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Donnie Ray Groves

Photography by Eleanor Leonne Bennett

Simple Reminders
I met Jim one night when I needed gas for my truck and was trying to siphon some from a neighbor’s Chrysler parked next to my old Ford outside our apartments.
Jim wanted to be a good Samaritan and held the can while I stuck a hose down the Chrysler’s gas tank.
To this day I’m not sure if Jim knew that technically we were doing something illegal. Probably, but I doubt it would have mattered. He needed a ride to the liquor store.
We returned with beer and schnapps that we shared in my apartment. He saw my guitar and asked if I played. I don’t remember what I said but we wound up at his apartment where I noticed a piece of paper from a spiral notebook pinned to the wall that said:
“Turn off stove. Turn off lights. Eat. Pray.”
Jim tried to teach me Jimmy Buffet songs and how to sing harmony that night as we both drank too much schnapps too quickly.
I still can’t sing harmony.
Jim looked like Santa Claus on meth. Bony skinny with a white beard and red face and a laugh more nervous than jolly.  He played mandolin, harmonica and banjo and just about any other instrument. Hell, I even helped him move an out-of-tune piano he bought for fifteen bucks at Vern’s Trading Post, a junk heap that sat on an old back road on the outskirts of Branson. Jim had tried to make it in Nashville but he and a woman he loved moved to Branson where she left him for another musician.
At least that’s how I remember it but at the time we were both drinkers.
Jim lived in a one-bedroom apartment next door to me. He had a weakness for strays, adopting a coal black tom with ears festered by a pair of devil horns the teens downstairs had strapped on the poor cat’s head. We cut the horns off with my Buck knife one night while knocking off a fifth of Congress vodka and drinking Wiedemann beer.
I inherited the cat but set him free because he never truly socialized with humans after wearing the devil horns.
That was after Jim’s car stopped running and it sat in the apartment parking lot for a couple of months or so. He finally signed the title over to the landlady and moved out of his one bedroom into a studio apartment for the back rent where there on the door on the way out he had taped his piece of paper from a spiral notebook:
“Turn off stove. Turn off lights. Eat. Pray.”
Jim was a good neighbor. We’d share drinks and swap tunes even though I wasn’t worth a damn. He never did find real work in Branson but managed to feed himself by fishing for trout in Taneycomo. He even gave me a couple of fish one time after I drove him to town where he picked up a twelve pack and some fried chicken.
I remember because he argued with the little girl behind the counter about giving him a wing instead of a leg.
It wasn’t long after that Jim began working odd jobs for our landlady, pulling weeds, washing windows, trying to work off his rent but drink got in the way too often. Eventually she was forced to evict Jim and one day he was just gone. The landlady asked me to help clean up Jim’s little apartment. I spent most of a morning loading empty bottles, beer cans and piles of paper into trash bags and bleaching out a moldy refrigerator. Each time I walked out the door I read Jim’s paper reminder:
“Turn off stove. Turn off lights. Eat. Pray.”
The landlady continued to apologize for evicting Jim even after I told her she had no choice. She offered to give me fifty bucks for helping her but instead I asked if she would just let me have a cheap old acoustic guitar we found beneath a pile of mildewed clothes in the apartment.
That guitar never stayed in tune but I held onto it until right before I decided to get sober.
I wish I still had that simple reminder.
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