In His Father’s Footsteps

March 31, 2011 at 3:30 am (Sweet sticky things, That's not funny..., Waxing Nostalgic)

This month of March has not been kind to my family. After living to a ripe old age of 89, my uncle passed away. While not a happy thing, it wasn’t unexpected, and we got the feeling he welcomed it and was ready to go.

Unfortunately, March wasn’t done with us.

It’s always ominous when both my cell phone and house phone ring at the same time. I answered the house phone, which was the library calling to let my sister know a book had arrived. The cell call was from my niece. I let it go to voicemail, as I was late for work and still had to shower.

I listened to the message. She was in tears. “Uncle, I have terrible news. Call me when you can.” I dialed her immediately.

Her voice breaking, she said, “There’s been an accident. Jimmy was driving the garbage truck across a train track and got stuck. The train hit the truck, it sent Jimmy flying, and it killed him. He’s gone…”

Hello, hammer of heaviness.

Jimmy was my dearly departed brother Orie’s oldest son. Orie had five kids in about as many years, and during the first three I was around a lot. As a teenager, I spent a summer in Sellwood helping him watch the kids. (Maybe mom thought if I was exposed to the daily grind of parenthood I wouldn’t become a father by age fifteen.) The kids were a lot of fun, toddlers and not-quite toddlers. They behaved, were easy to watch, and did nothing to repel me from the idea of fatherhood. It did teach me that I wasn’t ready to do it full time.

After that summer, Orie and the clan moved back to Idaho, I started my own little family, and we lost touch until Orie returned to Portland to become a truck driver. The wife and kids followed, and they took up residence in southeast, not far from where I live now.

Orie would pop in to see me at work from time to time, mending fences long in disrepair. One day as we were chatting, a young man stood next to him. “May I help you?”

“Uncle! You don’t recognize me?”

It was Jimmy. He’d grown from giggly little kid into a handsome drink of water. Kinda reminded me of Jim Carrey. He lived a few blocks from the store, and would drop by on boys-night-out to introduce his friends to the cool, creepy uncle that worked at the Kwik-E-Mart in the bad neighborhood.

Then Orie died. He was hit by a car while dealing with a broken gas line on his truck. 42 years old. My uncle called and gave me the news. Yes, the uncle that died earlier this month.

Orie’s wife and the kids moved back to Idaho, and we lost touch until the Facebooks and the Twitters let us find each other again. Jimmy’s sister has been very good about keeping in touch, and if someone had to break the news to me, I’m glad it was her. I’m a wordy bastard, but I could think of nothing that would ease her pain or express the shock I felt.

It was tough keeping a straight face at work. I held back telling most people, especially the happy ones. No sense sending clouds their way. It made for a tough bus ride; staring out the window lost in thought made it hurt worse.

I remember Jimmy as a polite, helpful young man. He didn’t fall into the drugs and drinking section of the family, though he would go out for beers with the boys on occasion. When I see his face, I think of one of his baby pictures. He was wearing a cowboy outfit, had a huge smile and the brightest eyes. And a giant tinsel-string of drool hanging off his lower lip. It was one of his grandmother’s favorite pictures, and always hung on the wall at her house.

We still don’t know exactly what happened. I put off watching the news footage online, but after work slowed down I pulled out the netbook and watched. I found it oddly comforting. (The news story is here. The raw footage from the scene can be found here.)

At first I wondered if Jimmy had intended to do this? The similarities between his death and his father’s were eerily close. As I thought about it, being the car-heads they are, Jimmy was probably trying to save the truck. I REALLY wish he’d have just stood back and watched the carnage. But that’s not how Jimmy was raised to do things.

And now, the family is walking around in a funk. I’m taking it harder than I thought I would. He was the next oldest male in the family, a role he would have fit well, given time. My heart goes out to his mother, brothers and sister. They lost another sibling, Cory, last year.

I’ve heard Jimmy left behind three wives and a girlfriend. I should know if he had children, but we hadn’t talked in a long time. Not since the ’90s.

Take it easy and light, my little nephew. You were a shining star in our world, and today it is a sad place because you aren’t here to share it with us. I just hope you wear that gap-toothed drooly two-year -old smile of yours all the way through eternity.

RIP Jimmy.


  1. bendover said,

    small world. Saw this over on earlier.

  2. ArtEast said,

    Rest in Peace Jimmy.
    *My heart goes out to ya brotha beastard*

  3. Freddie said,

    You know he is buddy! He always smiled! I remember his love of Ford trucks too. I’ve thought about it too & I can’t figure out why he didn’t run. People have asked me this question & the best I can come up with is maybe he panicked or thought he had more time then he did. Sometimes it’s hard to judge how fast a train is going. And he may have thought he had room. I live by a railroad crossing now & since his accident I have given it a good hard look. There isn’t a lot of clearance between the crossing arm & the tracks. Not to mention that I thought about ignoring the alarm last weekend (Saturday morning). I was late for an appointment, the alarm started sounding but the arm hadn’t came down yet. I thought about just driving straight through it without stopping. I don’t know why I didn’t. Something made me stop. Maybe someone from above letting me know not to take a chance with my life. It took awhile for the train to arrive & I was annoyed sitting there waiting for it! Shame on me. I love Jimmy very much. I wish he were still here with us.

  4. CICI said,

    so sorry about jimmy. when i saw you put your head phones in the other nite i laughed cuz you had just told me sometimes you just want to listen to your ipod & shut out the talking. my big sister was my idol & when i was 14 she was on her way home to visit from ARIZONA with my 2yr nephew,who i never met & her husband. they were murdered in the desert by prison escape’s.unexpected. in 1985 my 3mth baby died in my arms unexpected,2000 my mom died while getting stitches out her head,they gave her some medicine that killed her,4 mths later my husband was murdered @ the grocery store by 2 young gang bangers. i know about putting on that happy face & pressing on. crying is GREAT,you Never get over death you just get thru it!!! HOLD ON to those drooling smiley face memories! HAPPY TIMES IS HOW YOU GET THRU IT! it’s a daily process that takes a while,but it gets better. i’m praying for you & your family!

  5. Venna M. Boyd said,

    Thanks for posting this Uncle Charles. Jimmy was very loved, and will be missed greatly. Yeah, I’ve had a lot of people ask why he didn’t just run. It’s a mystery. Jimmy was very dedicated to all jobs he had, and I feel that he wanted to save the truck. He just got out of the hospital from battling double pneumonia–however you spell it–, and they lost him twice, but he pulled through. He just got off of oxygen and went back to work when this happened. He is watching over us, and wanting us to be safe. Love and miss all of you.

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