
That summer and after Mr. Love and I learned how to design football plays through low-hanging lawn branches. After one or two outings on a mini-golf course, he taught me how to play and appreciate golf (then came caddying…). There were multiple games of h-o-r-s-e on the basketball hoop. And in the summer, we had several competitive seasons of wiffle ball home run derby in our connected backyards. By the way, I am not ashamed to admit that he most certainly remains ahead in total home runs.
Sometimes getting older means that you lose that common ground with someone. It becomes difficult to understand why you were friends or what you shared. With Mr. Love, I found that as I matured, I was only realizing what a fantastic man he was.
When I left Wisconsin first for university, I tried to keep up by regularly having breakfast with him and my father whenever I was in town. It was at these breakfasts that I realized Mr. Love’s wit was sharper than mine could ever be. A prime example is just a few months ago when I spoke with him on the phone. I had been apologizing for my mom cooking him too much banana bread. His immediate response was that: “Yes, she’s gone bananas.” He soon after mentioned how his cat had gained 40 lbs.
Wit alone cannot capture a man with a rich and diverse personal history. I was extremely grateful in recent years to have the chance to listen to how he served in the Pacific in World War II and his various anecdotes. I regret I will never be able to accompany him now on an Honor Flight Network trip to Washington. After my time in Poland, I was shocked that when I returned Mr. Love knew some Polish from his time growing up in Stevens Point. I was also saddened at the man’s unlucky road in life having lost his brother in a plane accident, and then having to be a widower twice.
But, believing poor luck could detrimentally affect this man’s innate kindness would be as daft as to overlook the truth in his own surname: Mr. Love was as goodhearted and thoughtful as anyone I’ve ever met. I don’t have any real memories of my grandfathers. To quite a large degree, Mr. Love filled that role and I will accordingly remain grateful to the end of my days. Thank you for everything, sir. May the links in heaven always be open for you.