Seventeen years ago Tony Earley’s coming-of-age novel Jim the Boy was published, telling the story of ten-year-old Jim Glass living in a fictional rural North Carolina small town in the mid-1930s.
After I first read the book, I took it with me to Maplesville one weekend. I thought Daddy would get a kick out of it – a boy having the same name, living in a rural Southern small town, being about the same age at the same point in history….
I read a few parts of the book to him and Momma, and they seemed to like that…well…at least they tolerated it.
This picture of Jim Latham at about age ten or eleven might just as well have been the inspiration for the artist who drew Jim Glass on that book cover…bare feet and all.
I wish I had asked to hear more stories of the childhood and young adulthood of the real-life Jim the Boy who grew up to be Jim the Husband of Dot and Jim the Daddy to Aubrey and me, but sadly I only remember snippets of a few stories from over the years.
Daddy was basically blind in his right eye. Several times I heard him recount the story from his infancy about how that came to be. Thank goodness he didn’t have an actual recollection of the event and had only heard stories of it himself.
“Momma was out workin’ the field and she sot me down in the dirt to play. Claudia couldn’t take care of me because she had to work the field, too, so Momma made do.
“She had done got waaay down the row from me and she heard me start cryin’ and hollerin’. By the time she got to me, fahr aints was all over me and a bunch of ’em had sot in on my eye.
“She swatted as many offa me as she could and grabbed me up and took off runnin’, totin’ me to the house and started pourin’ dishpans of well water all over me to rench off what was left.
“I ain’t never seen nothin’ but shadows outta that eye.”
Not long after he turned eighteen in 1944, Daddy got his draft letter to report to Fort McClellan in Anniston for basic training.
“That was the farthest I’d ever been away from the house. I rode up there to Anniston on a bus and them army doctors did ever’thang they could to get my eye to workin’ right, but they didn’t do it.
“I cain’t tell you how many shots and pills they give me and how many times they’d shine a little ol’ bitty light right into that eye. Didn’t none of it take.
“After two weeks of tryin’ they ended up givin’ me a piece of paper with a big ol’ 4F on it in ink and put me on the bus back to Maplesville.”
Still in all, “that eye” didn’t keep Daddy from getting a driver’s license. Nor did it have anything to do with the wreck that cost Daddy – Jim the Man by this time – his left arm in 1955.
“I was drivin’ home from the pulpwood mill after my shift and there was a pickup truck in the other lane comin’ my direction. Just a short piece before me and the pickup woulda passed by each other, this big ol’ log truck whups around the pickup headin’ straight towards me.
“I run my car off in the ditch but there was a fence and I couldn’t make it all the way. I still had my arm layin’ up on the car window sill, and that log truck took it.”
The details of what followed are just vague memories to me of hearing about Daddy going into shock, spending weeks in the hospital, having several operations, and not being able to go back to work at the pulpwood mill.
At some point, he got a hard plastic prosthetic arm with a hook on the end of it. He never wore that thing that I remember…kept it in a bottom dresser drawer in his and Momma’s bedroom. There was even a “hand” that could fit up over the hook.
Somebody in the greatest generation of our family pulled a prank on Aunt Betty involving that bottom dresser drawer and the “arm” therein. Maybe Aubrey or one of the double-firsts can fill me in on that. If somebody can do that…you might just read about it one of these days.
Anyway…one thing I know beyond the shadow of a doubt about the real-life Jim the Boy is that he exemplified grit, determination, stubbornness, and commitment while becoming Jim the Man, Jim the Husband, Jim the Daddy…and Jim the Memory.
Steve Latham – May 10, 2017