AND STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING. Last week, Peter Pan was laid to rest. They came from all over Memphis, his Never Never Land and reality for everybody else, to overflow Midtown’s majestic Idlewild Presbyterian Church.
They came by the hundreds, each with a hundred stories, a thousand memories, a million laughs. They came from having lived different lives than his, each having faced and fought the crocodile in different ways, while he remained blissfully indifferent to the crocodile and the ticking clock in its belly. They came all serious and contemplative, in tribute to someone who was seldom if ever either. They all came to say goodbye to the friend who never grew up.
You see, Jimmy Tual was never about the crocodile. Jimmy was about Wendy and Tinker Bell. And I’m sure he dated both and a pretty healthy percentage of all the women in that church. As one of them said, “Jimmy would take a date to Kroger.”
While the Captain Hook in the rest of us fears the ticking clock, the relentless patience of time laying in wait for each of us, Jimmy’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge any of that could, if only for a moment, lift the weight of it from your shoulders, his relentless smile convincing you that, maybe just maybe, you could fly again.
When I heard Jimmy had cancer, I wrote about it. When we threw a party to raise money for treatment, I wrote about it. And here I am again because the Jimmy in all of us – the repressed kid turned responsible adult, the gee whiz enthusiasm lost to cynical experience – needs a champion, a vicarious Peter to battle Hook.
As I write this, I’m drinking a great big gin and tonic out of a great big, loud-yellow, butt-ugly plastic cup that Jimmy gave me. Jimmy gave everybody plastic cups. There were, of course, plastic cups at his funeral. Future archaeologists may very well measure our society by the vast number of Jimmy’s plastic cups they will someday discover. This one has the seal of my college fraternity and his, but different chapters, and commemorates a reunion, but not mine. Doesn’t matter. How I got it matters.
Having decided I would want one of these cups – I mean, it involved a frat and a party, so who wouldn’t? – he brought it to a UPS store where I have a business box. When I dropped in to check the box, the counter person said, “Mr. Conaway, Jimmy left something for you.” “Yeah,” said the other one, “Jimmy said you’d love this cup.”
I’ve had the box for five years, and everybody there knows me. They call me Mr. Conaway. Jimmy was in there for five minutes. They know him better. They call him Jimmy. And they made damn sure I appreciated that cup and how much their new friend wanted me to have it.
I’ve got it, Jimmy, and here’s to you.
I’m a Memphian, and I’m feeling a bit like a Lost Boy.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.