A Moment of Remembrance

I suspect that I’ve touched on this before in the course of more than a decade of writing blogs, but some things bear repeating. Last night, while watching TV I saw a sign for Hermosa Beach, and that was enough to send me wandering down memory lane and thinking about my brother, Jim.

I grew up in a family of seven kids, where natural alliances and rivalries formed. The three older girls, what my mother referred to as “the first batch” consisted of my two older sisters and me. Janice and Jeannie were six and four years older than I was. When we were young, they palled around together and regarded me as little more than an unwelcome pest. After we were grown, that dynamic shifted and a stronger bond formed between me and my next older sister.

Between me and my mother’s “second batch,” there was another four year gap with two years separating each of the younger kids from the next one. They paired up, too, Arlan and Jim; Gary and Janie. Too young to hang with the older kids and too old for the younger ones, I was a perpetual outsider. I’ve often said that being in the middle of that eight-year separation meant that in a family of seven, I was an only child. It also turned me into an observer and a reader which eventually turned me into being a writer.

There were six years between me and my brother Jim. The two of us were pretty much oil and water. The apple of our mother’s eyes, he was bright as a copper penny. As far as I was concerned he was also an obnoxious, arrogant brat. (I’m sure my older sisters would say the same about me!) Smart as he was, he dropped out of college his freshman year, worked in the woods in Oregon for a time, and then went to Vietnam. Eventually the two of us buried the hatchet, and for a time in the early eighties I was his district manager in the life insurance industry. Not long afterwards, however, wanting to be closer to his children, he left Phoenix, returned to our home town, and signed up with the fire department.

As far as I can tell, he did a bang up job of being a first responder. He rescued a guy who had electrocuted himself on one of the radio towers on top of Juniper Flats. He saved the life of a little kid from Naco, Sonora, who had gotten his arm stuck in a sump pump. Jim managed to get the governors from two states—Sonora and Arizona—to allow fire equipment from the US to cross the international border in order to save the boy’s life. I remember Jim telling me that only when the kid had been loaded into an ambulance to be taken to the hospital did he have to sit down because his legs would no longer support him.

In June of 2001, Jim took his new wife and stepdaughters along with his beloved grandson on a vacation trip to California. There, while swimming in the Pacific off Hermosa Beach, he got into trouble in the water. A life guard raced into the water and brought him out, but Jim could not be revived. The fireman who had saved so many others could not himself be saved, and despite being in what was thought to be top physical shape, he died at age 50 of an undiagnosed heart ailment.

If you die of seemingly natural causes in Los Angeles County, you need to take a number and get in line as far as autopsies are concerned. We went to Bisbee expecting a funeral to happen almost immediately but then had to wait for several day with one foot in the air before his body could be released for transport. When they finally brought him home, people lined Tombstone Canyon as the hearse came through town. Jim’s funeral was held in the auditorium at Bisbee High School. The venue holds eight hundred people, and it was full to the brim that day. By car it’s probably close to two miles from the high school campus to Evergreen Cemetery. By the time the first vehicles reached the cemetery, there were still cars trying to leave the school parking lot.

At the cemetery, we heard the bagpipers play Amazing Grace and for the first time ever, I heard the traditional Last Call. Months later we would all bear witness to that ceremonial last call in the aftermath of 9/11, but hearing it for my brother stuck with me. And after the funeral, in a truly loaves and fishes miracle, everyone went to a nearby firehouse and all were fed. In case you’re wondering, In Damage Control I fashioned the fallen officer memorial for one of Joanna Brady’s fictional deputies after what I learned at Jim’s funeral.

Last night, though, what struck me is that it’s been not quite twenty years since then. Today Jim would be sixty-eight years old. He didn’t get to see that beloved grandson of his grow up. He didn’t live to see his daughter earn her Doctorate in Education from ASU. He didn’t live to see his daughter-in-law die in a tragic car accident. And he missed the deaths of both our parents. It had been his presence in town that allowed the folks to stay in their own home for as long as they did. Once Jim was gone, they had to move into assisted living.

And so, this morning, because of that sign seen in passing on a TV program, I’m thinking about my brother. Jim and I were never the best of friends, but I miss him.

And now you miss him, too.

20 thoughts on “A Moment of Remembrance

  1. This mornings post tugged at my heart. We, as individuals seldom realize how our life touches others. I am sorry that your family lost your brother too soon. Your words remind us that the world was a better place because he was there for his family and the world. Your thoughts of yourself amuse me. I always called my sister the only child. She was born ten years after me and seven years after our brother. She was raised so much differently than my mom’s first batch. The fact that she was born four years after another brother was still born probably had something to do with her being raised as the baby princess. We loved her even when she was being the princess. Thanks for sharing family memories with us today.

  2. I never knew that about your brother. Losing a sibling is extremely hard. I lost my brother Fred very suddenly in 2018. He was only 68 when he passed. Although he was six years older than me there are still many great memories. I am sure you will always cherish the memories of your brother.

  3. What a wonderful tribute to a life spent in service to others. Siblings always have friction but that doesn’t mean love wasn’t there. You’re right, now I miss him too.

  4. Yes, now I miss your brother Jim. He served so many people well and it is tragic that he died the way he did. He sounded like a great man.
    I heard Last Call for a dear friend many years ago and it has stayed with me since then. It was gut wrenching. There were fire trucks, rescue squads, ambulances, police cars everywhere with their lights on. When the dispatcher called their # 3 times and then said, 621 end of duty, there was not a dry eye at the cemetery. It will be forever engraved in my heart.

  5. I find that it doesn’t take much of a passing glimpse at some common place object to suddenly remind me of some long lost loved one. Be it parent, sibling, or great friend. Sometimes it is just a date on the calendar that marks a birthday or holiday that will not be celebrated together.

    Speaking of dates. Happy early birthday to you.

  6. What a beautiful tribute to your brother. My sister and I were 9 years apart and like your family we were not close until I got married. Suddenly, she accepted me as an equal and we had a wonderfully close relationship until she passed. Like you, I miss her every day.

  7. He touched the lives of so many. I was 15 at the time. It was June 12, 2000 when he left us. He still remains to be the smartest man I’ve ever known. I’ll always be grateful that he was in our lives. The impact he made was enormous. In my life I’m always wondering WWJD. What would Jim do? I loved our times playing trivial pursuit. He kicked our butts of course. I attribute my love for The Beatles to him.

  8. Sending you warm hugs and heartfelt sympathy. Both of my older brothers are deceased and I treasure my sister, Marianne Livingstone.

  9. My dad was the Chief of the Volunteer Fire Department in the small Nebraska town where I grew up when I was a child. When I was about 12 he changed jobs and no longer had the flexibility to make it to fires during business hours so had to step down but remained an active member for the rest of his life.

    When he died the current Chief approached the family and asked if the Department could conduct the funeral service. They moved all of the trucks from the garage, scrubbed and polished the floors and set up chairs. A group of active firefighters served as pall bearers. The casket was carried to the cemetery atop a retired engine that had been his pride and joy as Chief and the current Chief lead the procession. It was all very humbling to realize how important it was to young firefighters who never actually served under him and in many cases weren’t even born when he was Chief to honor him. Dad had lived a long life and fought a valiant and painful battle against lung disease (probably caused in part by his activities as a firefighter) so the family was at peace with his passing. However, when the dispatcher announced over the radio system (that we all grew up hearing summon firefighters to the location of fires and emergencies) made the announcement that Chief Shorty had made his last call, we all lost it. To this day, it is the most moving ceremony I have experienced.

    Thank you for reminding me of one of my proudest moments. RIP Dad.

  10. Today is the 8th anniversary of my daddy’s passing, as I read your blog this morning, it brought on a huge sense of longing…..I am sorry for your loss of your brother, your blog is a beautiful tribute to him and family.

  11. An early Happy Birthday wish for your birthday tomorrow. May you have many happy and productive years ahead.

  12. I still miss my brother. He had retired from being a police officer 25 yrs. then died of cancer. They honored him so nice and when they call the last call it about did me in. I still can not get it through without hearing it. Amazing Grace is also the same way.
    So I am so sorry about your brother. May you and Bill both live longer than any of your birthdays in at least these 100 years!!!

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