Remembering Jim

It is September 1998 and we are traveling. We have come to the far end of Missouri, my husband, Roger, his father Jim and myself. We are odd traveling companions I suppose, but it has been a priceless journey. We drove for two days, stopping to stretch arthritic limbs on foreign mattresses. Pausing for rest and respite from the merciless drive.

Even in 1998 the scenery is desolate, empty and depressing. The only thing that breaks up the monotony of the flat lands are the overpasses and the trees. I think about the pioneers who made this trek before us, and am suddenly ashamed that I am grateful for the break in the scenery that the overpasses provide.

Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

We make a lame kind of game out of the names on the road signs, as though we had really gone astray from our intended route. We wonder how we got so near to Harrisburg, when we thought we were in Indiana; how we got to places like London and Lisbon, without crossing the ocean.

We crossed Licking Creek, Nameless Creek and the Blue River, which is really a creek, or creek sized. We crossed the Wabash, the Monongahela, and the Mississippi rivers. We have crossed the Missouri River three times while traveling I-70.

We crossed the Platte River that James Michener built his story Centennial around and I thought back to the story when I saw that sign. Maybe it is Michener’s fault that I cross rivers wanting to get closer, but on my own terms. His fault, too, that I think of people who have gone on before us, living off the great rivers and traveling them. I keep my thoughts to myself rather than give voice to my frustration that there is no time to do the exploring and sight seeing we would like. There is no time, so there is no point. We will make this journey again, my love and I and then we will take our time.

We make small talk with his father now and then. He will lean forward in his seat, stick his head between us, and ask questions or talk until his back can’t bear the position. Then he sits back in silence. He doesn’t offer to drive, and we assume he is glad to sit back and relax. I think to myself it is just as well. He is 70 and hasn’t mellowed much. I’ve heard stories about him out running state troopers in his younger days and I am just as glad that he doesn’t offer to drive now. He does not read, except to browse through hunting magazines. One good novel would make the ride more bearable. But he does not read, not on this drive anyway.

It is a long drive from North Central Pennsylvania to St. Joseph, Missouri. He has traveled out of state before, but probably not this far. We were not at the far reaches of Pennsylvania, into Ohio before he asked the age old question, “Are we there yet?” To this day, I am not sure if he was serious or joking, but we broke up the monotony of the drive by telling him every time we had gone another 100 miles. Not there yet Dad, but another hundred miles under our belts.

I took vacation from church to make the journey; but school was still in session and I had to bring homework with me, some of which I resented. Jim came to our room the first night in St. Joseph, and his visit was a welcome interruption. He stayed a long time and talked about his childhood. He talked about growing up in a large farming family on the edge of poverty, in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. I was glad that I was daring enough to ask some questions. I know about beaches, but I do not know anything about farming.

I’ve known Jim for twelve years, but not well. It is more realistic to say I have been acquainted with him and these days of traveling together, have revealed glimpses of the man. He is an old-fashioned “good old boy,” a hard worker, a mountain man and imperfect. But he is also honest, wise about many things, passionate, and very stubborn.

When he was thirteen years old, he could lead a team of horses to plow a field. Even when the snow was six inches deep they would plow, because his father said the snow helped keep the moisture in the ground. He was one of eleven children and they slept three children in one bed. No wonder they are close. Most of the siblings who are alive live within a few miles of each other.

Often they would plow or do other work in their bare feet, because they could not afford shoes. They’d plow, plant corn, go through and pull bugs off the corn to protect it. They would harvest the corn by hand with a corn knife, haul it back to the barn in a wagon and husk the corn in the winter. When they were done husking the corn, it was time to start over. They would do the haying all by hand. The boys would fork the hay into the wagons and put it into the barn. They milked the cows, let the milk set in the container util the cream rose and his mother would make butter.

They worked all day from sun up until sun down. in the winter, the children would go sledding down the long snowy hills until 11:00 p.m. In the summer the whole family would walk two miles to visit a neighbor and stay late. Then, they would walk back home in the dark. The older children would carry the young sleeping ones. They worked together, they played together, and they slept together.

When Jim was sixteen, his father developed a brain tumor. he had been kicked in the head by a horse when he was younger. The brothers took turns sitting with their dad at night and would often have to hold him down, because he would flail violently in bed.

Jim dropped out of school to work, after his freshman year, so his older brother John could finish high school. The family could not afford for both of them to go to school, so he made the sacrifice. I was going to ask him if he ever resented it or held it over John’s head. But fifty years later, Jim is as close to John as he is to his surviving siblings. He is a big tease, and I would not be surprised if he hadn’t teased his brother about it now and then. But there is no resentment or meanness in the teasing, or in him as he talks about it.

He came here with us to attend his granddaughter’s wedding. She is his first granddaughter to marry, and I do not think he would have missed it. It has been a tiring trip, 1200 miles, one way by car. It has been a hard trip because his wife, Roger’s step-mother, was not able to come with us. They are not joined at the hip, he leaves her several times each year for hunting trips. Yet, there is an emptiness beside him here in Missouri, because she is not.

May be an image of 2 people, including Roger Somerville and people smiling
Father and son

It is that persistent sense of what family is, and does that draws him here in the first place, and that is something I know more fully, because he has shared the journey with us. He has shared some space, a few stories and a huge chunk of his time that is normally otherwise invested. Some of the stories, my husband tells me, he has never heard before. Roger was raised by his mother and step-father, and has other siblings on both sides of the family. I often joke that when his parents had him, they broke the mold. But one look at that picture shows the apple did not fall far from the tree. The six days of our journey are more time than father and son of have had in a lifetime. They were worth the drive.

Postscript 2021

I am brought up short to realize that at this writing, my husband and I are a little older now, than Jim was when we made this journey. I thought he was old! We lost Jim a few years back and my strongest memory is sons, daughters, spouses and grandchildren around his bed and of course his beloved Shirl. Strange as it sounds, we ate our lunch there, waiting for other grandchildren to arrive, and told and listened to stories.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Published by msomerville2014

About: Michele Somerville is a wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. She lives with her husband and their dog Sheba. Sheba is their fourth rescue dog in 30 years. She is a retired ordained United Methodist Elder and serves two churches part-time in North Central Pennsylvania. She obtained her Bachelors’ Degree in 1999 from Mansfield University and her Master of Divinity in 2004 and Doctor of Ministry in 2016, both from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York. My Doctor of Ministry Thesis was:” Prophetic Words of Grace: Biblical Storytelling in the Local Church.” Michele began writing and performing character monologues for worship in 2008. She began by asking the question about nameless characters in the Bible, “What would they say if they could speak for themselves?” and then using her theological education and experience of the human condition to attempt an answer that is both academic and creative. Much of what you will read here are memories from growing up in a tourist town, in a bar, in the 1960’s, shaggy dog stories about our rescue dogs, life in a small town, and stories of faith and hope. Throughout her life she has lived in many states, including small towns, large towns and cities. She lived in Rota, Spain, for nine challenging months. Despite all the places she have lived since moving away from home in 1970,Michele is at the heart of all things Jack and Maggie’s daughter, and a beach girl from Onset, Massachusetts.

12 thoughts on “Remembering Jim

  1. I enjoyed reading this post. It reminded me of the two times we had the father of our brother-in-law driving from NY to NC with us. Grampy was wonderful company. You’d never know, talking to him, that he had only finished eighth grade.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. IThank you Anne. I think there was a time in our culture when that was not uncommon. It was true of my mother, who only finished 8th grade and then did one year of ‘commercial” and went right to work. It was also true of my husband’s step-father, and of course my dad as well. Great memories though of the journeys. Best and blessings, M

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a wonderful tribute to your late father0in-law, Michele. I am reading a book by Pema Chodron right now and she advises leaning into uncomfortable emotions, even boredom. It seems like the three of you did just that during your drive.

    My father had an upbringing very similar to Jim’s. He lived on a farm with 11 siblings. Amazingly, his oldest brother died from a brain tumor that developed after being kicked in the head by a horse also.

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  3. It seems like he was a real character and stayed positive despite his hard childhood. I don’t know if they make them like that any more!
    Your description of the death bed reminds me a little of the days before my grandfather passed – where we ate, laughed and sang our heads off.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that you sang? You like to sing? Me too. I sing when I walk the dog sometimes. At one time he was a coal miner and for a while a farmer. His main job was mechanic and he had a garage at home with a pit in it, that was part time when he was working and full time in retirement. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Very good story! I love Mitchner’s writings, too. What a different life he had growing up. Almost shocking yet it was probably more normal than we would ever guess.

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  5. Yep, remember when I thought 70 was old…and now we (hub and I) are 72 and 71. I still ask Dad questions about his life and that of my late Mum’s and I am staggered that I am still learning more. I guess, his mind is awesome and I like a chat about family history so it puts us both at ease in terms of conversation,

    Denyse #weekendcoffeeshare

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    1. Denyse, what a blessing for both of you. Often we, and I put myself in this category, do not get interested in the stories or think to ask questions until there is no one to ask. Fortunately for me, my mom was quite a storyteller. But one of the lost stories is what it was like for my dad’s mother to leave Portugal and travel to the United States in the late 19th Century. She was probably about 18. My dad’s family were not storytellers, they were quite t he opposite. As to age, my hubby and I were 36 (me) and 38 when we met. It staggers my mind that our kids (his and mine) are a lot older than that now than we were when we met (all in their mid 40’s) Thanks for taking the time to read and share. Blessings, Michele

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  6. Michele, What a wonderful tribute to your late father-in-law. He showed his love for his family and granddaughter by going on a 1200 miles road trip. His story reflects the many changes that have occurred to our societies, from when farming and big families were the norms to more industrialized and smaller families these days. Thank you for your #WeekendCoffeeShare.

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  7. Hi Michele. I love how you unfolded this tribute. Amazing people leading quiet but amazing lives. You have a talent for putting us right into the story with you. Excellent read.

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