It was an interesting 2022 holiday season this year. We had a family Christmas morning with Elizabeth’s homemade cinnamon rolls while I was almost half a day into a smoked brisket for dinner by then. The kids got up to the traditional stumble and shuffle to the living room with a tree and presents… and a video fireplace on the television. Even Charlie was into the holiday with howls and growls of gratitude for a big bag of treats and a couple new chewing balls. It was a very sweet time for us all.
The day after Christmas I received this message from my aunt,
“Wanted to make sure you knew that Jimmy died last week
Hope you had a good holiday. Love to the kids”
I went to look at our mother’s Facebook page, and there it was… a post on Dec 17 announcing my brother’s passing from congenital heart failure. He was intubated, unable to breathe on his own, and the decision was made to turn off the respirator helping him breathe.
Nine days ago.
He was fifty-eight years old. I have not seen my brother since 2004.
As estrangement goes it was a very hard decision to make to remove myself from his life, and it’s reasonable to say that he probably never understood why. It’s also reasonable to say that he didn’t really care either. After our father’s passing he avoided any services, and the consequential legal battle in probate court ended with his just not showing up it’s safe to say my brother would just assume I had never existed. What I know of his earliest years I can’t say I blame him.
James William ‘Jimmy’ Stout was born on April 20 1964 to Melodie and Jim Stout in Downey, California. Jimmy was very close with his father, who was a pro-sport fisherman and brought his son on deep sea fishing trips for several days at a time. Jimmy was also the first of a gang of six cousins in their family and was regarded as the first cousin. The young family had a house on Liggett street in Norwalk just a few miles from their parents, siblings and new cousins. Family events were rich with adoring babies, and frequent playtime was augmented by several young families gathering to share time together as a second wave of cousins came due around 1968.
The late 1960s were a high time for failed marriages and our parents became a statistic to that time. When our parent’s marriage was failing the breakup sex that eventually happened as does in most relationships produced a second child as intended means to rescue the failing marriage. Jim still left Melodie despite her bearing a second child., me, in the late spring of 1969. Jimmy had just turned five years old, and with my arrival into this world he saw the departure of his father as a full-time figure in our household. His doting father was replaced by a helpless crying baby who was a constant reminder of his father’s absence.
Sharing our father was not something he did easily. The disruption of a new family member to a broken family is what I represented throughout his life, but being children we did what we could to get along despite the circumstances.
When he was about eight years old Jimmy met his step-father, Roy who shared his love of racing and well-made cars. Roy built race cars for off-road endurance, and as a master mechanic he was more than skilled in his craft. As Jimmy grew up with Roy in the household so did his love of cars; in particular the Volkswagen Beetle. It being a design of Porsche was regarded as high elegance in our household, and a family business was built around Roy’s work on that model for racing enthusiasts.
At 16 Jimmy got his first VW bug while living in Crestline, California. He was a tall, lean curly-haired 6’4″, and high school king at Rim of The World HS. Popular, handsome, and bearing his father’s personality and charm as his own, he was a ladies man with no shortage of interest. He loved deeply in his relationships and I remember one time when he recalled to me fondly his first love, Sandy. They were quite a pair, and I can still remember them riding around together in his blue Bug; a pair of curly haired teenagers fearlessly taking on the world.
Lance Corporal J.W. Stout USMC
Jimmy graduated high school and joined the US Marines almost immediately. He went through boot camp at MCRD in San Diego, and was the pride of our parents in his uniform. The stories he would tell about boot camp were both exciting and unsettling to a 13 year old little brother, but I had a hero and he was larger than life when he came home that day after graduation. He was homesick, he was mature, but he was also a US Marine. A rifle marksman with an M-16, Jimmy was assigned detail as a demolitions engineer; a real live rocket man who occasionally brought home disposable L.A.W. rocket tubes that he would joke about mounting on one of Roy’s race cars. Jimmy spent a part of his time in the military training in Okinawa and it was his first time to be in another country, and truly away from home for any time beyond what he had experienced in boot camp. The experience was enlightening and exotic to him
Before he went on his overseas tour, Jimmy and I sat in his blue Bug and he asked if he could tell me a secret and NOT TELL MOM. He opened up his glove box and pulled out a marriage certificate to his now wife, Lisa. He was giddy and excited, and this kind of confidence between us was rare and treasured to me. His time overseas was to last about 6 months. but when he came back it was very clear that Jimmy’s closest friend had gotten his new wife pregnant while he was away. This particular betrayal broke my brother’s heart beyond repair and while I don’t believe he ever really recovered from it, I know he did do his best to move on.
It was visibly hard for him, and as his little brother I could hardly bear to see him in such pain.
As time went on he maintained his duties on base, and he would be back at home on the weekends trying desperately to salvage his marriage. Eventually this heartbreak led to self-destructive behavior and he fell into addiction in a very bad way. He was reported to the police by his mother for his behavior which resulted in his dishonorable discharge from the military, and imprisonment.
Following that time the gulf that formed between my brother and our mother was heartbreaking and I remember after a few years a Christmas phone call I placed to him asking if he would like to talk with her. I was relying on holiday cheer to help bridge the divide. The hurt of her betrayal was strong, but not that strong. It was that day the bridge building had begun between her and my brother. I sometime wonder if this wasn’t a mistake. Yeah, probably not.
Just as evidenced by her continued behavior, throughout the brief time of our lives together, our mother leveraged cruelty and vengeance against her oldest child and he responded with some bad behavior like theft and lying to preserve himself from physical abuse. Jimmy carried some of that into his adult life, but as his post Marine future was limited in options he found his way into honest life as a tradesman in countertop construction and design. One of the last times I saw my brother, he had been boasting about some of his work in the booming Las Vegas casino scene where he built a piano bar out of composite material. Myself being a pianist, I took secret joy in knowing he took the time to learn the structure of the piano scale and the meticulous work he put into the sculpture that people said and enjoy. I installed a few with him, and knew that he was a good leader to the guys he worked with. That time installing countertops with my brother also became very tense, and he reminded me one day of his tendency toward violence with me that had, on several occasions, escalated well into what I could only be consider as murderous rage. It was a red line for me, and was the last time we had any kind words to share between us.
Though all the hurt suffering at his own hands, I understand the reasons; I’ve never not loved my brother. Remaining a safe distance for him to heal and survive seemed to be all I could do for him.