I met J.D. Harvey in the fall of 1980, shortly after I moved to Wakulla County, Florida to attend graduate school at The Florida State University. My dad was born in Medart, in Wakulla County, and he was particularly close to one of his cousins, Venice. I was fortunate to live in a mobile home (at almost 0 rent) on Venice’s, and her husband, Asa’s, 30 acres of land while I was in graduate school. Venice had retired from her career with the State of Florida and she worked part time at Wakulla Springs Lodge as a night clerk. J.D. was the assistant manager of Wakulla Springs Lodge and was Venice’s supervisor. J.D. was in his 30s when Venice introduced us and we soon became friends. During this time, Ed Ball owned Wakulla Springs, including the lodge, the attractions, and part of the river where the spring is located. Both Venice and J.D. enjoyed telling me stories about Mr. Ball’s eccentricities, including not allowing any TVs in guest rooms. J.D. and I kept in touch over the years after I left grad. school and embarked on my career and Venice kept me informed about him, as well as things that were going on at Wakulla Springs (or, as she always said, “the Springs”). Venice called me one evening in 1994 to tell me that J.D. had fainted at work, was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he found out he was in immediate need of a heart transplant. Needless to say, this was shocking news to all of us because, until then, J.D. appeared to be healthy. I was saddened by this news about my friend and, for a few days, I wondered what I could do to help him. By this time, David and I lived in Lighthouse Point, a long way from Tallahassee, and I knew it wouldn’t be possible for me to visit J.D. on a regular basis. J.D. was weakened by his heart transplant, to the point he never worked again. He spent the rest of his life at home, unable to enjoy his life and work. After pondering J.D.’s sad situation, I decided there was one, relatively simple, thing I could do to help him: I could call him on the telephone. I asked him if it would be okay for me to call him, every day, just to say “Hi!” and let him know there was at least one person in the world who was thinking of him and wishing the best for him. Needless to say, J.D. was astounded by my proposition, however, he said he would really appreciate me calling him. He told me that, if there was ever a day or more when I was unable to call, he would understand it. Well, guess what? I never missed a day! From the day I started calling J.D. in 1994 until the day he died in 2004, I called him every day, without fail. If I was selecting a jury, I called him from the courthouse; if I was conducting mock jury research, I called him from the hotel where I was working; if I was in Australia, I called him from Sydney, Melborne, or The Outback; if I was in Hawai’i, I called him from the Haleakala Crater on Maui; wherever I was, I called him. Often, I had only 5 minutes to talk. Sometimes, I had nothing pleasant to say, such that I read him the “thought of the day” on the perpetual calendar my mom had given me. And, in case the reader is thinking, “Oh, how nice for Melissa to call her friend every day. I know it meant a lot to him,” I will point out that calling J.D. every day was as good for me as it was for him. I learned a lot about him during this 10 year period and more important, I learned a lot about me too!
In Melissa’s world there is, perhaps, a blurry line between being a psychologist and a friend. The experience with J.D. is one of those. I have a small, sticky backed, teddy bear on my computer monitor today that J.D. gave me (I have a couple other bear reminders as well). Due to a turn of events, he became a parent to a black bear cub that was rescued from a poacher which turned into a lifelong fascination with bears and teddy bears. Keep in mind that Melissa’s 10 year experience calling J.D. predated texting, which would have expanded their communications for sure. But, email was gaining hold and this would be another opportunity to communicate. And, the internet was gaining ground. Considering these things, Melissa and I bought a “Web TV” system for J.D. I doubt they still exist, but these devices consisted of a keyboard to wire to a dial up modem and used one’s television for the screen. It was a simple device that opened the world of the internet to him. Imagine being confined to a small cottage, often unable to venture even to the grocery store, due to the risk of infection. J.D. was home bound but he was also connected to the world and was able to keep up with the news, and even, on a few occasions, dig into something we were trying to figure out – that is, do a little research for us. It didn’t take much to give him this resource; often what is small for some of us is huge for others. Never underestimate the power of such gestures and gifts. Melissa is a doer – she doesn’t stand by and lament “What can I do?” Her call a day solution was simple, the Web TV, also simple and fairly inexpensive. Small kindnesses in the world go a long way in sharing our existence with others. And, I’ll always remember J.D. and the sunset Melissa and I shared in Hawai’i on the night he passed; an enlarged print of which is on our living room “sunset wall.” I only wish I’d have known him earlier in life.