When I met Jim “Big Dad” Brennan, he was already in the winter of his life-span. He had spent nearly nine decades on Earth and was settling into growing old with the occasional gripe about an aching joint here and there. Over the past several years I had the wonderful experiences of sitting outside next the pool at Jim’s daughter and son and law’s house listening to Jim talk.
While his body was growing frail, his mind was as sharp as a tack. He recounted his experiences in World War II and painted vivid images to me of what it was like to grow up in Augusta. My favorite story took place in the 1920’s when Jim was a boy. His mother ran a boarding house and he was a newspaper boy for the Augusta Chronicle. His downtown route was through an area known as Frog Hollow.
Jim would chuckle in telling me the story about how most of his customers were illiterate. They took the newspaper to play a thing called “the bug.” It was an illegal gambling operation run by some of the power players in the area at that time. People would gamble on what the stock exchange numbers would be the next day. For something like five cents you could play the bug, but you also had to buy a news paper to see if you had won. Back in those days, five cents was a lot of money for a poor person, but just like todays lottery, people would play it in hopes of winning ten or twenty bucks.
There were plenty of stories like that and Jim recounted them like they had just happened yesterday. With his evening cocktail in hand, Jim would talk about flying airplanes in the war, what the 1950’s and 1960’s were like from his perspective. He talked and talked and I listened. Every time I got the chance to sit outside and chat with Jim it was like opening up a time capsule and rummaging through the contents.
Jim was a part of what we fondly call the ‘greatest generation.’ He did not go on to become famous or run for president. He worked, raised children and just tried to live life as an honest and decent man. The winter of his life was spent woolgathering over fond memories and he appreciated having an ear nearby to hear his stories. I was privileged to be that ear.
Jim bade us farewell over the weekend. He was to me an example of how to live a good life and I will miss him, but I am grateful for the chance to have known him and I will never forget all those wonderful stories.