JIM STOCKTON: Skyward the icon

By Jim Stockton • Last Updated 10:21 am on Thursday, January 26, 2012

Jim Stockton

Lloyd Windjammer is dead, called to that great licorice mine in the sky! Born Donald H. Jones, he was my childhood neighbor, a quiet, friendly boy inclined to solitude. The Jones family lived at the end of Earle Street, which ended just short of York Street because of the Jones’ back door. It was normally closed and too narrow, as well, for vehicular traffic. Accordingly, Earle Street ended where Ben Jones’ Model T began. He always had at least one, and I remember being kicked off the property for jumping onto the running board of a roadster as he worked on it. Old Ben seemed not to like me, but I’m not writing about him, anyway. Donald commands the story today.

Don was a lifelong walker. Never married and long a fixture of our community, he made daily treks down Bridge Street from his home in north Belding, settled in for a spell at Millie’s Restaurant, and then sat outside the mall for a contemplative smoke. Over time he became our unofficial ambassador-at-large, though quite unknowingly. Even our townsfolk remained unaware until his passing on Jan. 15. Earlier in the summer past I noticed that his gait was slower and more labored and that his stoop had increased. He was growing tired, ready to take leave from life.

Several years prior Don had caught my attention, becoming the template for Lloyd Windjammer, a wandering, eccentric storyteller who lived for the sake of living. There were other “ingredients,” as well. I borrowed the first name from Bill Lloyd, another colorful and blustery denizen of old, and added a dash of Festus Haggan and Barney Fife for mannerisms and expressions. The mainframe, though, was Donald Jones.

Like Donald, Lloyd sported a beard and smoked cigars. In addition, old Lloyd chewed tobacco, the dribble stains on his beard bearing witness. Windjammer enjoyed some peculiar friendships, among them one Dancing Eyekyew, a shadowy near genius who lived under a willow tree. I am unable to explain the anomaly, except that some people are so smart they are stupid! Eyekyew may have been one of them. All I know is that they hit it off, and that their laughter and tale swapping rang out into the night.

Windjammer first appeared on April 27, 2007, in an essay titled, “The Licorice Mines of Old Belding.” Nostalgia demands that we reproduce at least part of it in the original “lingo,” much to the dismay of Matilda Spell Check and her wavy red underlines. It begins with the next paragraph.

“Every town has its storyteller. Ours was Lloyd Windjammer, an old man of uncertain heritage who had never been known for his work ethic. Walking now with the stoop of old age, a face graced with several days’ whiskers and chin stubble brown with tobacco juice, Lloyd was the consummate raconteur and purveyor of improbable history. Animated, energetic, and colorful of speech, he could weave a tapestry of enchantment that made the most unlikely events as real as life.

“I met him on the bridge one day. Nobody skirted past old Windjammer. Nobody. He had a story to tell and he was going to tell it. Looking wistfully westward, he began. ‘They usta wuz a cuppla lickrish mines up there on the high riverbank, ’bout halfway. ‘They wuz a reglar bizness stop, y’know, part of a reglar trade route. Spacemen came second Tuesday of every week. Dropped a load o’green cheese from the moon an’ took back a cargo of likrish. Wasn’t just anybody cud see ’em, though,’ said Lloyd taking a chaw from his Red Man pouch. ‘Hadda have a snort o’ beverage first. Y’ Alderman Third Ward seen ‘em once an’ quit drinkin’. Died o’ thirst, he did.’”

When I looked up to where all this “activity” had allegedly taken place, Windjammer told me I was wasting my time. The green cheese market had folded. On their last trip the spacemen had taken the mines away with them, leaving not a trace.

Such was the presentation of the old storyteller. Don Jones, his template, is gone now. We won’t see him at the mall or standing on the bridge but the spirit of Lloyd Windjammer remains. He’ll go on telling outlandish tales and I’ll go on believing what cannot possibly be true. Goodbye, Don, and thanks for the inspiration!

Jim Stockton is a retired bookkeeper who lives in Belding. His email address is biffles@charter.net.

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