I spent New Year’s Day at St. Joe’s hospital in Atlanta. My dad’s cousin Jimmy was in ICU, and Dad wanted to go for a visit. Dad, Melinda, and I arrived as life support was about to be turned off, as all attempts for healing had failed. Not what we expected when we were on route to the hospital. We had some moments to say goodbye. Then he was gone. To be in a difficult emotional place every day, and then to add the death of a special relative creates a breaking like none other. There were lots of tears all around. A surprising beginning to 2020.
My dad was raised in a family of cousins. His father was one of 5 siblings, and each of them had multiple kids, who also had multiple kids. Family reunions were huge and I never knew how I was related to most of the people in attendance other than, they were my cousins.
One of my favorites was my Uncle Jimmy. He wasn’t really my uncle, he was a 1st cousin once removed, but it was easier to say uncle. Truth be known, he was more like a brother to my dad than a cousin. As kids, their families shared a house, they went to school together, and they played together pretty much 24/7. As adults their wives, Martha and Glenda, were good friends and their kids were similar ages. From cousins to brothers, from brothers to friends. Their relationship was a multilayered, ongoing, living breathing thing. It lasted a lifetime; therefore, I have observed and spent time with Jimmy and his family since I was a little girl.
One thing I noticed about him is everyone liked him. He was a complex guy. He was gruff but also funny. Serious and silly. Hard and tender. A plethora of contradictions, but that is what made him so likable. His humor was dry and his wit was quick. You never knew if he was joking or serious…until that sly smile crept across his face, then it was safe to laugh. And laugh we did. His joy was waiting to see how long it took for you to know he was joking. The twinkle in his eye should have given it away, but somehow you just never knew for sure.
If you knew him at all, you knew he was a Marine. It is synonymous with the name Jimmy Eskew. To hear him talk about the Marines was to see him happy. He was a weekend warrior and the way he talked about training sounded like the most fun in the world. As a girl, I thought if I ever joined the military I would be a Marine because they camped out and had fun all the time. He loved his fellow Marines like the family they were. He thought of them as brothers, playmates, and those who loved our country enough to die for her.
He spoke his mind. Clearly and with spunk. He was passionate. He never backed down from what he believed. It didn’t matter if you agreed or disagreed with him, you knew not to pick a fight. It would be useless to try to convince him to be otherwise, because he was stubborn as a mule and proud as a peacock. He knew what he loved and he knew what he didn’t. He was his own man, and he wasn’t afraid to be who he was. He was honest like that.
One example of this was his house. His home was his castle, much to the chagrin of his family. They were ready to move on, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He loved that place because he built it. Glenda said, “I should have put my foot down about moving.” But if she had, he would have just put his down on top of hers. There was no budging him once he took a stand. He did things his way and you wouldn’t expect any less of him.
The thing is, even with his tough guy exterior, his heart was tender. He loved Glenda. There was never any doubt about that. Their relationship started when they were just kids, and some of the last words Glenda said to him were, “Thank you for making me marry you. I am so glad I did.” You laugh at those words because they are so apropos. His tenderness was disguised, but it is what drew people to him. Somehow it peeked out and showed up. To see him with his grandkids you would know. Even years ago, as a cousin once removed, I knew he cared deeply.
Of all the things I remember most about Jimmy, was whenever you asked him how he was, he said the same thing in the same way, “Faaaantastic!” He drew out the a in the beginning for emphasis. It was a staple Jimmy word. No matter what was going on in his life, he was faaaantastic. Good things happening….faaaantastic. Hard things happening…..faaaantastic. It was an attitude. When he said it, you believed him, because he believed it. Somehow, that one word leveled life out between the good and bad, because it was a choice he made.
Jimmy will be missed. His ways, his humor, his fun-loving self will create a hole in our lives. He certainly had a way that was uniquely his. No one could ever replace him, because there was only one Jimmy Eskew. His life mattered. He brightened the days of so many with his child-like grin and the ever-present twinkle in his eyes. One thing is for sure, he wouldn’t want us crying over him. He wouldn’t stand for it, because it would go against his tough guy nature. He would say, “Don’t cry for me, I’m doing faaaantastic!” And he would be right.