You know that feeling you get when you're laughing and laughing and laughing, and you can't breathe-- what with all the laughing. And the being pinned to the ground by your older brother's knee. And tickled. You know the sensation I'm talking about, right? The one somewhere between a heart attack and a choking fit. Don't you? You don't? Come on! Surely no one within the sound of my typing has escaped the supreme tickle powers of my oldest (and wisest) brother, Jimmy Joe Taylor!*
I'll admit I didn't always appreciate Jimmy Joe's, uh, playful spirit while recovering from the chest pain and shortness of breath caused by a JJ tickle attack. But even then I knew it was an expression of his affection. As the oldest of nine kids, I doubt he had much choice about taking care of his younger siblings. But voluntary or not, he supervised us little kids with love and kindness. I really looked up to him.
I was especially proud when, after high school, Jimmy Joe began preparations for his mission. At ten years old, I was excited for him, but apprehensive about him leaving. How would we ever get by without the WHOLE FAMILY living under the same roof? I was also unduly stressed about finances. I had no idea how much missions cost, but I knew they were expensive. We'd talked about making sacrifices and working together as a family to send JJ on his mission, so I figured I'd better do my part. I got some neighborhood kids together and set up a roadside lemonade stand. There was some dispute among participants (the ones who didn't live with me) about how the lemonade booty would be divided. Some thought each kid should have a cut, but I insisted that our earnings were going directly to JJ's mission fund. Those who disagreed eventually defected to their own stand around the corner. Undoubtedly, their enterprise failed while ours was a raging success.
I'll never forget turning our spoils over to Jimmy Joe. He thanked us graciously and stowed the coins in a box on his dresser. Despite the lack of pomp and ceremony, the scene is memorable to me in retrospect because there wasn't even a hint of mockery at our measly contribution. He seemed to accept my assumption that $2.12 would pad his mission account comfortably, and ensure he was properly clothed and fed while in Puerto Rico.
He's just nice that way. Jimmy Joe has an incredibly quick wit and a unique sense of humor, but he never uses it at others' expense. He never mocks or belittles. But the humor cortex of his brain is always churning, because he has an original pun (or four) for every conversation. And even if you roll your eyes and pretend you don't like puns, he'll still laugh at your jokes. (Well, my jokes anyway.)
It's that playful spirit that makes him the favorite uncle of just about every niece and nephew I know. Of course, he has, on occasion, used candy to leverage his way into their affections, but I'm sure he'd hold favored-uncle status even without a bag of sweets in his hand. Because besides being a top-notch tickle monster, Jimmy Joe is an interactive jungle gym and a human trampoline.
Even my own sweet Sam, usually a little shy about roughhousing, is endlessly enamored with Jimmy Joe. And rightly so. Jimmy Joe coined the phrase "Get off bug!" which will forever stand in Sam's memory as the most hilarious expression ever uttered.
Ever since our summer travels together, Jimmy Joe has been one of Sam's favorite people. Sam eagerly points out Jimmy Joe in every family picture he sees. In fact, one of Sam's favorite activities is to sit on a parent's lap at the computer and scroll through family photos. Invariably, this photo (above) is a favorite, as Sam exclaims "Jimmy Joe and Sam and Mom and Jimmy Joe!" And even though I hate this picture because it looks like I'm trying to forcibly dislodge a head of broccoli from a bicuspid (and maybe I am), I let Sam spend a much time as he wants admiring it because he loves his Uncle Jimmy so much.
I was never more grateful for their bond than I was one night a few months ago when we were all staying at Mom and Dad's house for some fun weekend festivities. Although we had a full docket planned for the next morning, Sam decided 2:00 AM was a good time to wake up. He began an energetic and extended conversation with the world from his crib. Ignoring him hadn't worked, and my attempts to quiet him down were futile. I was just about to get up with him and take him downstairs so that the rest of sleepers in the house could resume sleeping when Jimmy Joe knocked on the door and offered to take Sam. He was up anyway (he said), and would be happy to keep Sam occupied. Sam jumped at the chance to hang out with Uncle Jimmy. After a few minutes of play, Sam was soon slumbering sweetly in the crook of JJ's arm. (Of course, I hadn't warned JJ about Sam being a wiggly sleeper, and he'd soon wiggled himself out of JJ's arm and onto the floor. With a thunk. Sleep still prevailed, however, thanks to JJ's willingness to keep a toddler occupied during his wee-hour energy burst.)
With that energy and patience, Jimmy Joe is an amazing dad. Through the years, I've watched him care for his boys under difficult circumstances, yet he is always kind and consistent--two parenting attributes I'm trying hard to master.
I still look up to Jimmy Joe (even if these days my looking up is in a downward direction). As with most of my siblings, I'm embarrassed to recall my childishness in past interactions with Jimmy Joe--childishness that extended, unfortunately, too far into my adolescence and adulthood. But Jimmy Joe is endlessly patient and forgiving, and although I have kept a catalog of all my wrong doing, he has not.
Instead, he laughs with me at my own shortcomings. A couple weeks ago, after we'd missed our chance to see Barenaked Ladies in concert in Cleveland, we composed lists of things we're good at. My list included sleeping and procrastinating. Sadly, Jimmy Joe couldn't include sleeping on his list, but he promised that he too was a good procrastinator. "Mom must be so proud of us," I assured him. Then we laughed and laughed and laughed, and for a minute there I almost felt like I was under tickle attack. (Oddly, gasping for air is more fun as an adult.)
The truth is, I don't really know Mom's stance on our procrastination. But I'm sure that she's endlessly proud of Jimmy Joe for many other reasons. I can't blame her. I feel the same way.
Later today we're going to Mom and Dad's house to celebrate Jimmy Joe's birthday. Sam is, predictably, excited about the "cake and candles and [he hopes] candy," but I think he's even more thrilled about the prospect of spending the day with Uncle Jimmy Joe. Me too, Sam. Me too.
I love you Jimmy Joe! Happy birthday!
Names have been changed.