Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Project Completed and a Phone Call From Tampa

I've had too little time for blogging lately as I've been using nearly all my spare time to put the finishing touches on our driveway and sidewalk project which is now complete. We're happy with how it turned out.

The task of amassing the garden blocks and building them into a retaining wall was a bigger project than I remembered it being the first time I did it when I had our home built 16 years ago. I expected the job to be a one day project at the most but it was all of that plus a couple of additional afternoons. I included a row of cap blocks which I didn't have on the previous wall and I'm glad I went through the extra effort as it gives it a much nicer look. It was a bit of a hassle cutting the blocks to fit around the curve in the wall but once I got the hang of it I made quick work of it. A bit like fitting stained glass pieces into a window. Here's the 'before' shot from a couple weeks ago.

I found some landscape lights at Lowe's and placed them along the walk. I also put a few of the lights inside the flower garden. They're 10w halogen bulbs and actually cast some light on the walk unlike solar lights which are popular now.

Here's the final video from this project (it's a short video, Rob) and here's a link to the set of videos. I caught some flack from Rob because he thinks my videos are too long.

Switching gears.

I got a phone call a couple nights ago and the voice on the other end was one I hadn't heard in nearly 4 decades. It was Jim Barbour, or, Mr Barbour as I used to know him. Jim is 82 and was our neighbor when we lived in Bloomington. Jim, Gloria and their son Kevin were the first black family I had any contact with when they had their home built next to ours in 1967. You couldn't ask for better neighbors than the Barbours. I'd like to think they taught everyone in the neighborhood a bit about our prejudices whether we thought we had any or not.

Jim has been in contact with my older sister over the years and I got his email address through her. I wrote him a few months back to say hello so I wasn't totally shocked when I got his call. I always thought he was a very interesting man. A corporate black man living in a lily-white neighborhood. He had race cars and would race them at the track. The one I remember most was his blue Austin Healey.

He sounded so young on the phone that I'd never guess I was speaking with someone in their 80's. I didn't really know him well but I was interested in his story or whatever he wanted to share with me. Our conversation turned to some pain he was having in his back. He said it was from an old injury when he was in the Air Force and crashed his Stearman in some severe weather. I didn't know he was a pilot but was he also a Tuskegee Airman? Bingo. He talked about how he came to be involved with them and his time spent in the military. He loved flying the Stearman more than any other aircraft but spent most of his time piloting a B25.

We talked a bit about the movie, The Tuskegee Airmen and what he thought about it. He mentioned the parts of the show where the screen writer took some liberties but he said that overall it was an accurate depiction of what they went through.

I asked him about the discrimination he must have surely been subjected to especially in his younger years and how he dealt with it. He said he could only recall two instances of racism directed toward him. Once was on a trip to Pascagoula, Mississippi. He and a friend had flown over the city previously and later while on a train passing through they decided to get off and have a look around. It was a hot day and they wanted to buy a Coke but they couldn't find anybody who would sell them one. Blacks weren't allowed to drink from the pop bottles or glasses at the soda fountain.

The other incident was while trying to board a bus. Blacks were required to sit in the back while whites would either sit or stand toward the front. He was trying to get on a bus which was full up front with people standing in the isle but empty in the back. The driver told him he couldn't get on because it would mean that all the people standing in the isle would have to get off so he could pass through. No doubt they couldn't allow a black man to touch them much less sit near them.

There must have been plenty more times when he was discriminated against but those were the only two he could recall. I don't think he's the sort of man to go looking for it or dwelling on it. The world would be a better place with many more people like Jim Barbour in it.

I have no idea what his politics are. He did mention that he'd never written the president until the Air Traffic Controller's (PATCO) strike in 1981. He was disappointed that Regan fired them after promising to work with them after they had supported him.

We spoke for over an hour and when I hung up the phone I thought to myself what a treat it was to speak with him for that long. He's got so many memories and experiences to draw from and our conversation was just scratching the surface. I hope we'll continue our dialogue.

Edit (9-17-2008) When I first posted this entry I made a request to Jim for any photos of himself back in the day which he would allow me to add to the blog. I didn't hear back from him until a couple nights ago when Jim called to see if I'd received the email he'd sent me. My computer wasn't far away so I told him to hang on and I'd check. He said I should have gotten it weeks ago. For whatever reasons I never got it so he resent it to me and I've added the photos to this post. He also sent me a couple of Power Point files of the newspaper article. You can download them here and here.

Jim...thank you so much!


jackie said...

Kevin, I know exactly what you mean about speaking with Jim. The last time I talked to him he had so many interesting things to say it was like he had been a dear friend for many years. Jim and Gloria were two outstanding people in every respect.It was so sad we lost Gloria so soon. You are right when you say we learned a lot about black people from the Barbours. We learned that they are wonderful people, who enriched our lives in so many ways. I am grateful for the opportuity to have known them.

Kevin said...

Wouldn't you love to spend and evening with him...just chatting about life in general?

I can't think of any better neighbors we had along the way.

photogopher said...

I missed this post for some reason. Yes, that is an amazing story. I was a senior in High school about the time you were getting to know Gloria, Jim and Brian. I soon left to join the navy and remember nice visits with Gloria when I was home on leave. I do remember however one time that Jim let me sit in his aluminum body Mercedes. He warned me not to lean on the fender as it was so soft it might dent. Funny how that sticks in my head.
Those articles and photos are really interesting.
He is a humble person. Those are the true heros.