The letter J could be for any number of my family members: my grandfather John Henry, my dad Jesse, my mom Jerry, me or my cousin Jerry Lynn, or my uncle—James.I’ve chosen James, my dad’s brother and Jerry Lynn’s dad. James was the youngest of my grandparent’s thirteen kids. You know what that means. Spare the rod, spoil the child?
James was married to my mother’s sister, Charlene. That means Jerry Lynn and his younger brother Neil were my double-first cousins. Jerry Lynn was named after my mom. Eventually, James and my Aunt Charlene divorced. I can remember going to their little house to play (just up the road from ours) and my aunt would be in bed. Dishes were piled in the sink and on the kitchen table. I was always fascinated by the sight of it because our house was spotless. My mom—even though she worked nights and slept days—was meticulous in every way. Remember—the perfectionist. Later on, after James and Charlene divorced, I realized she’d been depressed because she really came ‘alive’ once he was out of her life.James was a huge part of my life.(See the pic at right.) He was probably the son that looked most like my grandfather—tall and lanky. He drank goat’s milk. Odd that I should remember that. And he was a smooth talker too. That’s what I remember most.
I’ve always enjoyed collecting things—anything paper. Post cards, letters, articles from the newspaper. You name it. I’m borderline hoarder.Even as a kid, I cut out models from catalogs and used them as paper dolls. And I loved movie stars—especially Marilyn Monroe. I thought MM was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. So when I saw a post card of her on the beach in a two piece swimsuit, I had to have it. I think I’ve mentioned before that I used to write movie stars and ask for their pictures. I had a pretty good collection of them. While this post card wasn’t autographed, it made a nice addition to my movie star stash.
I showed it to my Uncle James. I vaguely remember having a “don’t want to” feeling down inside when James talked me into giving him the post card. I can’t remember what he said, how he talked me into turning it over to him. Told you he was a smooth talker. Imagine my surprise when, a few weeks later, I found my post card torn to pieces beneath a tree near my grandmother’s house. Can you imagine how I felt? Why did he do it? Since this happened before his divorce, I’ve wondered if my Aunt Charlene shredded Marilyn in a fit of anger or jealousy. One of the mysteries of my early teen years. And it seems cruel that when I think of my Uncle James, this is what I remember.
My uncle had a drinking problem and checked himself into Rusk State Hospital to avoid going to jail for a DWI. I was in my 20s then. I remember my parents asking if I'd take him a carton of cigarettes. Many years later, he died in a fire at age 56. He’d been drinking and fell asleep while smoking.I’m sure we all have memories of this sort. We look back and see how loved ones wasted their lives and talents. Stories like this make us sad, but they can make us stronger. We just need to figure out how. Sadly, this entire family is gone: James, Charlene, Jerry Lynn and Neil. My two cousins left children behind who face their own demons and challenges.
But then, don’t we all?
Do you have any memories that fill you with sorrow? How do they make you stronger? Want to share?