For thirty-two years I lived in an Ozzie and Harriett neighborhood. (I know, I know, they were a fictional family, and real life Ozzie has been described as dictatorial). Nevertheless, my neighborhood mirrored that 1950s sitcom. Neighbors strolled and biked down tree canopied streets, occasionally dodging balls from popup soccer games (at one time regularly organized by my son.) Choctaw Trail was three blocks from one of the best elementary schools in the county; the same was true for the Middle and High schools.
If there was a geographic nucleus in the neighborhood it was beneath an enormous tree rumored to be the second largest Camphor tree in North America. An arborist determined the tree was between 150-200 years old. Each December the tree played host to the neighborhood’s annual Christmas party, its boughs bedecked with at least 100 strands of colorful lights. Countless cigars were smoked and problems solved beneath its branches.
Maybe it was the tree that bonded our neighborhood. Or perhaps it was the fact three kids from three different families, residing in adjacent houses, shared the exact birth date (April 6, 1994). To be sure, political opinions varied widely. There were even yard sign wars during election seasons. Those political differences, however, couldn’t compare to the sameness of our values. We cared about each other’s children and knew their pets by name. We helped each other before and after hurricanes, and brought food following hardships. My son, at 37, still cannot fathom how we could move away from his childhood home. It makes me happy he has such positive memories of his growing up years.
Our neighbors came together again last week to share our grief over the loss of a beloved neighbor, James Hollingshead. James was only 58 years old when he succumbed to cancer diagnosed only months ago. His obituary (it’s difficult to even write that word) described him as a kind, gentle soul who made everyone feel at ease. He had a great sense of humor, making people laugh with his wry wit and jokes. He was a hydrologist working for the St. Johns River Water Management District. I had never heard that job title before meeting James. It was a fitting career choice as he cared deeply about the quality of Florida’s waters. James used to laughing describe himself as the “barely tolerated male” in the home he shared with his wife, two daughters, female cat and dogs.
It’s so hard in the age of COVID to offer comfort. I want so badly to put my arms around Lisa and her daughters, hugging them close, conveying my own sense of loss. Scattered as our neighbors may be, I wish we could gather one more time under that giant Camphor tree, the arms of which extended into James and Lisa’s front yard. I hope in time we can gather again, sharing food, drink, and memories.
James Hollingshead’s passion for nature, his kindness, and generosity truly made our world a better place. The planet and many others will sorely miss his goodness. And to that I say, Amen.