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.