James is my first cousin. His mother and mine are sisters. We grew up together on a hill in Stringtown, Oklahoma where my grandparents lived. My family and I didn't live in Stringtown, but we visited every weekend.
I remember James was always a sweet guy, ready with a laugh. My cousin Rachel and I used to run up to him, wrap our skinny arms around his chest, and scream, "Daddy!" whenever we saw him. That's the kind of guy he was--the kind you'd want to be your dad.
I say "was" because James passed away almost a year ago after a long, arduous fight with cancer. He fought for years, and I honestly thought that he was going to make it. But God had other plans for him.
Today I am remembering James because it is his birthday, but this is not the only day that he crosses my mind.
James was a nice guy, a genuinely nice guy. It seems like everyone has some sort of shortcoming, and some people make you wonder if their friendliness is authentic or if it's coming out of some sort of self interest. But not James. He was just a good guy.
He worked at the Sonic in Atoka, Oklahoma, and whenever I would pass through, I would often stop there just to say "Hi." He would always come out with a big smile lighting his face and give me a hug. "What ya'll up to?" he'd ask. Even though we didn't see each other much as adults, there was never any awkwardness. It was hard to be awkward around a guy who exuded such friendliness.
Sonic has a program to fund teachers' projects through donorschoose.com called Limeades for Learning. When I was working at Ardmore as a librarian, I decided to try to get a project funded, but I needed to collect those stickers they used to put on the cups. The stickers each had a code you could use to vote online for your project. I knew there was no way I'd be able to get that many people to vote for me, and I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to get my hands on as many stickers as I could when I remembered that James was the assistant manager of Sonic in Atoka. So I called him up and made a bald-faced plea for sticker codes. It didn't matter that it had been months since I'd last spoken to him. "No problem," he said. He was happy to help me out.
Okay, so I'm a cheater (I prefer "go-getter.), but that's not the point here. The point is that James was a great guy, loyal, humble, and gosh-darn sweet. How could you not love a guy like that?
He took care of his family. It seemed like he worked all the time. I know every time I stopped by Sonic he was there. I wondered if he ever took time to sleep. He sure didn't let cancer slow him down.
It makes you wonder why bad things happen to good people. But for me, I am just grateful that I knew such a good guy and that I happened to be related to him.
I suppose he's somewhere else now...a place where there's plenty of beans and tators like we had when we were growing up, a place where Grandma is still baking biscuits and Grandpa is still drinking a mason jar of milk every night for dinner and telling his stories.
We miss you, James.