I am a boomer, the second of four children, produced the impulsive New Year’s revelry of tipsy parents. My brother, two sisters, and I remain close. Our parents are long gone but childhood memories are warm. The teen years, well, they’re fodder for another column.
I was an awestruck, seventh-grade towhead when I flew on my first airplane. Dressed in my bow-tied finest, I traveled alone from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. and still have the black and white Brownie box camera photographs I took through the window. I was captivated by the magic of flight; a feeling no doubt inspired because my mother drove six miles an hour and my father frequently crashed.
Because planes make dreams possible, that short flight hooked me into life with a suitcase. Although half of Americans live within 50 miles of where they’re born, many never leave the country, and some refuse to leave the state, every photograph in National Geographic was possible before me if I had the money and gumption to go. I knew before that inaugural flight landed that I was destined to trade roots and stability for curiosity and wrinkled clothes jammed into undersized luggage.
The road is part glamor, part torment but it teaches life dimensions beyond those of a local zip code. More important than the lessons have been the people I’ve met.
I am a personality type known as “a connector.” I tend to meet and stay in contact with a lot of people plus I enjoy introducing good folks to other good folks, especially internationally. Great lasting, cross-cultural friendships can germinate, grow, and bloom from a warm smile and handshake.
A pal I haven’t written about in a long time but miss very much is Jim Hardin. I met Jim at Xerox’s international training center. We were classmates for a week. He seemed familiar but I couldn’t place him. Turns out I had paid to watch Jim pitch for the Orioles.
Jim was a good righthanded starter during the team’s best years. In 1968 he had won 18 games by early September and would have won 20 if not for a shredded shoulder, courtesy of too many violently thrown sliders. He never recovered from the injury and soon was out of baseball.
Needing a “real” job, Jim signed on with Xerox. He was an outstanding salesman and even better golfer, as many big league pitchers are. Good pro pitchers are thinking creatures of robotic repetition, so golf suits their strengths perfectly.
After our initial meeting a decade passed before Jim and I reconnected. I had transferred to Miami, he was in West Palm Beach. I called him and he invited me up to Mayacoo Lakes Golf Club, his home course and the first built by Jack Nicklaus. Jim was club champion. Mayacoo was way too hard for me, especially from the farthest back tee markers where Jim preferred to play.
We spent that round catching up on life and aging, family and frustrations, all the stuff trusting pals pull out of the closet and toss into the light.
By the 18th hole I was humbled by Jim’s skill contrasted against my flailing ineptitude. After putting out and shaking hands, I asked him for advice.
He looked at me and said, “Lessons.”
That day at Mayacoo was a great one, positive and inspiring thanks to a good friend I had not seen in way too long. In the parking lot we hugged goodbye and said we’d do it again soon.
We never did. Jim died in a plane crash the next day, his Cessna failing near Key West.
Jim’s memorial service was numbing. The church was full of friends who loved Jim for exactly the man he had been, foibles and feats combined. He was an achiever, a doer, a guy who summited mountains simply to gain a better view of which to climb next. I admired him for that very much. So, apparently, did everyone else.
Sitting there in church, I thought about life’s fragility and how calendar pages are torn off every time we blink. Our turn, I knew, would also come way too soon. When it does, each of us will leave behind either footprints or buttprints in the sands of time. Which of those we leave, of course, are certainly up to us.
I left the church thinking I’d have a happier, more fulfilled life if I left footprints, not buttprints. Footprints have nothing to do with fame but everything to do with singularity; to live, work, and learn with discipline and passion, to do more things right than wrong, and to be significant in positive ways in the lives of others. To squeeze whatever I could out of the time I’ve been given.
To this day I continue to owe this life recalibration to Jim’s legacy.
I stay in touch with Jim’s son Jim (Junior) and his lovely wife Doris. They have two great kids, a loving marriage, and a happy life together.
Jim Senior would be more proud of them and daughter Gina than any of those mountains he climbed alone. There’s nothing like little footprints in the sand to make us realize how truly lucky we are.
Arthur Gilbert saysJanuary 23, 2010 at 10:26 pm
I’m deeply touched by your Footprints or Buttprints. I can’t recall if we ever met. Jim was my best friend from 1969 until he died. I was in the delivery room when Donna delivered JJ; I did his vasectomy and reversal before and after Susan. I cannot imagine the size of his chest to know that his son, Michael, is a student at Columbia University, Wow!!! We follow JJ, Doris and Gina by my wife checking on Facebook. If you want to share stories about our good friend who we both miss, call me. 305-255-8976. Warning: have tissues available.
All good wishes and congratulations on following your literary gift and passion.
Ocean Palmer saysJanuary 25, 2010 at 8:54 am
Arthur, I didn’t learn about Michael’s tremendous achievements until after posting the story and hearing about him from family members. That day on the golf course Jim referred to him as his “miracle baby” because of your work and his and Susan’s good fortune. She obviously did a magnificent job raising a wonderful son. Jim was a manly man. He deserves to be remembered. ~ Ted