Oh, see, now you’re thinking that I’m going to write another clever treatise about my father, but no. In honor of his 54th birthday, I am going to attempt to capture the spirit of the other James R. Abercrombie–the guy three boys call ‘Dad’, one baby girl calls ‘Papa’, and one hot babe of a wife calls ‘Jame’. To those of you who think you know Jamie, let me tell you, you only know the adult version. I’m here to shed some light on the youthful Jamie. And I’ll try to spare him any embarrassment in the process. Maybe.
My grandmother once remarked that my brother Jamie was born old. This could not be more accurate. Jamie is the oldest child in our family, which probably does not surprise many of you given his hardworking nature, his decisiveness, and his level of responsible behavior. He exhibited those virtues as a child, also. But what you don’t know about Jamie is that, as a child, he was ruled by his sister Becky, 16 months his junior. She could talk Jamie into nearly anything, but she was careful to limit his conduct to things that would ultimately be to her future benefit.
Take the first incident with the matches. Long before I, Jamie’s youngest sister by four years, was cognizant of that special relationship between my two sibs, Becky proffered a rather dangerous dare to Jamie involving the lighting of matches. Becky talked Jamie into lighting matches in the room that was, at that time, our dining area, but what later became known as the back porch. The back porch was a little square room surrounded with windows, many windows adorned with fluttering, frilly curtains. Matches were lit, curtains caught fire, and Jamie—though later to prove his über intelligence through his academic achievements—decided that the most resourceful way to suppress the fire was to spray the flaming curtains with Lysol.
This story had a happy ending; I just don’t know what it was. Obviously our house did not burn down, but the incident with the matches—and the second incident to follow involving Jamie lighting matches in the woods in front of our house—provided Becky with enough leverage to get just about anything she wanted. How do I know this? Because she blackmailed me on any number of occasions. Masterful manipulator that she was (is?), she had Jamie and me right in the palm of her hand. While most boys Jamie’s age sought out boys of similar age with whom to toss the football, play catch, shoot hoops, and conduct games of torture, Jamie had a built-in playmate in Becky. As for me? I was the pitiful recipient of their cruelty and subsequent source of amusement when it was too cold for them to go outside to play.
But in the end, one can only take so much Becky, so, as a respite from her antics, Jamie would often escape to the safety of his room. One of my most indelible memories of Jamie as a boy involved those little green army men that boys in the 1960s played with. Understand that this was the Vietnam era, and those of us who remember that time will recall that video footage of the war as it was happening was taped and later broadcast on the nightly news. An historic first. Parents at that time never felt the need to filter whatever was on TV for their wide-eyed children, so at least for me, I thought war was perpetual. I think Jamie did, too.
As a result, Jamie learned to stage epic battles using those little green army men. Meanwhile, Becky and I were in our room performing beauty pageants with our Barbie dolls—forgive me, with my Barbie dolls (hers remained upon the shelf with the protective wrap still around their heads—mine had the toes chewed off, had chopped off hair from when Becky played beauty shop, and were always naked). In the safety of his room, Jamie would have carefully researched the most famous battles of World War II and would accurately re-enact these clashes on his bedroom floor. We never actually witnessed these battles; instead, we heard them. Jamie had a unique talent for making bombing noises—a sound that I could not hope to reproduce no matter how hard I tried. Ask him today to make the war sounds. You, too, will be impressed.
Decades before the sagas of Bella and Edward, Jamie harbored a fascination with vampires. On any given Friday or Saturday night, after growing tired of his war games, he would painstakingly remain awake so that he could stay up and watch Weirdo—a late-night offering that showed old horror movies—in the hope that some Mystery Science Theater-ish Dracula movie would be featured. His enchantment with the dark side was so real to him that he took to hanging garlic around his neck, sleeping with a crucifix, and asking my dad if we had any hawthorn branches that he could use to make a stake. Apparently, the danger of a vampire attacking him in the middle of the night was imminent, and he wanted to be safe. He was nothing if not well prepared.
In addition to his partiality to vampires, Jamie loved space. Becoming an astronaut was just about every boy’s fantasy in the 1960s, and this boy was no different. Perhaps it was the Tang he drank or those chocolate space food sticks he downed, but Jamie was NASA ready. And when I say ‘ready’, I mean husky-sized Star Trek Captain Kirk pajamas and all.
Vampires and Apollo 11 fell by the wayside when Jamie started playing Little League baseball. I cannot remember Jamie ever having played any position other than catcher, but he undoubtedly could have been a more versatile player, given the right circumstances. He was a ‘Cub’, and twice weekly, my parents kept vigil from the bleachers at the Linesville Little League while Becky and I wore a path back and forth to the concession stand. Jamie’s goal–the goal of every Linesville Little Leaguer–was to shatter the front window of the Dairy Isle (a parking lot away from the outfield fence) with a game-winning homerun. I don’t know if he ever reached his goal; I was too busy stuffing my pie hole with Jolly Ranchers.
Back at home, the obsession with baseball continued. Adjacent to our property was a large field owned by our uncle. This field was perfect for baseball, and throughout the summer, the neighborhood boys and my sister Becky would assemble on non-Little League nights for a marathon game. With the exception of Becky, no other girls in the ‘hood were interested in baseball except for me, and because I lacked my sister’s substantial skill on the diamond, Jamie magnanimously made me the behind the plate umpire. I really had no idea what an umpire was to do during a baseball game, not really paying attention to Sheena calling the game at the Little League field, but Jamie assured me that it was the most important job in a baseball game, more important than that of the pitcher. All I had to do was stand behind the catcher for the entire game, or until I got tired of being bitten by mosquitos.
Jamie’s athleticism, combined with his inordinate ability to memorize just about anything, was impressive enough that my parents bought him a subscription to Sports Illustrated. Jamie devoured the statistics, facts, minutiae, and trivia about every player in the major leagues. While some men of his generation proudly show off their boyhood collection of Playboy magazines, Jamie would be proud to show off his rather impressive collection of Sports Illustrated. I’m convinced his wife would be even more elated to toss the entire collection in the dumpster behind the Yarn Barn.
I experienced a couple of firsts with Jamie. He took me to see Star Wars when it first came out (I think I fell asleep), and one night in 1975 we both stayed up to see the debut of Saturday Night Live—John Belushi played Captain Kirk in a Star Trek parody, and we both laughed so hard we nearly puked. Also, for the very first time, we gave back to Becky all that she had given to us when she introduced us to her new boyfriend. In a lovesick burst of heartfelt sincerity, she had foolishly revealed to both Jamie and me that the new guy in her life raised rabbits, as in bunny rabbits. Upon meeting Randy for the first time, Jamie and I welcomed him by doing the bunny hop. That was the last time she ever brought a new boyfriend home to meet us.
So you see, there is much about young Jamie that you never knew. He’s certainly not one to talk much about himself, or brag about his accomplishments, unless they involve his wife or his sons. Lucky for me I have all the crayons in my box to color a picture of this husky-then-not-so-husky-explosion-sound making, space loving, vampire fearing, Little League catching, Sports Illustrated memorizing guy! Happy birthday, Jamie!
Now don’t be hatin’ on me for telling all your secrets.