Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Remembering James Hemela

I’m taking a blog break-break, because a worthy chap died this December. James Hemela was born and bred in Altadena; lived his life in Altadena. I’ll miss him.



The first time I met Jimmy H, I was on horseback, reaching up to pick ripe apricots from a tree in the front yard of his Altadena house.

His sister made me do it.

“What the hell are you up to,” he shouted. Though only 35 years old or so, even then his voice was all crusty from years of cigarettes. I can’t say for sure, but likely he started smoking when first introduced to solid foods.

Chastised, I backed my horse into the street, but his sister rode her horse forward, grabbed a branch, and shook loose a dozen apricots.

As I’m not good with confrontations, it was a revelation to see two people – sister and brother-- in a florid exchange. A greater revelation when they both ended up laughing.

Remarkably, from that day on, Jimmy decided I was OK, and could pick all the apricots I wanted.

What we’ll call The Apricot Incident took place in the early 90’s. As the decade wore on, I got to know Jimmy better. He fixed cars, he fixed my cars, expensively, but completely. Toyota, I think that was the last; around 2008.

Cooling my heels during one repair, I must have been all effusive about the Angeles Crest Trails, because Jimmy decided week-end hikes sounded like a choice idea. “Come along," I said, hoping this might get me a discount. It didn't. Jimmy never gave me a discount.

"I'm fast," I said. "Think you can keep up?

He couldn’t keep up, not by a long shot. Still, he always finished. Got to the end of the trail. We must have hiked to Echo at least a dozen times together. Well, sort of together.

Here’s the thing about Jimmy: We had a bond. We both loved dogs.

Though German Shepherds were his passion, he was not immune to the charms of other breeds. Which is why we usually hiked in the company of his blond lab. What was her name? Brandy, maybe? We’ll say Brandy.

He inherited Brandy from an ex-girlfriend, and when disengaged from the girlfriend, kept the lab, and inherited the expense. Of the dog’s numerous medical problems: hip replacements, and leg surgeries. Due to thyroid issues, Brandy looked like Orson Welles, the caftan-years. But the vet said exercise was the best cure.

On the hikes, I’d be way out front, they’d be way back, way way back, because Jimmy had to rest both the lab and his smoker’s cough from time to time. And this worked out fine for all three of us, with only a single mishap that I recall.

One time, on the way to Echo, a woman pointed a finger at Brandy and said, “Your dog! Look at your dog! She’s obese. You're overfeeding that dog, and that's cruel.”

I was going to turn around and tell her that there were mitigating factors.

But Jimmy got there first. I won’t say what he said. But it was ripe. Really ripe. And all the smoker’s cough came out to bless the mountainside.

After the woman high-tailed it down the trail, Jimmy calmed down. He patted Brandy on her head, and Brandy licked his hand and wagged her tail. “Let’s go,” said the tail. “Damn straight,” said her hero.

There was a time when I strained a ligament, and couldn't hike. Jimmy picked me up in his truck and drove me all around Angeles, for two hours, every Saturday, for four weeks.

I got my discount, after all.

You go, James. Safe passage.

43 comments:

  1. What a guy, and what a beautiful rememberance. I'm so sorry you lost your friend.

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  2. Great tribute to your friend. He sounds like a character and a good person to know.

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  3. Wonderful tribute to your friend, Karin.

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  4. I'm so sorry you lost your friend. You did a beautiful tribute to him, Karin!

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  5. What a guy.

    I've got a cough too and another dead friend.

    Your tribute to Jimmy is helping me.

    Thank you. Sorry for your loss.

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  6. Wow another chink in your armor.. I wish u did write what he said I know I probably would of laughed... and I can imagine the cringe u had when he bit your head off (apricot incident).. U had a great friend.. Now u can relish in the times u had w/him.

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  7. This should be a part of his obit. It truly is a wonderful tribute to a crusty guy - plus you got to use "florid"

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  8. Jimmy was just one anecdote after another. He had his own plane, and I made a personal pact with myself to never fly with him. But he did pilot the thing to Africa. J built his own house. And we're not talking cabin, here. It's one of the prettiest estates in Alt. He called me up one day to help him select the riverrock for his chimney. I don't know why he thought I'd be any good at this; he rejected every one of my choices.

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  9. A lovely tribute to your friend Karin...he sounds like quite a guy...

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  10. How sad that you've lost your good friend, Karin. You've written a lovely tribute to him. Thanks for breaking your blog break to share with us. He must have been a very impressive person, so talented - piloted a plane to Africa? Built a beautiful house? Repaired cars? Did he come from a pioneering Altadena family?

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  11. I like to think his last dreams are of you and the yellow lab on the trail. What fun he must've had with you rejecting riverrocks... anger over apricots. Lucky.

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  12. OMG. Jim! J & S on NY & Allen. Wonderful self-built house. Big dogs. Jim. Crusty as hell and I never even considered discussing politics with him, but his big "fierce" German Shepherds leaned on me, a way right to my heart. I even took one back to his home when he went walkabout. Followed me cheerfully in the gate, then started barking loudly when I closed the gate and was on the other side. Sort of like Jim. Yes, I will miss him. He was a good neighbor, my car is all the better for his care and Damn! it's upsetting.

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  13. Sounds like one of a kind. Sorry I didn't have the chance to know him.

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  14. What a beautiful tribute. I feel I know him a little bit. The fact that he went toe-to-toe in defense of his dog makes him alright in my books.

    Big Hug to you!

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  15. Great story; sad loss. Godspeed, Jimmy.

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  16. Sometimes you can't write about loss. Sometimes you have to. I'm glad you did.

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  17. I am sorry for your loss. Wonderful tribute.

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  18. Those one-of-a-kind friends change who we are, and they do it by being completely themselves. His memory will live on, but I'm sorry for you and others that his story stops here. Thank you for sharing~

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  19. hey hey enjoy your break.

    Thanks for the link back at my place.

    Bloomberg just about killed off NYC, unless youre a millionaire then you love him. Electing the new mayor, DeBlasio, (who ran on the platform that NYC has become a city of haves and have nots,) was a sign that the entire city was sick of little Lord Bloomie.

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  20. I hope his fmaily gets a chance to read this.

    Also, that's a really appropriate photo for this rememberance.

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  21. Thanks for sharing this person with us. You've done right.

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  22. You made me smile and get teary all in one post.

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  23. OMG I can't believe this. I heard the news from a neighbor through a convoluted grapeview. Jim was my neighbor until we moved to Colorado 3 years ago. Crusty - yes. But he loved Andrea Bocelli. A complex guy who built one of the prettiest houses in Altadena.
    RIP Jim.

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  24. Suzanne -- opera? That doesn't suprise me in the least.

    Here's the obituary and info on friends and family gathering: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/ladailynews/obituary.aspx?n=james-david-hemela&pid=168986256&fhid=24089

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  25. Since we are all just finding out about Jim, what happened?

    And yes, opera. I remember one evening hearing the sounds of Boccelli coming from Jim's direction. I had to walk into the street to be sure that was the source. It was. You wouldn't have thunk it...

    I remember those beloved doggies - especially the one who was terrified of thunder. I found him outside the yard one day shivering in fear and dripping wet. So, I almost kept Jim's work number on speed dial just for such occasions.

    And for a crusty guy, he had a side you wouldn't expect - just look at his house. Really pretty with such artistry - inside and out.



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  26. I don't know, Suzanne. The last time we had a long chat was two years ago. He had heart problems. I said, when you're up to it, let's hike Echo again. You're on, he said. I thought we had all the time in the world. So he liked Bocelli? Let's send him off withthis

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  27. AHiker

    An appropriate selection. "Time to Say Goodbye/ Con Te Partiro".

    Con te partiro, Jim.

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  28. you tell of good guy.....how lovely to have had such a wonderful friend....happy memories.

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  29. That's a good story. Everyone should have such an obit, ideally from a few people.

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  30. Doris and Suzanne added some real depth and flavor to this, didn't they? Because now I picture James in his lovely self-built house, surrounded by neighbors who liked him and his dogs.

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  31. In the interest of full dimension, I will add that like most things in life, it was complicated. While Suzanne and I were very comfortable with crusty, and could see beyond it to the other side, there were those who couldn't, who were put off by that big rough-hewn voice. There were some who feared and hated the big dogs who roared loudly at the gate, though they were not, in fact, vicious. Perhaps it is a lesson to us to look and listen a bit longer, not to snap our judgements. There is surely a pony in there somewhere. In Jim's case, it would have been a good cross-country horse, which knowing its rider would carry him/her sure-footedly on a precarious trail.

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  32. This is a very nice tribute. Condolences

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  33. I knew Jim when he was at A&E on Walnut, then down the street later, and then again next to Blairs Speed Shop. You want your car fixed right, you take it to Jim. And your right. Discount? I went in for an oil change, and he called me later and told me he couldn't make any money on me this time, and my truck was ready for pick-up. ( Jim drove my truck to my job, and I gave him a ride back) But,,,,, the next i went in for a service, he got me for $600 thermostat housing, $200brakes, etc. But man he's good! Jim always talked about retiring at the river. He had a lot next to a buddy's, and Jim had plans drawn-up. He was so ready to go. Make you think about your own longevity. Start doin things you want to do now. Jim was agood man, and will be missed. By the way, anybody want his 3 dogs?

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  34. I remember a number of people a bit like Jimmy growing up. True individuals, down to their tastes in music, the diversity of their interests and skills, and general gnarliness. Wish there were more of them.

    River rock for his chimney? Definitely a kindred spirit.

    I can see him now advancing from his porch, shouting about his apricots. A beautiful character description.

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  35. Bocelli is all about singing from the heart but with intelligence. I think your friend had impeccable taste and that you and so many were fortunate to know him.

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  36. Anonymous, thanks for sharing your story -- touching, funny, and wise.

    Doris, yes; I think it's entirely possible to disagree with someone in key areas -- James and I, for instance, had nothing in common politically -- and still find significant areas of common ground and room for respect.

    Paula, I always liked Bocelli because he sang without pretension. Which didn't gain him much favor with many opera critics. On the other hand, Pavarotti loved his voice.

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  37. You've conjured up a vivid picture of Jimmy. Sorry I never got to meet him. And sorry you lost a friend.

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  38. I just found out about Jim (Porky in the old days)today. Good write up. Jimmy and I had the same flight instructor about 26 years ago. He was a really good guy by every measure and will be missed more than he idea he would.

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