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God Bless Jim

“Jesus Jim,” Grace softly said as she rolled over to face the wedding picture on her night table. “You’re coughing and hacking every night, gaspin’ for breath. And now, after all this time, you wanna try again? Why?”

“Grace, please shut the light an’ go to sleep.”

As a loving, obedient wife, Grace shut the light, but her sleep was interrupted every so often by the sickened sounds of Jim’s emphysema. As she lay amid the rattling of her husband’s chest, Grace’s memory raced through the darkness. Thirty-five years of marriage to a young man who matured into his role of father and laborer. As the dark room held the thoughts of her husband, Grace closed her eyes and prayed.


Jim was an air force man at the beginning of his marriage. First time up, a huge cargo plane, room for three cars and thirty men—Jim was petrified. The hot and moist July morning gave Jim a yearning to be home, away from training and regiment, in the arms of his wife. But as he waited for his turn to jump, his sweat saturated every inch of his hair as his heart jerked backwards pulling his body with it. He screamed as he descended through the first three seconds of the jump, chute already opened. Then he passed out. He was rushed to the nearest hospital and remained in C.C.U. for five days. Jim suffered a heart attack and was never to struggle with gravitational pull again. Discharged because of the incident, Jim went home to his wife, Grace.

David was born, Grace and Jim’s first son. They wanted more children, and so they spent much of their twilights trying for more. For twelve years Grace, Jim, and David shared their life.

Grace prayed…

And then, their miracle: Grace was pregnant after trying for so long, and soon, a daughter, Christine, was born; and every other year another miracle for Jim and Grace.

It was February 1987, cold, aching, February—when winter’s cough is deep and foreboding, almost like Jim’s. Each morning, 5 am, Jim woke, thought about his day, and for the past week, his plan for St. Valentine’s.

Coffee, cigarette, oatmeal.

Drive the bus after the plant—Jim outlined his routine. Another cigarette, cough, and reminder to ask Dan if he got the cord and make sure he doesn’t say anything to the kids. Eight remain: Chris, Pat, Jim, Michelle, Doug, Dennis, Jason, and Kathi, the youngest. Eight children, different ages, different futures, different memories except for St. Valentine’s Day.


Warmer winter morning. The cold sits above the clouds. Pretty soon spring, but this day—30 degrees and sunny in upstate New York. Jim wakes at 5 a.m. although his tired, labored body doesn’t work on winter Saturdays. Coffee, coughing, oatmeal. The small, simple house is quiet like the distant clouds. Jim thinks of David, his oldest son killed in the Vietnam War—jeep accident. He can’t think of David without feeling the phantom sickness pitted deep inside his stomach rip towards his heart. Jim was so proud of David; he married a good woman, went to fight for his country, and parachuted—something Jim could never do again.

Last time David was home to see the family, Jim and he took a drive to the old trestle where all the kids and their friends spent most of their summers. Jim told David about his only jump while serving in the air force. As he finished sharing the details of that hot July of his past, Jim’s hands trembled as he lit a cigarette.

“Dad,” David said. “Next time I’m home, you and me, off this old bridge, as the sun’s coming up; we’ll shine through the mornin’ mist like the fish do when they flap before they screw.”

They laughed together, a long, hard laugh that remained forever in Jim’s soul.

Now, Valentine’s Day—Jim, not a man to ever give cards of any kind, especially valentines, quietly walks into Grace and his bedroom, hoping to stop coughing long enough so he can kiss Grace, leave her card on the night stand, and leave without her knowing. No plant, no bus route this day.

He leaves the bedroom with another card in his worn hands, Kathi’s, his little girl. He opens it one last time, and his mind silently reads each word:

Dear Kath,

Happy St. Valentine’s Day. Not that I’m much good with saints. You’re my saint though. And your brother Dave my guardian angel.

Ask Mom about my guardian angel, she’ll tell ya. The rest of you kids don’t know.

Love you, Daddy

Jim quietly walks into Kathi’s bedroom and places her card near her pillow.

Out in the driveway, Jims jumps into his car and heads for the end of town, the old trestle. He always drove the speed limit, and on that clear morning, the weight of his foot on the gas pedal was the same. Slowly and steadily Jim passes Bob’s Grocery thinking about the 24 bowls of candy behind the big candy case and how he could still get a fireball for a penny. Only in Bob’s Grocery, . . . . . . only in Bob’s.

Farther out of town towards the highway, Jim passes the Methodist church where each one of his kids had been baptized and where he and Grace had been married. He remembers clearly the ten times that he ever went into the old white church—the only ten times. He also recalls all the other times when he wanted to look behind the double white doors, wanted to see God himself and ask him what he could have done to prevent David’s death. Jim wanted to scream for help, for the extra money needed to support his family, for God to work the second job for him, so he could do other things. . . other things like fixing the roof that he couldn’t afford to pay someone else to fix.

Cough, cigarette, more thoughts while driving, thoughts of his destination and what he had to do once he got there. He drives slowly up the battered road of weathered rocks and decaying cigarette butts; he thinks of his family. He always thought of his family, but this morning, he was thinking of himself too and what he had to do.

Dan Dyvers, an old friend and war buddy of Jim’s, waits at the top of the bridge just before the highest point of the trestle.

“Hea Bud, listen, Grace told me that your cough’s getting worse, you ain’t breathing too good either. When you gonna slow down a little? And now this. You don’t have to do this Jim. Remember that damn plane jump. Ya know, I said I’d go along with this even though it’s crazy, but I don’ know—ya gonna be OK Jim?”

“Dan, I’ll be alright. I got my guardian angel this time. Do ya have everything?”

Back at home Kathi wakes to her Valentine card, then runs to the kitchen where Grace makes a second pot of coffee. “Mom, where’s Dad, and what’s this about David being his guardian angel? He said to ask you.”

Grace stood at the sink, looking out the kitchen window, yellow tile backsplash shiny from her morning scrubbing, and answered Kathi, “ He’s with him at the trestle, Kath.”

“What are you talking about? With him how?”

Jim begins to cough. His saliva bubbling inside his mouth, coating his tongue. His chest aches as he spits. He is nervous, but OK.

“Everything’s ready,” replies Dan as he and Jim climb the old brown steps of the bridge. At the top, quick and proficiently, Dan helps Jim adjust all that is necessary.

“Ready?” asks Dan, with a soft shiver in his voice.

“Ready,” answers Jim as he flicks his cigarette over the railing and watches it helplessly fall. He should a stopped smoking those damn things a long time ago, thinks Dan as he too eyes the descent of Jim’s cigarette.

Screaming for her father as she runs toward the end of the bridge, Kathi attempts to stop Jim from doing what he had planned for some time to do. He jumps before anyone can stop him.

Eighty six feet below, conscious, Jim hacks as he dangles from the bungee cord.


In memory of Jim who died February 15, 1987.


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