Last Friday, I answered the home phone and Linda’s sister, Carolyn, was on the line.
Just after I said hello, Linda picked up. I said a few words to Carolyn, wished her and her family well, and hung up so the sisters could talk.
A while later, Linda sent a text from the second floor to me on the first: Jim Munro died.
Oh, fuck, I replied.
He wasn’t well, Linda added.
Yeah, you’ve told me. But still, for some reason, it’s always a shock.
I know, she said.
I remember when telegrams meant bad news. Then, it was a middle of the night phone call. Now, it’s the 9:33 p.m. text from upstairs.
Jim was married to Linda’s sister Lois. I liked Jim a lot.
Over the forty-plus years I’d known Jim, I’d mostly see him at family gatherings – weddings, funerals, Christmas.
The last time, I believe, was at a family reunion years ago where Linda and her siblings – there were six of them – posed for photos. The spouses, the “outlaws,” were excluded.
Didn’t bother me. Or Jim.
Like me, he wasn’t a social butterfly, interested in small talk, hit-and-run chitchat. Sometimes at such get-togethers, we’d huddle on the sidelines and catch up.
We always lived hundreds of miles apart, Linda and me in the Toronto area and Lois and Jim in Michigan, and more recently in Florida.
But they were always welcoming hosts. And Linda and I sometimes accepted what we considered a genuine open invitation.
The first time was in the late summer of 1980. Linda and I – and our dog, Yaz – stayed at their house, in a pleasant woodsy suburb of Port Huron, when we were in the home stretch of a six-month road trip in a little motorhome we called Fenway.
A couple of years later, I bunked at the Munros for nearly a week before I found a buyer for Fenway. (I had to sell the motorhome in the United States because I’d bought it south of the border and it still had New York plates.)
I have another recollection of crashing at their house but the details of that visit are not the point – it’s that I again spent time hanging out with Jim.
Professionally, we had nothing in common – he was an engineer, a math and science guy. I’m a word guy.
But we had a lot to talk about. We’d both lived for a time in Europe – he in Belgium, me in Switzerland – and traveled to many of the same places.
Similarly, we often compared our perspectives on his experience as a Canadian in the United States versus mine as an American in Canada. Which led us to discussions of history and current events.
Our politics did not mesh on many issues. We set those aside.
Late at night, we’d sit in his den and watch TV or movies.
He introduced me to a show called In Living Color, which made him laugh. He had a great laugh.
He also loved Top Gun on his giant screen, with the fighter jets screaming on the surround-sound audio system.
One night, watching Maverick and the rest of the fighter jocks, Jim and I plowed through a large bag of taco chips and a jar of super-hot salsa, and laughed at the Canadian concept of spicy food.
In 1999, when Jim’s father died, I was asked to be a pallbearer. I considered it an honor.
I had never attended a Catholic funeral mass before and didn’t know they ran longer than a Yankees-Red Sox game.
When the pallbearers finally took their positions behind the hearse, I made sure to be last in line so I could leave the heavy lifting to others.
With the casket secure, I joined Linda in our Chevy minivan. Once again last in line, I kept losing the hearse and the rest of the procession on the ten-mile drive from Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Church to Mount Hope Cemetery – before deciding traffic laws were merely suggestions.
I wrote a piece for what was called the Driver’s Edge section of the Financial Post. It was headlined Funeral Etiquette, and began:
After talking to the Toronto police, I figured I’d committed eight moving violations in 20 minutes: running four red lights, three stop signs, and speeding at about 120 kilometers an hour in a 50 km/hr zone. If a cop had pulled me over and asked, “Whatsamatta, buddy, you in a hurry to get to the cemetery?” I could have casually and truthfully answered in the affirmative.
Jim and his family told me they got a big laugh out of the story.
Jim had a great laugh.