Fire took his home, but not his faith, family, jobs

Jim Massey's house that he paid off not too long ago burned Monday afternoon. Much of what he owned inside was gone, too. But he knew his wife wasn't hurt. His four kids, three grown, one a teenager still at home, were fine.

He drove around for a while Monday, after the fire, to get a handle on what to do.

"I just started driving," he said.

Then, Monday night, Massey did what he has done for 35 years, including at night when he went to high school: He went to work.

For the past eight years, Massey has worked third shift at a box plant in Charlotte. He started Monday at 10:30 p.m., finished at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Like always, he arrived early. He stayed all night, at his machine.

When the shift finished, after sunrise, Massey's wife, Helen, picked him up. Then the couple drove back to Rock Hill. Massey grabbed a sausage and egg muffin, then at 7:40 a.m. Tuesday, early to work, Massey arrived at Oakdale Elementary School.

It's the summer, so no students were at school. But the floors needed scrubbing and polishing. The man known as "Mr. Jim" has worked at the school for seven years. He works the afternoon shift during the school year, and whatever shift needs doing during breaks.

One teacher told me Tuesday, "I never have seen Mr. Jim sit down. Ever."

All morning Tuesday, past lunch, Jim Massey worked those floors. The sunlight through the windows made the wax shine.

Collection at school

Word got around at the school about the fire -- not because Massey told anybody, but because the fire was news in Tuesday's edition of The Herald. Teachers such as Lynn Hayes who are off in the summer showed up at the school to see if they could help. Jim didn't ask for it, but that's what people do when somebody they work with, like family, has their house burn, Hayes said.

I saw one teacher slip in the schoolhouse door with her kids. One kid carried an American flag because today is Independence Day, when the country honors its founding by men who were bold and strong.

I saw her tuck folded bills into a manila envelope in a drawer. The name "Jim Massey" was written on a sticky note attached to the envelope. The envelope had a bunch of bills in it.

When Jim Massey's shift ended Tuesday around 1 p.m., Helen Massey came to pick her husband up.

He didn't have his truck because, like Monday, he let one of his daughters use it to get to work.

It was his call to his wife Monday to pick him up from the school that preceded the fire.

"I was going to fry some chicken and had just put the grease on the stove when he called," Helen Massey said. "I thought he finished at 1:30, but it was 1."

Helen Massey left the house to pick up her husband of 26 years, the fire started and they got home to find flames.

Tuesday afternoon around 1 p.m., Jim Massey had not been to sleep or eaten anything but that egg sandwich since before he went to work Monday morning. He hadn't had a chance to hug his five grandchildren, or even the neighbor kids who call him Granddad because he is so nice.

Lynn Hayes and another teacher asked Helen and Jim Massey if the teachers could start a fund for them, to help recover from the fire that made their home on Columbia Avenue unlivable.

The Masseys said OK -- but Helen Massey said, "I'm not asking for it."

Jim Massey didn't ask, either.

Helen Massey refused the American Red Cross' offer of a motel room after the fire. She said she opted to stay with family because, "There's someone out there who needs it a lot more."

Jim Massey said he's not worried about the fire now. His family is safe. His wife had just told him two new cowboy hats he got for Father's Day survived the fire.

"I hadn't even had a chance to wear them," he said. "That's good news right there."

Jim Massey continued, "The Lord is on my side. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want."

The teachers and staff who love Jim Massey watched him leave the school, and remarked how lucky they all are to know, and work beside, such a man.

In many plants, on holidays, production ceases. So Massey's shift at the box factory, normally overnight until 7 a.m., was changed to Tuesday from 3:30 p.m. until just before midnight.

Massey went to work Tuesday. He wanted to get there early.