We were up early to get Mom to her dialysis appointment. We had been doing this for several years now, every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday from six a.m. until noon. It was a beautiful sun-filled day. The air was full of the scent of honeysuckle and fresh-mown grass. The only dark spot on the day was across the road, on the bank. A big Jones and Preston canopy over an open hole with green mats and chairs all around. It would later be filled in and covered with bunches of flowers. Old John would not have liked that; he never cared much for flowers.
This was the gloomiest and most perfect day. After dialysis, we sat with all the family members and listened to the preacher talk of Heaven and Hell and where we would spend eternity. At this time our grief was so pure and disabling, we really did not care. There were so many of his friends, coal truck drivers and tipple workers, and even some of his ex-bosses who had showed up. They told each other stories about Greasy coming out in rain or snow or whatever either to fix their truck or to make sure they got home all right. He was always there. Many of these people owed him a lot and could never repay him, but that was not why he did it.
Greasy was a mechanic extraordinaire. If you had something that was broke, you called Greasy. If your car wouldn’t go or you needed work done on your truck, water heater, lawn mower, weed eater, stove, refrigerator, air conditioner, or anything with a motor, he could and would fix it for you. He never overcharged for his work because most times he didn’t charge at all. That was the kind of man he was. He even fixed wheelchairs on occasion. If he ran across a problem he couldn’t figure out, he’d drink a few beers and go to bed on it. The next day he would have the answer and have it fixed in no time. Mechanics came to him naturally; he was just that good.
You could always find him outside working on this or that. He really left an empty spot in the yard.
That was Johnny Fitch, also known by his friends as Greasy John. A family man who was very protective, and you never said a negative word about his wife or children. He protected them from everything. When my brother, who was in the service, had a car wreck, Greasy drove all the way to Massachusetts to bring him home and take care of him until he was well. He came to me and helped me move to protect me and my kids from my husband and his family. When it came to his kids, he was afraid of nothing nor nobody.
Now the procession was going up Starfire Hill; the cars just kept coming. The first was the black hearse with the most precious flag-draped cargo followed by Mom’s blue Cadillac and all the families’ cars, some old, some new, some shiny, and some falling apart, but all there for the same reason, to follow Johnny home.
There was not enough parking space, so the road at Greasy’s home was partially blocked by the visitors. No one ever complained. Mom could not get up to the canopy to sit, so we put her in the porch swing, with John’s Chihuahua, Mickey, so they could see what was happening. Mom with her oxygen was unable to shed tears, but she sobbed uncontrollably. The smell of the flowers overpowered the breeze that had started to move into the area.
I had to leave Mom and go up the embankment. I didn’t want to go, but I had to. We sang “Amazing Grace,” and they sent Greasy off with a 21-gun salute. They placed his very special American flag in my hands, and I gasped for breath.
I remember the half smile, the cigarettes and lighter in the right pocket and the tire gauge in the left, where I put them. He was taken from us way too soon. As the oldest daughter, I had to be strong and continue to care for my Mother. I was and always will be Daddy’s little girl. That day, Mom was grieving inside and trying to be strong, but all she said was that she wanted to be with her Johnny. We were all missing him already. He was our solid base, the strong oak tree, the guiding force and protector, and now he was gone.
He was just plain old Greasy John or Johnny Fitch, the fix-it man. He was my dad and my hero. We watched as he was laid to rest with all the pomp and circumstance of any member of royalty that you could imagine and with many people to say their final farewells to him. This definitely was his day, and I slowly walked down the bank and placed his flag into Mom’s waiting hands, wrinkled and trembling, the hands of his one true love, and she held it close to her chest and sobbed. This was all she had left of her beloved Greasy John.