Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Good People

On our refrigerator there is a collection of holiday cards that we have accumulated throughout the year. The cards arrive at Christmas and Easter; there are hearts on Valentines day and ghosts on Halloween. Each one is handmade and signed Love, Uncle Jimmy.

Jim Ryan isn’t related to us, but that’s the role he plays as part of our extended chosen family.  Jim and I met at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival 25 years ago and he’s been present for many of my major milestones since.  When I moved to New York he made sure I knew I could call if I needed anything.  When I relocated to LA years later, he introduced me to his friends.  He checked on me when my mom was dying and helped me pack when I decided to return to Alabama.  We’ve celebrated birthdays, new jobs, and opening nights together.  Easy to talk to, I’ve cried on his couch on more than one occasion.

Born and raised in Michigan, Jim is one of three kids in a close-knit Irish-Catholic family. After college, Jim moved to New York where he taught at a private high school while pursuing his acting career.  He’s gone on to guest star on numerous television shows and has performed in the National tours of Les Miserables and Peter Pan, as well as in the Broadway revival of Annie.

Jim is what my mother would call good people.  But thanks to his charismatic personality he also attracts good people.  When I was new to LA he invited me to Thanksgiving dinner where I was welcomed into his tribe of friends.  The next Thanksgiving, I reciprocated by hosting dinner at my apartment.  Before the day was over we were sitting in Debbie Gibson’s living room singing and playing the piano.  (My 12 year old self was very happy that day.)  It’s a story indicative of a day with Jim; you never know where you might end up.

Always thoughtful of others, he dutifully keeps a journal where he carefully documents birthdays and other meaningful dates in the lives of his friends and family.  I know that on my birthday there will be a call or a message; on the anniversary of my mom’s death I’ll find a simple Love you, Sweet Elyzabeth Gregory.

And when I got married Jim called to say that he was driving from Los Angeles in Mobile to be there.  I always knew that I’d walk down the aisle alone; no one could take the place of my parents.  But I asked Jim if he would escort me to the aisle.  His hand held mine tightly and then he leaned in and gave me the sweetest kiss.  Then when, just 15 months later, my husband said he wasn’t coming home for Christmas, Jim called to say that he was driving through on his way to Florida and wanted to stop in for a visit.  An hour later he was in my living room.  He was, quite miraculously, right there when I needed him.

We meet for lunch in LA and even though we haven’t seen each other in 6 years, being with him feels safe and familiar.  We eat Argentinean food and catch up.  He always asks about my grandmother, who adores him.  We end up back in his apartment where we sit and talk about our friendship over the past 25 years: the jobs and the relationships that have come and gone and the fact that we’ve never had an argument.  When it’s time for me to leave he walks me to my car.  It takes us awhile to say goodbye because there always seems to be one more thing to say.

I wish we lived a little closer, so he could actively play the role of uncle to my daughter. He’s the kind of man you want in your child’s life.  But for now, we will savor the cards and the phone calls, and knowing that Uncle Jimmy is in our lives.
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  1. Aw, this is such a sweet tribute to your friend. It is amazing how time can go by with some people, yet it feels like no time has passed!

  2. What an awesome friend! You are so blessed to have him in your life. My best friend from high school and I are both only children, so our kids know each other as "Aunt."

  3. I need an Uncle Jimmy. What a sweet and kind soul. Glad you were reunited.