Even As Young Kids, Jim Was There To Protect Me


When I was seven and my brother Jim was five, Saturday mornings were spent in front of the television set, watching “Howdy Doody” and “Tarzan, King of the Jungle.” It was the only “screen time” we had, and we cherished it. But at about 11 a.m., my mother would march in, snap off the TV and say, “Go play outside. You need fresh air.”

On one particularly soggy spring Saturday, however, she added a caution: “And don’t go into the garden. I just turned it over.”

“OK, mom!” we yelled, and we grabbed our big red ball and went out back to play.

Well, youthful enthusiasm and energy being what they are, it wasn’t long before that big red ball landed smack in the middle of the garden. We tried to reach it, we poked at it with sticks, we threw rocks at it, we did everything in our powerless power to get it out, but that ball was going nowhere.

Jim took a step into the garden. “No, Jim!” I said.

“I’ll just get it and come right back out,” he said.

And in he went. He reached the ball, lifted it up, but now he couldn’t move. His boots were stuck firmly in the mud. And we were sure we knew why…


Too much Tarzan had us utterly convinced that Jim was goin’ down. We looked at each other in horror. I took one hesitant step into the garden, and that’s when Jim hollered, “No! Save yourself!”

Save yourself? I will never forget it. In fact, even at age 7, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He was willing to keep me safe even if he died? I don’t think I would’ve done the same.

“Go get mom!” he added frantically, and, to both of us, it seemed like he had already sunken in a little bit more.

I raced to the house, flew up the stairs, and screamed, “Come outside! Hurry! Jimmy’s stuck in quicksand!!”

Now, I didn’t realize at the time, but mom had probably been watching us from the window all along. I didn’t realize she probably wanted to teach us a lesson. All I knew was that the woman was taking her sweet time! How could she be so callous? Didn’t she care that her son’s life was rapidly slipping away?

I raced ahead of her down the stairs and burst out the back door, fully expecting to see nothing left of Jim except his hat. When I saw he hadn’t sunk any further, I was almost disappointed. With a deep sigh, mom strode purposefully into the garden, pulled him out with a schlupp of his boots and planted him safely on the ground.

“Don’t go in the garden,” she reiterated.

Jim and I gulped and nodded silently.

• • •

That is the story I will relate on Saturday, at Jim’s funeral. My little brother is gone. He ate no sugar, no junk food and swam at least once a week. He was 6-foot-4, thin as a rail and strong as on ox. He loved his family, his friends, his job and his hobbies. Yet he suffered a massive heart attack while camping with the grandkids, far from cell phone service.

I love you, Jim. And now I truly do need to save myself.