I got one of those horrible telephone calls on Friday. The ones with a quavery voice on the end who has to break the news that someone you love has died.
I met Jim when I was a freshman at college. The school did stuff for freshmen to help them get to know each other. One of their activities was a roller skating party. I loved skating and saw a tall, lanky guy wearing a fedora with a feather sticking out of it. So I skated by and grabbed his goofy hat. And a friendship that lasted 35 years was begun.
I was engaged to Kevin and Jim and I were always and forever just friends. It was a freshman year filled with memories. Like the time Jim and Mark came to our dorm to serenade us the night of the first snowfall. They sang "Good-night, sweetheart" and I will always think of Jim when I hear that song. Or the time I hid his car and sent him on a hunt all over town. Or the time I arranged to have him thrown in the pond for his birthday. To my credit, I did remove his wallet and watch before our friends pitched him in! Or the time we sang in the church choir together. Or the time....Or the time....
I think Jim and I were bonded because of puns. I loved puns. Jim loved puns. We laughed at our sense of humor when everyone else rolled their eyes.
"I resemble that remark"....
Jim gave me the nickname, Ruthless. When I wasn't around, y'all were 'ruthless'...and sometimes when I wasn't very compassionate, I could be ruthless. And I gave Jim the nickname, Killer. Someone once asked him what his middle initial stood for and, knowing he didn't like his middle name, I piped up with 'Killer'. It stuck. When Kevin and I were expecting our first baby, we told Jim that we wanted him to be called 'Uncle' by our kids. Jim informed us that he wanted to be called Uncle Killer since Kevin already had a brother named Jim. So, Uncle Killer he was. The girls never thought it was odd to have an Uncle Killer.
One time Jim asked me to buy a birthday card for his grandfather's birthday and mail it to him for Jim. I accidently addressed it to ... Stevens, not Stephens. A few weeks later, Jim invited me to spend Easter with his family since I lived too far away to go home for a long weekend. His grandfather made a comment about Jim changing the spelling of their last name. Poor Jim didn't know what I'd done so he took the blame for it and he never let me forget that incident!
We took a psychology class together and made a couple memories in that class that we always remembered. The prof talked us imagining wearing a sign that says 'I am Loved' and if anyone says or does anything that is not loving, you imagine a piece being ripped off the sign. The goal was to imagine how much of the sign was gone the next day. From then on, anytime we'd say something unkind, the other would acknowledge the pain by saying "RRIIPP!" It kept us accountable without the whole world knowing. Another time in that class, the prof was talking about how important eye contact was. As he caught the eye of each student as he spoke, I made sure he was really looking at me and I winked at him in the middle of class! The surprised professor's response kept us laughing for a long time.
Kevin enjoyed getting to know Jim too. We went to visit my friends at school after Kevin and I married and moved to SD. I was pregnant with Christy and it was in the middle of winter. A bunch of us went to our favorite pizza place and I can still picture Kevin and Jim singing, "I've got spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle...." and making up their own lyrics - a talent that Kevin has continued through the years.
Jim and I kept in touch through letters. I always read his letters to Kevin, then to the whole family. Often Eilene (Aunt EB) would add her thoughts to our delight. One time Jim informed me in a letter that he'd managed to erase all the paper where he'd written and rewritten our addresses over the years. Bless his heart for keeping up with us. We visited with Jim and Eilene over the years. They came to visit and we went to visit. One of my favorite visits was the year we got to spend Christmas with Jim and Eilene. I think my favorite memory was when Jaime sang a solo at Jim and Eilene's church as Eilene accompanied her on the piano. I cherished watching Jim watch Jaime sing. We named Jaime in honor of Jim and the pride that was written on his face was very sweet indeed.
The internet helped our friendship stay up to date. We wrote emails and chatted on the computer. We had many, many pun contests online. Kevin always knew that, if I was giggling at the computer, I was probably bantering with Jim.
Jim and EB came for our girls' weddings. He prayed a blessing for each of the girls. A lot of folks in East Texas know who Uncle Killer was. Jim and EB were our chosen family and we are so very blessed.
It's taken me over 4 months to be able to finish this. What I have learned since Jim's death is that we had a friendship that had no regrets. I reread our FB messages to each other. Each message included a compliment and a statement of love and usually something to make us smile. What a sweet legacy. Rereading our notes has encouraged me to make sure I can do that with others. There is a freedom when one feels no regrets. We didn't know when Jim would die, but nothing was left unsaid. I don't wish I'd said I cared more, because I said it a lot. I don't wish I'd laughed more because we laughed a lot. I told him he was special and loved and cherished by our entire family many, many times. I have no regrets.
If you read this far, thank you for listening to my grieving ramblings. I wanted to write it down because I don't want to forget the memories.
Just writing this reminds me all over again that I have been so blessed in my friendships, especially those friends that I never went looking for. I don't think I will ever be able to see a German hat with a feather in it without thinking of Jim and fighting a desire to snatch it from the owner's head.
I know Jim is enjoying heaven. Since I'm not there yet, I bet he's made new friends who love puns too. And I bet I'll get to meet them all when we meet again. And when I see him, I'll turn him around and say, "It's good to see your back!" I hope he wears that hat with a feather.