Midtown History: Jim the Irishman
Written by Bill Burns

Midtown Palo Alto is a cozy haven within the city. Its residents venture downtown when necessary, but they prefer to stay in their own neighborhood. If you want to know Palo Alto you've got to know its neighborhoods. And if you want to know Midtown, you've got to know its character as revealed in its people.

Take the late Jim "the Irishman", whose real name Mullins was virtually unknown to all of his neighbors, almost as much as Jim and his dog were known to them. Jim would take his daily afternoon walks down Waverley Street with that cute little shaggy haired dog. As Jim shuffled slowly along the street in his white painters' pants, the dog would run circles around him proudly showing off the energy Jim lacked. Jim loved that dog more than he could say. The dog would bark at approaching strangers and Jim would have him jump into his arms for protection and love. Jim was old, yet ageless. He was a rather large man both in height and weight, although he was bending some now, as if that bulge in his middle were pulling his head down. He had a great shock of white unkempt hair capping a thoroughly Irish mug. He had a bulbous nose and a smile you could see from across the street where I occasionally watched the goings on from my porch. Each time I saw Jim on his walk I made it a point to yell a greeting to him across the street. "How ya doin', Jim?" I would ask. And his reply was always the same, "Not long for this world, my boy, not long for this world." And somehow you knew he was right.

Midtown neighbors tend to leave one another alone for the most part. They are friendly, supportive, often watch each others' houses…water lawns, plants…or take in mail and newspapers when asked, but they rarely pry into the affairs of others. For these reasons I never learned much about Jim, but I enjoyed walking over to him, petting his dog, and maybe shooting the breeze with him for a few minutes-sharing the news in the rusty-colored autumn beauty of the liquid amber trees that line Waverley Street.

Norm Bowers, who lived next door to Jim and owned Awana Travel, offered to give Jim a trip back to Ireland to see his aged mother before she died. Norm knew Jim couldn't afford such a trip, but he could afford it and felt it was the neighborly thing to do. For days upon his return Jim talked of nothing but the beauty of Ireland and his angel mother. How happy he was to have been able to visit her again. He returned to his ritual evening walks, which I felt were never complete until he had uttered at least one "not long for this world" to me, or another inquirer of his health.

We used to have block parties on our part of Waverley in the '70s, but people drifted away and the street traffic got busier. A few of us still have get-togethers from time to time, but the old block parties have yet to be revived. Jim finally lived up to his words and passed in the early '80s. I still remember him and many of the other neighbors who have since sought greener pastures. My wife and I continue to sit on our porch in the evenings watching the sun go down above the Midtown world of walkers, bikers, skaters, joggers, and strollers with new babies as they pass our home. The neighbors may change, but the ambiance and friendliness of the Midtown neighborhood remains. How fortunate we are to live in such a "fantastic" place as our esteemed Governor would surely say.

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