Memories include friends close enough to be family

When I was maybe 10 or 11, I remember silently putting my family in layers, my grandparents and their friends at the top, my parents and their friends next, then us kids.

It seemed reasonable.

What was most comforting about that was the simple idea that death would take the top layer first, and death for us kids was far, far away. I didn’t want anybody to die, but I realized, even then, death was an inevitable part of life.

Growing up on a farm might have helped me develop that understanding, though it didn’t make the thought any easier to take.

My layering system worked, for the most part, but it broke down Jan. 3. On Jan. 3, family friend Jimmy McGough died. He was 62. I’ve known him forever, even before I knew I knew him.

Our mothers were school friends who retained a closeness through the years, keeping our families together more than most real families. I don’t have 20 childhood memories that don’t have at least one of the McGough clan in them.

At Monday’s visitation and service, everyone called him Jim. James seemed too formal, even for a man who wore jackets often and looked good in them. But he’s always been Jimmy to me.

He was Jimmy when he and his cousin Dave climbed a tree in a small pasture waiting for his sister, Paulette, and me to bring our picnic out there. We never looked up. They counted on that and jumped from the tree to scare the by-jeepers out of us.

He was Jimmy when he complained it wasn’t fair he never got to stay overnight on our farm just because he was a boy.

The girls got to stay, or we at their place, so one night after the grown-ups were finished with cards and snacks, the McGough car pulled out, leaving Jimmy tucked into a makeshift bed on the couch.

He was Jimmy the day my grandmother Lyle decided she needed a big tub of manure for her flower gardens on the top of the hill at 16th Street and Fifth Avenue South. Jimmy filled a washtub and tossed it into the back of our station wagon and we headed to town.

Farm kids don’t think of the smell of such cargo. We were used to the smell. So the tub traveled uncapped into Dodge from the gypsum area on the eastern edge of town. The McGough farm laid along that blacktop road.

“Well, for heaven sake,” Grandma said when Jimmy pulled the tub out of the car. “That stinks.” Or words to that effect. “Why didn’t you put dirt over it?”

Why, indeed. We never gave that a thought.

Now I think of it. I think of Jimmy. I hurt with the family. One of his Army buddies spoke at the service, reading a note from another buddy from their Vietnam service. “Jim was my hero then,” the man said. “He always will be.”

Yes, Jimmy was a hero, in the war and in life. Men don’t come any better.

So long friends, until the next time when we’re together.

Sandy Mickelson, former lifestyle editor of The Messenger, may be reached at