Polonius would have been scandalized, but Jim Henry has been borrowing the same $10 from me for nine years.
Jim, a grandfather with a grown granddaughter, shares a house just outside of town with his octogenarian mother and her husband. Ten years ago, Jim was forced to retire from the nursery in nearby Chesterville where he planted and tended acres of shrubbery and trees. When they let him go, it was a blow. It could have been a crushing one, but Jim is determined, regardless of obstacles, to enjoy life.
He's not too proud to ask for help when he needs it, but works hard to return the favor. I didn't know this when he came to the back door the first time and asked to borrow $10. I didn't hear the reason he gave for needing the money since I was busy trying to figure where this proposed transaction might lead. I didn't believe it was really a loan; I thought it was a thinly disguised request for a donation. If there was a contribution to be made, I wanted to make it through the impersonal medium of the Salvation Army. I wanted distance. But Jim wanted connection. To stretch his government assistance, Jim does odd jobs around town. His list of jobs is a long, elastic one, expanding or contracting according to season, imagination, and need. He brings Suzanne, the assistant postmistress, breakfast or lunch from Dixie Jo's diner. He delivers mail and makes bank deposits for neighbors, digs holes for Mrs. LeCates, and clears brush alongside the town's part-time maintenance man. He supplements the odd jobs with a series of small personal loans. That first request for $10 roped me unknowingly into Jim's extensive loan department, a network of people from whom he borrows. He keeps his records in his head, an impressive feat of memory at which I marvel. Yet in nine years, he has neither forgotten a loan nor insisted that he has paid me back when he still owes me $10. Although he is the one who sets the repayment time, he sometimes phones to ask that I extend his self-imposed deadline, a gesture that, while unnecessary, keeps things businesslike. I don't know what he borrows from others, but he always asks me for a tenner, though the reason he gives for needing it - and he gives a detailed reason each time - is always different. But it is always $10 that he needs. To help repay the loan, he does odd jobs for me. My children often work with him, keeping him company. …