By Bryan W. Ward
On May 26, 2012, this little town lost a really big man. Not only big as measured by his physical stature, but by heart. Jimbo Thompson had one of the biggest, kindest hearts I’ve ever rubbed up against.
Jimbo was a serial entertainer, always happy… never down. However, and tragically, in that last week of his life, completely reeling from constant pain in his hips, he confided in one of his closest friends, Eddie Ray, that he could not enjoy his life anymore, like he was once accustomed. In those last days, prescription medication for depression combined with drinking tilted the scales and took him from those of us who loved him dearly. Jimbo would have hated to have been a burden to anyone… and so he left.
I never have been able to officially enroll as a Baptist. I assure you it has nothing to do with our First Baptist Church here in town. I’ve had some wonderful moments in that sanctuary. No, it’s because I like to drink. Not a lot, but sometimes, I like the hope I feel when those “spirits” are separating me from the more mundane expressions of my life. I have gotten careless at times and awoke the next morning, feeling so bad I prayed for death.
Thank the Lord, all things must pass…the good and bad… and terrible. It was in such a condition, the morning after a night out in 2005 at that old speakeasy, behind what is now “Reynolds Asset management” that I made my way over to Enid Lake with Steve Thompson for his family’s reunion. The night before as I sparred with obviously too many Long Island Ice Teas, I was completely amazed when I learned I could buy only liquor, and not beer. Now I have been a victim of both forms of inebriants, and the math equating to the tolerance of one, and not the other, simply did not add up.
Steve Thompson has a great family, wonderful people. And there was a natural leader, a proper old bull, full of life and stories… Jimbo Thompson.
So a couple years later when I visited Jimbo and Julia Thompson, up on Wood Street as I recall, just before I moved here permanently, he handed me a cold beer, a voter registration app and a kind request that I vote for him. I was slightly confused. Intrigued is a better word to describe my disposition. I asked Jimbo… Beer is illegal in Yalobusha County right?
He says… yep, sure is. I then asked… You are running for sheriff of Yalobusha County right?
He responds… Yep, sure am. So I said… Sounds great man. So of course, I voted for Jimbo.
Jimbo Thompson and Eddie Ray are roaring through town in a tiny little Italian car. Eddie thinks it was maybe a Fiat. Interestingly enough, the car belonged to one of Jimbo’s father’s employees… a guy named “Fats”, who was roughly 400 pounds (gigantic fat boy, Eddie laughs as he remembers). Fats could only drive the car when he had it, by himself. The exhaust pipe had fallen off and the car was a little four-banger, and so the exhaust was coming straight out of the manifold just making an enormous racket. And the young men rolled all through town.
Eddie said “Jimbo would put the car in second or third gear to go down the hills, and that sort, and up the hills too, and it was just screaming, making so much noise, and it was unbelievable, and it was probably 9 o’clock at night, maybe closer to 10. The pair had been literally all over town. As fate would have it, they drove in on 315 to that intersection where the police station is now. It was a florist back then Eddie recalls. So as the boys are about to make that right onto North main, a police cruiser passes by and one of the officers points to the side of the road.
Jimbo makes the turn, brings the car to a stop and kills the engine. There were indeed two policemen in the car, one being Ed Ray Perkins, who Eddie says was about the nicest person in the whole wide world. Gregarious was the descriptive word Eddie used.
Eddie thinks the other officer in the car was Carnes Crews, a night marshal in town for years. The cruiser passed the Fiat going North, turned around, passed again and parked in front of the boys, who had started to get out of their tiny little sonic blaster.
The officers told the boys to get back in the car. Ed Ray then said “Boys, we’ve been getting a lot of calls from people all over town about this really loud car that’s going around, said uh.. you all been riding around long”? And we said… “a little while”. Jimbo was doing all the taking because Eddie was scared to death. Every now and then Ed Ray would look down into the car and ask Eddie how he was doing, and the young scared Eddie Ray would respond “I’m just fine Mr. Perkins”.
So officer Perkins asks the pair if they’d seen anyone in a car that’s making lots and lots of racket? So Jimbo, turning towards Eddie asks “Ray…have you seen anybody like that”?
Eddie responds “I don’t think so” So Jimbo then says to officer Perkins “We haven’t seen anybody like that, said what color’s the car making all the noise?”
Officer Perkins responds “Nobody has seen the car boys, only heard it, so where you going from here boys”? Jimbo says “We’re going to my house, Eddie is spending the night, we’re going to bed.”
Perkins then says “Well I think we’ll let you boys go.”
Jimbo then says “This thing has some starter trouble, we have to push it off”. Perkins responds “Well we’ll just push you boys off if you’ll like us to”. J
Jimbo quickly, nervously… “Oh no”! Perkins, “Oh yeah, you boys just stay in the car and we’ll push you off, and you’re going to go straight home”? Jimbo… “Oh yes sir”! So, the officers got behind that tiny car and gave it a push, maybe 4 feet. Jimbo pops the clutch in first and that thing roars to life and gives off the loudest noise you have ever heard in your life. And they went flying down the street, and Jimbo wasn’t lying about where they were going, they were heading to his house. Jimbo told Eddie.. “Watch them to see if they’re following us”.
But the officers never did, they knew what was up.
Jimbo’s son, Steve, at roughly 15 years old, is on his way home in the middle of the night from a pasture party. As he is about to turn into his driveway, making a wide berth, he hears what he says sounded like a speaker pop, followed by wind hitting his face. Startled, he misses his turn and coasts forward to a stop, puts the car in reverse, rolls backwards and makes his turn and heads up his driveway. When he gets to the house, he gets out and goes around to the passenger side to discover a hole where the window use to be… glass all over the seat.
Steve realizes he had taken the mailbox out while attempting a high speed turn. Steve does not realize at this moment that the mailbox has been launched 90 feet down the road. In fact, he believes the mailbox is still where it normally sits.
Now Jimbo was a strict disciplinarian, “he tore my tail up a lot” Steve says. So thinking quickly to cover his tracks, Steve enacts the plan of taking a busting maul from the back of the shed and leaning it against the wounded Datsun. Steve laughs, “as if someone would have actually walked his quarter mile up a driveway, entered the shed for the maul, and then used it to break out the window of his car”.
He further tells me that he believes looking back retrospectively on his life, ”that the American male between the ages of 12 and 30 is the dumbest animal on the planet.”
Confident of his staged presentation he goes off to his room and falls asleep.
He awakens to his father’s voice yelling loudly…”Steven… get your ass out here right now”!
Realizing his time of reckoning had come, he heads out the door to meet his father.
Jimbo asks… “What is this”?
Steve replied “Who in the world would do a thing like that”? Unfortunately, what is becoming evident now in the light, is the black streak from the mailbox down the side of the car. Also, Steve was still not aware at this point, that the mailbox had done some traveling of it’s own and that Jimbo has already measured off the distance with a tape.
Father looks at son and says… “Come on now.
Steve begins to consider all the holes in his story. Jimbo tells Steve to go to his room…. Yes Sir. As the son waits in his room, he considers that at 15 years old he hasn’t had a belt on him in one and a half to two years… but he’s getting one now. Jimbo comes into the room and says “Son, tell me the truth”. Ok. Jimbo asks “What happened”?…
Steve says “I think I hit the mailbox”. Jimbo then asked “Was you drinking”? Because that was something Steve’s father was always very clear about… not wanting Steve to be out drinking, but even more to not drive after drinking, because at that point you were putting other’s lives in danger. Steve stretches the truth again and says “I had a couple.”
Jimbo says “What would you have done if your sister would have been in the car sitting in the passenger seat”? It is here where Steve breaks down… the crazy story he made up and the realization that someone could have gotten hurt. Steve says at that point and time he kind of wanted to be punished. Expecting it, mentally preparing for it. Steve says he never will forget it… Jimbo picks his son up off the bed and gives him a big bear hug, kisses him and says “I love you son,” sets him down, walks out of the room.
The effect of that moment, of true unconditional love and forgiveness has always stayed in Steve’s heart and head from that point on.
My friend, Thompson, is fighting tears and rolling emotion as he tells me this story.
Jimbo visits his old friend Eddie Ray to inform him he is thinking about running for sheriff and asks Eddie for his opinion and advice. Eddie gave Jimbo a few words…the same as he has always given others who pursue such endeavors, “Be prepared to deal with it if you lose”. Jimbo told Eddie he didn’t have a problem with that, that he knew victory was a long shot, but that he was willing to do the work to get it done. Jimbo thought he was going to get a blessing to be able to visit with all the people he’d known all his life and hadn’t seen in a long time in both town and in the county. Jimbo’s main objective, as Eddie remembers was that he wanted to be able to pay back the county that had given so much of a life to him. He was very sincere about that.
If I’ve not been effective enough throughout the entirety of this read on Jimbo, to demonstrate the finer point… it is that I believe inside of every good man, and woman…and we all possess an absolute measure of good, there are moments that stay with us that are not so good. I believe we battle either a little or a damn lot all throughout our lives to find a balance. Some of us never do. I’d like to think that the moment we realize we are really good in the sight of God, it becomes acceptable to leave. So I believe Jimbo was just flat ready to go.