23 July 2009

Hero Worship

Can you hear me now? Jimmy liked technology and whenever he called me on his cell phone, he started the conversation with that phrase. Jimmy was my big brother and my hero. His name was James Leroy Riggs.
I remember one summer day when I was little. I got up early and as soon as I finished breakfast, I ran to the front porch to sit and wait for him. Jimmy and his family were driving up from Texas for a visit and they were due to arrive that day. Remember this was in the days before cell phones and calling cards. We had no idea what time he would arrive.
Every time a car came into view, I would stand up and run to the curb. The excitement was almost unbearable. I just new each car was his.
After what seemed like hours, and several hundred cars that did not turn in at our driveway, I had an
idea. I ran into the house to ask Mom what color his car was. Mom didn't know and Dad couldn't remember. (Dad thought the whole thing was quite funny) Back out to the porch..... After several hundred more cars, or at least that is how it seemed to an excited little kid, I had another bright idea. I ran back in to the house and asked Dad what color Texas license plates were. Don't ask me how he knew, or why I was so certain that he would, but he did. Unfortunately, it did not help me a bit. Texas plates back then were black and white, same as Utah. (Do you remember when License plates were
just two colors, no pictures or .com address?) Back out to the porch and jumping up for several more cars. It is a good thing kids seem to have an unending supply of energy.
I seriously doubt if that stretch of Monroe saw even one hundred cars on any given day back then. Let us just say that when you are little and anxious for something, numbers get bigger and time stretches out. I don't know what time they finally arrived, but I was waiting. He must have been hot and tired but when that car door opened, he acted like he was as happy to see me, as I was to see him.

Jimmy was my biggest brother and I had a bad case of hero worship where he was concerned (still do). He was not, however my only brother. Pete spent a lot more time playing with me. Pete is only seven years older than me, Jimmy was twenty. Pete was always patient with me and he taught me a lot. I have a lot of great memories of Pete teaching me to play chess, or Parcheesi, or cards. Jimmy's advantage was that he was seldom there. I did not understand all that back then, I do now. I love Pete very much and when it comes right down to it, Pete
probably had more influence in who I turned out to
be. Pete is a different kind of hero, he has always been very human. Jimmy was larger than life
and this post is for him.
Jimmy was my Father's child from a previous marriage. Back then it was unheard of for a Father to get custody. Initially Jimmy went with his Mother. According to him, she brought them up to believe that my Father was a horrible person. When, as a teenager Jimmy kept getting into trouble. Her way of handling it was to give him back to my Dad. Jimmy and Dad were on their own for awhile. I don't know the exact dates, but they spent
part of the late 1950's traveling from town to town looking for work.
They both had a rather warped sense of humor and charming smiles. Dad was 5 ft 3 or so with wavy blond hair. Jimmy as a younger adult was 6 ft 1 with coal black hair, the smile however was unmistakably the same. Dad always said he was so much taller from having to have his rear end kicked regularly.
Jimmy told me the story once of a traveling show that stopped in one of the towns where they were working. The show had a gorilla that had been trained to box. Every night the Gorilla's owner would put him in a ring and offer to pay $100. to anyone who could stay in the ring with it for three rounds or knock it out. (Remember, these were different times, ) Dad took Jimmy to watch the first night. There were several attempts. Each costing the would be boxer $25. None of the men managed to last even the first round.
When Dad insisted on going back to watch the next night, Jimmy started to worry. When Jimmy told me this story, it was several years after our Father had died. Jimmy admitted that he wasn't sure if he was more worried about Dad, or the $25. he just knew it was a bad idea. Sure enough, after several other men lost their money, Dad climbed into the ring. This was nuts! Not quite as nuts as it sounded. Dad was an experienced boxer, he boxed for the army, (but that is yet another story). He was also a very smart man. Dad put on the gloves. Jimmy said he couldn't stand to watch, but he couldn't look away. The bell rang. Dad put his hands together and bowed low, the gorilla bowed low too. On the way back up, Dad's fist connected with the gorilla's jaw and it was out cold. Dad won the $100. He explained later that the gorilla was evidently trained to mimic it's opponent. If the person in the ring threw a right hook, the gorilla ducked, then threw a right hook. With the advantage of a much longer reach and greater strenght, no one could connect with it. Once Dad figured that out, "all he had to do" was figure out how to get the chin within reach for the first blow. He knew he would not get a second.
Eventually Dad and Jimmy returned to Ogden and they rented an apartment from a lady named Ruth. She was a friend of friends and as some of you know, she was my Mom. Dad married her in 1959, and they had two more girls.
Jimmy joined the army at 17 and he went off to Vietnam. My earliest memories of that war are of the TV news. I remember watching and knowing that my big brother was over there. I wondered if I would see him, but I was not old enough to understand that he was in danger. He was wounded in action. He said the bullet ricocheted off a rock and hit him in the rear. Dad told me that Jimmy was carrying someone else out of a burning helicopter when he was shot. According to Dad, Jimmy didn't even drop the guy. He just kept going till it was safe to stop. Jimmy had what was left of that bullet on a key chain he carried for years. Jimmy got out after two tours in the Army. He moved to Texas and worked as a Police Officer. He went back in the Army Reserves. He retired as a Master Sargent (MSgt) in the Army that is an E8.
When I joined the Air Force, Jimmy was one of the few who thought it was a good idea. He knew I could do it and he told me so. Whenever we were both in the same place, there were a lot of good natured jokes about Army tough vs Air Force smart. Most important. There is something about being in the military, war time or peace time, that sets you apart from everyone else. Jimmy got it. He might not have understood a lot of things about me, but he knew who MSgt Rawson was, and he was proud of her. The last few years of his life, were my last few years in the military. When I got promoted to MSgt (Air Force E7), he was very proud. He drove from Texas for the promotion ceremony. There is a tradition that if your stripes are "tacked on" well enough by someone you respect, they won't ever come off. Tacking on usually involves a good slug and sometimes bruises. Jimmy was on one side, my commander at the time, Major Fredricks, was on the other. I did get bruises, it was an honor. I retired in those stripes three years later. Jimmy didn't make it to my retirement. He died the year before from Pancreatic Cancer. A painful, awful way to die. There may be some link to the Agent Orange he was exposed to in Vietnam.
The first photo is him in uniform as a young man. I have another that looks just like Elvis from the same time frame. The second is Jimmy with our sister Paula. The next few are just him and the last is the scrapbook page from my pinning ceremony.


  1. What a lovely post, Kat. I hero worshipped my older sister. She was 12 years older than me, and worshipped me too. She also died from Cancer 10 years ago at the age of 42. It will be her birthday tomorrow.

  2. Such a lovely and moving post. You were so lucky to have a wonderful brother to look up to and another to teach you things as you grew up. Thanks for sharing :)

    Kim x


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