Jim called himself an Indian, not a Native American. He was born and raised in Oklahoma, but for the life of me I can't remember what tribe's blood ran through his veins.
His skin was dark like oiled leather, his black hair untouched by gray despite the thirty year difference in our ages.
I was born and raised in Texas, near the Houston Ship Channel, where it rarely snows and temperatures never reach the single digits. I've experienced snow - in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana - but the coldest night of my life was right there on the Ship Channel, ironically beside a unit called the Cold Box.
The frigid temperature couldn't be blamed on the Cold Box, however; all the blame fell on the Arctic wind blowing straight down from Canada, across the Ship Channel, and full force on me and Jim, where we stood on the metal grating high above the ground waiting on the control room to make decisions and give us instructions on whatever task we were charged with that night.
Too many years have passed for me to remember those details of our job that night, but nothing will ever erase my memory of the cold, despite wearing long johns, sweat pants, a pullover sweater, an insulated jacket and Nomex jumpsuit covering it all, as well as a knit liner in my hard hat pulled down over my ears and liners in my leather gloves.
My fingers and ears felt like ice cubes and I couldn't feel my toes at all. I shivered so much I thought I'd never be able to stop.
But Jim was shivering just as much as I was. Indian Jim, son of Oklahoma blizzards, normally sweet-tempered with smile-crinkled eyes and a soft voice, was on the radio every few minutes, issuing a stream of cuss words and insults and impatience to the control room until they finally gave us the okay to come in and thaw ourselves out.
If you wonder if it gets cold in Texas, spend a few hours in the middle of the night on a catwalk beside the Ship Channel when the north wind blows and there's nothing blocking it between you and Canada.
Or just think of Indian Jim.
I wrote this as my contribution for twoscoopz Focus 52 - the prompt was 'cold', and when I think 'cold' I think of this night waiting out there with Jim, and realizing if he was that cold, it must really be cold... I wasn't just a wimpy Texas girl. I'll always be grateful to Jim for that (you might have to be a female working in a mostly-male physical job like I did to understand.)
We stayed in touch after he left our plant, a few years before I quit. He worked at a plant up north, in Montana, I think (he sent us a beautiful photograph of the mountains) and when he retired, moved back to Oklahoma and married his high school sweetheart.
He visited us once or twice; I remember making him pancakes from scratch for breakfast, full of my new domesticity. He gave Tommy a $50 savings bond for being born and later, he and his teacher wife Martina sent the kids books for Christmas.
One Christmas, he wrote me that he was having to drive miles for kidney dialysis several days a week. Not longer after that, Martina wrote in her card that Jim had died. She and I stayed in touch until, one Christmas a few years later, her daughter sent a card telling me that Martina had died as well.
The funny thing about friendship... these memories haven't died. I hope they never will.
I was so lucky.
Rest in peace, Jim, and thank you.