He’s been gone for more than fifty years. It’s so easy to forget about him. Today, about all that’s left is a stone slab in a cemetery in Franklin County, that and a few memories.
He was my Grandparent’s first grandson. Exactly what my Grandmother wanted. He grew up hard in a hard world. Never enough money. A Dad that drank too much and missed all the good jobs. No running water until he was well out of high school. One big wood heater in the middle of the other room. He cut firewood with a crosscut saw and an axe to stay warm in the winter. And, hauled every drop of water he needed.
He ate a lot of bologna. The turkey and hams were for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most of the hot meals were from my Grandmother’s kitchen, a country mile away, if you walked through the woods A longer walk if you took to the gravel road.
In the early fifties, Franklin County, Mississippi treated most everybody on The Ridge the same. No mercy and nothing was easy.
He was my first real hero. Taller than anyone I knew. Slim, with a flatop haircut. Arms and shoulders, strong and broad, like they should be. He was tough. One summer, he worked for my Dad, rough-necking on a drilling rig, sleeping in his car to save money.
He was the first in our family to go to college. Rode a bus on Sunday afternoon, stayed three, sometimes four weeks at a time, then rode the bus back for the weekend. The college was thirty-six miles away.
I was a cub scout. He carved and shaped my pinewood derby. Today, it’s on the bookshelf in front of me. It may be all that’s left of his handiwork. He gave me his National Guard shovel for my birthday. I was seven, maybe eight. He was my genuine hero.
He went out to California to work on a rig. Then up to Alberta, Canada. He needed the money for senior college. Gave the rigs two years of his life, so he could come home and go to college without worrying about tuition or his next meal.
The night before he was to leave, there was a car wreck. He was not the driver. He didn’t even drink. He was a sleeping passenger.
He died that night, but he was stubborn. It took two more years before we buried him. The wreck killed a part of his brain. He killed off the rest of his body one afternoon when he was all alone. I was there when they found him. I was the one who told my Grandmother he was dead.
The family suffered from the wreck to the funeral. My uncle, his father, he never quit hurting. Losing Jimmy killed my Uncle August. I’m now past sixty five and I still miss him. I still wonder what he could have become.
We all still ask “what if?”
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