Homer isn’t his real name, but I’ll call him that. He’s done tree work for us for many years. Before that his cousin Steve did all our landscaping work.
Steve was killed in a domestic dispute about fifteen years ago. His wife had gone to Homer’s house, and Steve went to get her back. Words were said, things got heated, shots were fired, and Steve died. Two days later his father came to us, asking if we’d loan him $500. The funeral parlor refused to release his son’s body until the family came up with $500. It was a loan, the old man insisted. He’d pay it back.
We gave him the money. The following spring, he brought his younger son to our house. They came the day after a storm. Two locust trees had gone down. They cut up the trees and hauled them off. We told him the bill was paid.
When Steve died, his book of customers – names, addresses, and phone numbers, disappeared. Homer showed up at our house a few months later, wondering if we had any tree work he could do.
Is this where the phrase – insult added to injury – came from? We told him we’d hired someone else to do our tree work. He went away, but periodically he came back. Always polite, always needy.
A few years went by, and we began to look at things a bit differently. It was all so murky, Steve had been drinking, who knew what had gone on. The police had investigated but there had been no arrests.
We hired Homer to take down a hack-berry tree. He did a good job, as good as Steve would have done.
Today Homer came again, needing work. He’s aged a lot. He can’t climb trees anymore, but he’s trained his teen-aged grandson to do it.
We needed four crepe myrtles taken down. There was a dead limb in a treasured oak tree. The limb of a maple tree had grown over the house. Homer said he’d do it all for $400. We shook hands. I’d forgotten that Homer is missing two fingers on his right hand. Chain saws are dangerous things.
Homer, his grandson, and his daughter-in-law worked for several hours. Then Homer came to the door. They were far from finished, but he wondered: could I pay him in cash? Would I mind going to the bank and getting cash?
I was busy. I didn’t want to go to the bank. Could he take part in cash, the rest by check?
Well, I’d have to pay a fee to cash a check. Probably $5.00.
That sincere face. That gentle voice. I went to the bank and got the cash. He thanked me. Said it would take care of Thanksgiving, and maybe get a start on Christmas. He asked if I’d noticed how expensive groceries had gotten.
I said yes, I had.