A few years ago, I wrote about my closest high school buddy earning his wings. Dennis Hull first soloed in a Cessna before graduation. Further, Dennis became a Wright Brothers expert as a docent at Pima Air Museum in Tucson and flew a 1911 Wright Flyer (twice) at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. He said it was a real bugs-in-the-teeth experience. The guy loved airplanes constantly building models including the remote-control variety—one the size of a small car. Dennis always wanted me to get into a glider (sailplane) with him, but I declined. The closest was when we (separately) “flew” F-16 simulators. After 45 minutes I was sweating bullets. |
We took different paths, but always remained close friends and eventually relocated together from Ohio to Southern California where our paths once again diverged due to professional choices.
The second person I met at college was also an aviation knucklehead like Dennis. Jim Graham and I pledged the same fraternity, and after undergraduate studies, I stood up at his wedding as best man, and five years later he returned the favor. Jim flew for the U.S. Navy and later as a commercial pilot becoming a trans-Atlantic Captain for Pan American World Airways.
Jim, Dennis, and I became three-amigos type friends although I didn’t share their passion for aviation—other than riding commercially to get from here-to-there.
Dennis earned his angel’s wings July 8, 2020. I can’t begin to tell you how much I miss him. On July 13, 2020, www.amazines.com published AN AVIATOR’S FINAL FLIGHT, my eulogy to Dennis.
Today in a Christmas card from his wife, Kathie, I received the unwelcome news that Jim Graham also received his final wings June 8, 2022. Talk about a punch to the gut. I mean, I know we’re at the age (who isn’t?) when the guy with the scythe comes to call—but DAMN, DAMN, DAMN!
And so, as my eulogy to Jim, I present a few Jim Graham stories, which I trust you, dear reader, will enjoy.
Jim was a quirky student always getting top grades, but not really giving a damn. We were both engineering students, but sometimes on a whim he’d take off in the middle of a term to who-knew-where. Eventually he’d return and take up where he left off seemingly not affected by the tuition money or time he forfeited. I remember studying in the wee hours, and Graham after a two-month absence came waltzing into my room swigging a bottle of whiskey and laughing like a hyena. Because of such shenanigans, he graduated a full year after me.
So, I’m working as a field engineer in Detroit and receive a wedding invitation advising me that Jim is getting married in Ligonier, PA to a longtime girlfriend Carole. They’d been dating since high school, and I knew his fiancée’s father didn’t care much for Jim and his unpredictable screwball ways. Being new on the job I sent a letter of regret but was pleased a few days later to receive a phone call from my friend. We talked for an hour chuckling over old times until he finally said,
“Hey, can you come down and pick me up?”
“Wha??? What do you mean?”
“I’m at the bus station in Detroit.”
“What! You’re getting married tomorrow!” I was in shock, but given his history, probably shouldn’t have been.
“Yeah, I just couldn’t go through with it. I took off.” Did I hear a giggle?
“But she has her dress, the church, bridal showers, invitations have been sent…” I was rambling.
“I know. So, are you picking me up or what?”
“I’ll be right there.” I couldn’t help but be strangely amused. I suppose I should have been at least a bit surprised, but I wasn’t.
When Jim finally did get married, two years later, Helene was a dead ringer for the one he left at the altar. Black hair with vivid blue eyes—quite striking. Once in Ligonier on being face-to-face with his former fiancée, Helene said it was like looking into a mirror. (Turns out a friend caused the awkward meeting to happen as a joke. Boys will be boys.) Shortly afterward I left with Dennis for California and Jim with Helene departed for U.S. Navy flight school at Pensacola. His journey took him to Vietnam where he flew a submarine tender, which looks similar to the PBY’s that fly from Long Beach / San Pedro to Santa Catalina—a big seaplane. And now, dear reader, I present— Graham’s Toilet Battle No. 1: Upon being confronted in Southeast Asia with a toilet that was basically a hole over running water, albeit with a guide of where one’s feet should be placed, Jim squatted to evacuate his bowels. Alas, he didn’t squat properly, and the deuce ended up nestled in his dropped pants. Colorful language ensued.
When Jim returned to the States he was stationed at North Island near San Diego. We saw each other frequently, and he consented to be my best man. Just before the ceremony, the music playing, Jim confided that he was getting divorced. He handed me keys to his car, and said,
“Take off.” It looked like he gave me a hopeful grin.
See, while still in college we had this plan of driving across the country stopping to work just long enough to keep going. Our ambition was to play tennis at as many venues as possible. Actually, he screwed up the plan by getting married and joining the Navy.
I married Kay that day at Frank Lloyd Wright’s glass church in Portuguese Bend, CA, which was the best thing I’ve ever done. Appropriately, Jim and I never realized our wanderlust trip.
BTW, when I asked Jim and Helene why they were splitting, they looked at each other, smiled, then back at me and said in unison, “Because I want to do things my way.”
Jim and Helene divorced, later remarried, and divorced again. At the time he was flying out of Miami for National Airlines, and she was a flight attendant with Eastern Airlines. I actually flew with him once from New York to Miami. It was on that flight I met his new girlfriend, which leads me to: Graham’s Toilet Battle No. 2: It was a beautiful Moon-over-Miami night. The amorous couple took in a stage play and a nice dinner. Jim said he knew that “tonight was the night” for their first romantic coupling; to make the (wink) connection. They went to her place—and then—and then—Jim had to drop a deuce! Oh no, there goes the mood unless he could make an efficient job of it. He quickly squeezes out a septic log followed by a courtesy flush to (hopefully) abate the odor. But—wait a minute—the water level continues to rise! Jim jumps up, pants around ankles, and the toilet erupts emptying its contents on the floor. After some sloshing around, Jim slowly opens the bathroom door, tie neatly knotted with pants rolled up to his knees and says to his paramour, “Got a mop?”
“Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright / The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light / And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout / But there is no joy in Coconut Grove—for Jim Graham has struck out.” (With apologies to Ernest Lawrence Thayer)
A year or so later, Kay and I returning to the West Coast from Jamaica, stopped for a few days to spend time with Graham on his houseboat in Coconut Grove, and darned if he didn’t have the same girlfriend. I figured he was really smitten. Well, she was quite attractive with a pleasing, magnetic personality. After years of observing Jim and his maneuvering I could tell that she was the alpha in the relationship. Still after two failed marriages—to the same woman; talk about double jeopardy—he was quite happy with the status quo, and she seemed to be as well. However: One day she said (quite offhandedly), “So Graham (all his girlfriends called him that), what do you think? Are you ready to take this relationship to the next logical step?”
Puzzled look. “Geez, I don’t know. We have a good thing going. I need to give it some thought.”
“Well, that’s okay,” she replied, “I’ve been seeing another guy who wants to marry me. I guess I’ll take him up on it.”
Major shock, Eyes bulging, Mouth agape. “What??? Stammering. “Uh, oh, o-okay. I’ve changed my mind.”
She gave a sweet smile. “Too late.” Away she went out of his life.
After that I only saw my friend on a few occasions; the last time stopping over for a day on my way to Saudi Arabia. He had married Kathie Kessler, left the airlines after receiving a lucrative golden parachute when Delta purchased Pan Am; and became an artist. He worked in various media, and—damn—was excellent in all of them. Happiness followed as he and Kathie celebrated 42 years of marriage.
I wrote once before that Death is a lighthouse beckoning to those of us at sea. Sooner or later we must all turn toward it. The skipper of James William Graham’s vessel was Alzheimer’s Disease.
There are so many I miss. Mike Glossinger, Larry Livingston, Dennis Hull, and Jim Graham—each more than a friend; each chronicled on my author’s page.
Copyright by Gene Myers whose plan to live forever is working so far. December 22, 2022
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