Been thinking lately about a friend I had everybody called “Hip”.
I don’t know how he came by that nickname or when, never asked and he never said.
I’ve always preferred to work alone, doesn’t mean I’m anti social as I know and have worked with other men and enjoyed it, just a “quirk” of mine I suppose.
It was a different story with Hip, it was as though we had been born of the same mother though he was from somewhere in Appalachia.
The man would work, enjoyed it as much as I do and would hang with you on a job even if you worked through the night.
If we were nailing side by side on a roof or deck the tempo of our hammer strikes would increase, kind of an unspoken competition, both of us grinning and egging the other on with the echo of our hammers sounding like a flock of woodpeckers.
Hip would call me Hiawatha and I’d call him Jed Clampett, neither taking offense and none intended.
When we first met Hip had kind of given me the once over and then said “How’s it going Hiawatha?”
I guess you could say I was “sensitive” to anything that might be perceived as ethnically charged but the truth of the matter was I had something of a chip on my shoulder when it came to such things and dropping my tool belt and pouches I had in my hand I was ready to get to it and responded by asking if his neck was naturally that red ( as in redneck) ?
Hip started laughing and said he came from a long line of rednecks and damn if he wasn’t liking me already – we became fast friends.
A lot of people have an aversion to snakes, some deathly afraid of them – Hip didn’t even want to hear the word snake, even a hint of one being around and he’d be off – but Hip also wasn’t averse to a well timed practical joke and after having played a couple on me I was biding my time.
I had picked up one of those rubber snakes about four feet long and without Hip’s knowledge tied a string to it and attached the string inside the trunk door of his car so when you opened it a snake rose with it.
One day on a job we were taking a little break and I asked him if he had such and such a tool with him knowing he did in the trunk of his car, when he said yes I asked if he would get it?
Needless to say when he opened the trunk to be confronted by a snake rearing it’s ugly head he was off and running, and I mean running – must have ran a quarter mile as I was laughing and calling after him that the snake was gaining on him as if it would actually chase him and could.
Came back flushed and sputtering about it wasn’t funny he could have had a heart attack but couldn’t help himself and started laughing as well.
About a year later Hip was diagnosed with terminal cancer and started slipping away, long before his time.
He fought it like the man he was but didn’t make it – I spent a lot of time with him in his final days, at one point he told me it was okay because there weren’t any snakes where he was going, smiled and tried to laugh.
I think I can honestly say Hip was the first real white friend I had, not the last but the first – we met after something of an awakening was taking place in me – a time when I was becoming aware that good people could be found everywhere and moving on from the us against them mentality.
Every once in a while when I’m pounding nails I’ll think of Hip and before I know it I’m swing my hammer like there’s no tomorrow half expecting to look over and see Hip doing the same with that ol’ lopsided grin of his ……. rest in peace Jed.