Atlanta: Death of a neighbor leaves empty porch

In 1995 my mother became a homeowner for the first time. She bought a house in the Kirkwood section of Atlanta — an “emerging” neighborhood that had not quite emerged yet. Gang bangers and drug dealers still held sway. Automatic weapons fire was heard on an almost nightly basis.

I begged my mom not to move there. She moved anyway. Directly across the street from my mom lived the Jordons, Charley and Lillian, an elderly couple who had been married for more than 60 years. They were friends in short order.

Mr. and Mrs. Jordon would sit on their screened-in porch and talk and laugh for hours. After all their years together they were still best friends, still loved each other’s company. Lillian’s health had been in decline for years. Her husband took care of her lovingly, made her comfortable, doted on her, kept her laughing.

Not long after my mom moved in, one day, while she was at work, someone tried to break into her house. Mr. Jordon yelled at them and called the police. They ran away.

Soon, my mom was visiting with the Jordons every day — talking about the neighborhood, about their kids (the Jordons had two grown sons, my mom had two grown sons), about their grandkids, their gardens, about everything.

Lillian’s health continued to decline and, after a few years, one day she was gone. Mr. Jordon continued to sit on the porch by himself. Though he would never complain, the absence of Lillian was as obvious as a missing appendage. Their laughter had been as much a part of the neighborhood as the birds singing.

My mom kept visiting Mr. Jordon and learned about his life. He was born in 1915, he had worked for a utility company for many years, from which he had retired. As a young man he had caddied for the legendary golfer Bobby Jones — though at that time, as a black man, Mr. Jordon would not have been allowed to play on the course himself.

While living most of his life in the Jim Crow South must have left deep scars and resentments, Mr. Jordon chose not to talk about them, at least with my mom. His was not a generation given to catharsis and self-evaluation. He came from a time when people were strong, self-reliant and took care of each other. Complaining was simply not in his nature. His faith ran deep and he was still driving himself to church well into his 90s.

Early this summer Mr. Jordon started having kidney trouble. An operation left him weak, tired, not himself. Soon he was not making it out to the porch anymore. His son had to come and stay with him. A hospice nurse came once a week. Mr. Jordon stopped eating. His other son from Florida came to be with him. Then one day he just did not wake up.

It is hard to imagine Kirkwood without Mr. Jordon. My mom will no longer be able to take him tomatoes from her garden, or run a piece of birthday cake across the street anymore, or just feel the comfort of knowing he is there. Things such as kindness, gentleness and decency are easily taken for granted, until they are gone. Life will go on in Kirkwood. It just will not be as good.

On a Friday this month, Mr. Jordon was laid to rest beside Lillian, in the graveyard next to their church. If you listen closely on a warm summer night, you will hear them laughing.

Phil Perrier, a native of Atlanta, lives in Los Angeles.