Friday, February 15, 2008

Another James Who Left Too Soon

Jimmy Stephenson Junior was my cousin. He wasn't my blood cousin, but our fathers knew each other from the age of six, and there was a time in my childhood when I saw the Stephensons more than I saw my own relatives.

They were part of a core group of families, all with kids around my age, that had emerged from my father's old neighborhood and with whom I spent weekends and vacations, until we all got to that point where you'd rather smoke pot with your little friends than go to the lake, the beach and the amusement park with your parents.

His mother and my mother had kept in touch, so you hear news from the mothers: This one got married, that one dropped out, whatever. Jimmy had gone into the Steamfitters Union like his father and my father, and then studied nursing, and worked alternately as a steamfitter and as a nurse. He retired from both last year. He got married, had a couple of kids, still played the saxophone.

His sons are grown men now and they were at his wake last night. One looks like him and the other bears an eerie resemblance to Jimmy Senior as he looked when I was a kid. To see them standing next to each other was like seeing my life flash in front of my eyes, a feeling not dispelled by the wreath over the casket that said "Beloved Grandfather."

As the mothers and fathers drop off this earth, my generation's been trying to continue the tradition of keeping in touch, but it doesn't have the same emotional resonance as it did for our parents. It's like that for everybody: You go from this seemingly secure little pocket of people when you're a little kid. Then your universe expands and you're thrown across the sky like distant stars.

Then there's a wedding, or a funeral, or a wake, and the universe contracts again, and you get there and say to yourself, "Who are these people?"

Thank you for the nice comments you left about my father. It was nice to find your blog, I was searching for information about my family history, the Stephensons. I still think of him daily and as you know, he was a great person and friend. thanks again.

Thomas Stephenson
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