(Pictured: My brother Jimmy and our grandfather, Elmer Leslie Tipps, 
 at Pennington Creek, Tishomingo, Oklahoma, around 1972 or so)

It was about midway through the day this past Tuesday – our deadline crunch day here at the weekly newspaper where I work – before I realized the day’s date (July 19) and remembered that Tuesday would have been my younger brother Jimmy’s 45th birthday. 

It’s hard to believe that it’s been five and a half years since Jimmy died following a sudden illness. He and his wife Tammy had been the only members of the immediately family to remain in Illinois after the rest of us moved to Oklahoma at various points during the early to mid ’90s – first my wife Melissa, son Joshua and myself in 1991, followed a few years later by my mother and father and then “baby” brother Jerry, wife Nicole and their brood.

Several years had passed since the last time I’d seen him, so in my mind’s eye I still picture Jimmy as being quite a bit younger than he was in some of the pictures Tammy shared with the rest of us after he passed away. Actually, most of the time I picture Jimmy as being even younger than he’d been the last time we met face-to-face. I guess that’s what happens when so many memories revolve around one’s misadventures during childhood;  most of the time when I think of Jimmy, I see the skinny little kid who loved Saturday morning cartoons and Japanese monster movies and could say more with one of those silly expressions he used to make than I could with all the pens and paper at my disposal.

Jimmy was the quiet one of the Small Brothers, and yet at the same time the quickest to anger. I admit I never quite understood that; all three of us have nasty tempers at times, as our wives will no doubt be quick to admit, but Jimmy always seemed to be the one who “lost it” the fastest. Or maybe it just seemed that way because he was so quiet the rest of the time.

But he laughed a lot, too, and as a result most everyone who knew him laughed along with him. He loved a good joke – especially those we would pull on our poor, harried mother when we were kids. She laughs about such things now whenever we talk about those days, but there are times when I can’t help but wonder how we got safely through our childhoods without finally moving her to comtemplate homicide. Heaven knows we all (Dad included, at times) certainly provoked her enough...

And while he never admitted it, at least not to me, I think the little imp got a kick out of the fact that he was so much musically inclined than I could ever be. Jimmy was one of those people who could pick up an instrument for the first time and, seemingly within minutes, sound as if he’d been playing for years. He wrote a number of songs, but I don’t know what ever became of most of them; I have a copy of the only one I know of that he ever committed to tape, and I’m still amazed at just how much talent he had in that wiry little frame of his.

One of my favorite memories of Jimmy is that captured by my father in the photo seen above. It was around 1972, I think; we had come down from our home in Illinois to visit my mom’s family in Oklahoma, and as usual that visit included a weekend trip here to Tishomingo to camp and fish at Pennington Creek. On this particular trip Grandma and Grandpa Tipps took us swimming at a spot in the creek near the Tishomingo Golf Course, and even though Jimmy hadn’t learned to swim yet he wasn’t about to let that stop him from getting in the water and having himself a good ol' time; he’d take a running start and jump off the rocks into the creek as Grandpa stood nearby to help him back to shore so he could do it again.

Yeah, those were the days...

One thing I’ve learned in the last five years is that, while the pain of losing a loved one – especially one younger than yourself who has died before his time – never completely goes away, it does lessen to the point that it doesn’t hurt quite so much when you start thinking about the good times you shared. And I’ve learned to set aside memories of the bad times; in the end they really didn’t matter that much, anyway, and were far outweighed by the good times.

I think Jimmy would much prefer to remember the good times, too. Brothers are kind of funny that way...