I gazed with admiration at my big sister. She was as beautiful as a princess. We were almost in different generations with my being eight-years of age to her twenty-two. She was grown-up and I was a little kid watching her dress for a date. Agnes’ clothing accented her slim feminine form. Her eyebrows arched beautifully and her dark hair curled smoothly under in the popular page-boy style.
Jim, Agnes’ boyfriend arrived driving a 1956 white and blue-green two-tone Chevrolet. Pulling to a stop in the driveway near the sidewalk, he pressed the car’s horn. Instead of a simple honk, it blared out a musical series of toots. He stepped out of the car laughing. Jim worked at one of the grocery stores in Stratford. Once, when I was there with Mom, he checked us out at the cash register. He joked and teased as he rang-up each item.
I liked Jim. He was tall and had broad shoulders with dark, extremely curly hair. Instead of ignoring me as many adults ignore children, he seemed to enjoy talking to and playing with me as he waited for Agnes to finish getting ready for their date.
Whenever Agnes was home from college during the year that followed, Jim came around to visit. By the time he asked my sister to marry him, I already considered him a part of our family. It made me happy that their first apartments were close to our home. I looked forward to visiting them.
Jim and Agnes had their first baby when I was ten-years old. Excited about the arrival of their little boy, I went to school that day wanting to tell my fourth-grade teacher about it. That day there was a substitute teacher in my classroom, so I told her. What a surprise it was to learn that this teacher had actually grown up with Agnes and Jim, graduating from high school with them in 1955!
Our families had dinner together on Sundays sometimes. Once, while waiting for our meal, I asked my new brother-in-law, who worked for a local appliance and furniture store, how televisions worked. We didn’t own one and neither did many of my classmates. My cousins did though, and I looked forward to watching it whenever I visited them.
Instead of joking and teasing, Jim treated me like an adult. He very seriously began to explain the tubes and all parts that went into the inner workings of a television. In detail, he described how magnets helped focus the stream of electrons to the screen, allowing undistorted pictures to form.
In 1961 when the Berlin Wall situation in West Germany reached the crisis point, Jim switched from being in the army reserves to active duty. Agnes and Jim’s son David, was just beginning to walk when they left Wisconsin.
During the fifty years that followed, Agnes and Jim came home for visits with their growing family as often as they could. Texas was the last place they were stationed. They began to visit Wisconsin more often once both of them retired. About eight years ago they decided to move back.
Jim had served a tour of duty in Viet Nam from 1969 to 1970, a time when the U.S. used airplanes to spray Agent Orange on the jungles. It is said that this saved the lives of many young American soldiers. Unfortunately many years later, the men who were contaminated there developed serious illnesses from the poison. My big brother-by-marriage experienced them all.
Family meant a lot to Jim. He was a much-loved only child in his family, but wished he had brothers and sisters. He once told my sister Agnes that he didn’t want to have only just one child; they brought five boys into this world.
One day when I visited Jim during one of his hospitalizations, he introduced me to his nurse as his little sister. There was no mention of my being his sister-in-law. I was flat out, affectionately, his little sister. Sitting down next to his bed, I remembered how he used to play with me when he came to our farm to visit Agnes. He had genuinely enjoyed himself because I was the little sister he had wished for in his own family.
On August 29th this year, Jim lost the final battle with his diseases, rejoining family members who have gone before him.
In loving memory of my big brother, Jim. Rest in Peace! May 22nd, 1937 – August 29th, 2019