Thursday, March 15, 2007

In Memoriam

This is my saddest blog post ever, because yesterday a friend and mentor passed away: Jim Jung, (pron: Young) -- the man behind the Waterman and Hill-Traveler's Companion, and one of the smartest and most generous people I have ever known.

It surprises me that more people don't know Jim, but he followed Thoreau's principle of having 'one chair for solitude and two for company', when he wasn't out-and-about, tromping in the woods, or selling ads for the almanac, or watching CSPAN or quirky tv show like Firefly (on DVD).

Jim always had time for kids and friends in need. He helped me out many times, with a loaned tool, or pick-up truck and other occasional necessities of life. Many evenings he would entertain me, or other friends, in one of the free chairs in his living room. (If there was a crowd of three a footstool could be cleared off).

To other family friends, he was "Uncle" Jim, who enjoyed taking young folk on nature hikes, in search of sirens or morrels and other woodsy wonders. In his younger days he used to cave, keep bees, make beer and wine and meed. He was widely read, and always had some scientific monograph or book of natural history book in progress.

The sad thing is that Jim's career as a natural historian was just starting to take off. His book Weird Egypt was just published, and his almanac was gaining more readers and advertisers yearly, and he had started writing a monthly column for the Carbondale Times. and there was a very nice profile of him in The Southern Illinoisan about a year ago. [link]

Visitation for Jim will be tomorrow at Huffman-Harker Funeral Home at 210 W. Oak St. between 5-8 p.m. The funeral service will be held at the same location on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

His wife Ruby gives more details on the Waterman and Hill-Travelers web site.

And there will also be a memorial service for another Carbondale fixture who recently passed away: Lynn Raben, who ran the Tropicana Vintage Clothing Store. Another case of fond memories for me, of hanging out with her on the porch in summertime, brainstorming for ideas about all kinds of things. Lynn was a seeker, who had 'a thing' for Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American philospher (her license plate was EMRSN).

There will be a memorial service for Lynn in the Backroom of The Branch, where Tropicana was located originally, befor it moved into the building back behind the Longbranch Coffehouse.

I only broke down crying once while writing this.


Unknown said...

I'm sorry to hear of the passing of your friend, Dave. My prayers go out to his family.

Anonymous said...

A beautiful man. Our lives are now so much the poorer.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

He was as bright and odd as a salamander. I heard some talk of a benefit (for Ruby's expenses) and wake (in celebration of Jim’s life) on April 28th. Anyone know where?

Anonymous said...

Memories of Jim
By Valeri DeCastris and
David Beccue of Rockford, Illinois

We are all so very sad…as any of us that had the good fortune to have been graced with Jim and Ruby’s wonderful presence are. I (Valeri) was lucky. I moved next door to them in 1979. With a bachelor’s degree in biology in hand and a full-time professional position in a SIU research laboratory, I was ready to settle down in Carbondale, as I had just lost my dear mother, and her twin sister in Rockford to that dreaded disease that took Jim too. An an only child (like Ruby), I was too sad to go back home to Rockford, although in retrospect, my father probably needed me there. It wasn’t easy for him to get up on stage every night and play jazz and entertain audiences as he has since 1938 after losing my mother, his booster and chronicler of his musical career. But alas, I loved Carbondale and it was good to me. So, I settled in to start my career in a house next door to the Jungs. Along comes Jim to call upon his new neighbor. We became fast friends, although we were different in many ways. Ruby didn’t drive in those days. She was involved in so many things. I spent many a day at their house, in amazement at how interesting it and they were. I called them the Adams Family, but really, they were much more authentic and much funnier and certainly more cerebral.

Later, I bought a house a mile or so away, but we still hung out together. Jim would take me hiking and make fun of my high heeled shoes (actually they were wedges). But, what did I know? What could prepare anyone for the remote and mostly hidden southern Illinois terrain that Jim knew like the back of his hand? I had hiked, but you don’t really hike southern Illinois until you are out with Jim. He had his secret spots, you know. Jim loved salamanders, caecilians, exotic plants, Herkimer the Snake, and this green earth. The Jungs raised mice in the basement and bred plants in captivity that weren’t recorded in any scientific literature I had read. For awhile, I wouldn’t even enter their house because of all the snakes. Jim would laugh at me and deride me for being a “so-called biologist.” I told Jim he should publish his findings in the literature. He finally started to show the world what he knew and loved in his wonderful Almanac. What a treasure it is. We have kept every edition. And, Ruby is an excellent writer in her own right. Over the years, I listened intently to Ruby’s readings from the marvelous tales she penned. She is every bit as bright and talented as Jim and what a perfect match they made. They used to say that their families told them that they were lucky they found each other. We were lucky too, because together, they were greater than the sum of their parts.

And oh how we enjoyed their menagerie of plants, animals and people that passed through their Poplar Street home. Later, after leaving Carbondale for Springfield, my husband (David) befriended them too. As an assistant park superintendent and fellow German from southern Illinois, he had much in common with Jim. We would always crash at Jim and Ruby’s when we were in town, and the door was never locked. They would never turn us away, whatever the hour. Jim would regale us with tall true tales and offer up elixirs and potions for whatever ailed us or didn’t ail us at the time. A more interesting couple and home could not be easily found. I did, however, draw the line at Jim’s home prescription for arthritis and didn’t let his bees sting me.

The only time I had disagreements with Jim were about outlandish cures, politics (he was a strict Libertarian and I am more liberal) and whether or not I really broke his nose teaching him to play racquetball at the SIU Recreation Center. What was I thinking? Exercising indoors? Not Jim’s cup of Jimson weed tea. He was most “at home” roaming the hills of southern Illinois. Indeed he WAS southern Illinois. He had a wondrous child-like reverence for nature. And, he loved to teach children, and many called him “Uncle Jim.” He and Ruby were totally “non-establishment,” even by the standards of those who tread outside the norm, whatever that is. Such special people…

I tried to coax Jim a little over to the “establishment” in small ways. When I offered to clean his basement, particularly the cobwebs, he said “What? No cobwebs?” in mock horror. Oh Gomez…you are so clever. I talked with him about health insurance. Ruby tells me that they had some now, thank God. And I tried to get him to eat a little better. Although Ruby is a fantastic cook, Jim just had such a hankering for Barbeque – Jin’s in particular, and after they closed, other haunts in Carbondale and Murphysboro. He ate a bit like a teenager at times. He would bring “Gerber’s Mixed Cereal” nearly 500 miles to my house when he visited, although I would have cooked for him all day. He loved his baby cereal, at night, and defended it mightily. I remember how sad it was when Jim and Ruth’s closed, a small family market kitty corner from them. He and Ruby felt it important to support small businesses, even if that meant some higher prices for them. I always worried that they were struggling financially, but Jim laughed and said that I worried too much. He, German and me, Italian – like my marriage….such different cultures and ways of reacting to things. I was concerned that they were exploiting him when he worked at Freeman Hall. He wasn’t.

My and Jim’s cultural and gender differences were particularly evident on my wedding day. After we moved to Springfield and later to Rockford, he would occasionally come to visit. In 1998, I married my husband David in a 3-day, 400-guest Italian formal extravaganza (think My Big Fat Greek Wedding). I had admonished my family and friends to abandon the Italian tradition of greeting the bride to be at her father’s home the morning of the wedding. She is to cut a ribbon across the doorway with friends and family, symbolizing her entry to a new life. My modern friends and family respected my heated instructions NOT to come visit me the morning of my wedding. I have never been a morning person anyway and not particularly fond of talking to anyone before my first cup of freshly-ground French or Italian Roast coffee. So after 1 ½ years of planning, the day arrived. Of course, my girlish nervousness kept me up much of the night before, despite my being 42 years old and supposedly mature.

Imagine my surprise in my carefully scripted solitary morning, as I squeezed my butt into my first-ever girdle, while rushing around like a mad woman who would soon face hundreds of people for days on end. Alas, it is the voice of Jim, calling upstairs to boyishly “Val, what are you doing?” To which I replied, “What the hell do you THINK I am doing! It’s my wedding day! Get out of here. See you at the church and reception!” Of course, I was running late. I managed a smile until I realized he was in jeans. “Are you coming to the wedding in jeans?” “Yeah.” he said, “Why?” “Jim, this is a formal wedding. Everyone will be dressed up. Couldn’t you tell by the invitation? I don’t want you to feel out of place.” Not to worry of course, he wouldn’t feel out of place. What was I thinking? Aahh, the one and only iconoclastic Jim. He was, of course, the only one in jeans at the wedding. You could always count on him to do it “his way.” He was an absolute original. He approached me at the head wedding table at around 11 pm that night and said “See ya.” “What?” I said, “Now, what are you doing?” More surprises from Jim...He arrived and left with a bang. We implored him to stay at our house but he insisted on driving 8 hours back to Carbondale in the middle of the night. We suspected that he really didn’t like to be away too long from his lovely Ruby and southern Illinois. And he probably tired of all the pomp and circumstance in My Big Fat Italian Wedding!

When he would come to visit, it was for short stays. Once he rebuilt our hot tub. I insisted on paying him, of course, but really it was just an excuse to get together and for him to visit the state park that David manages. He was intrigued by the flora and fauna of northern Illinois too, you know. In fact, he tried, unsuccessfully, to get David to keep a diary of natural events of northern Illinois. He didn’t realize that urban parks are more about trash and snow removal and staff reductions than nature interpretation. There simply wasn’t time to comply with his many requests. And time kept us apart the last few years too. Consumed with our changing lives in Rockford, we didn’t keep in touch like we should. Just in the last few weeks before I knew he was sick, I was thinking about calling him. As Ruby retires early to bed generally, after I left Carbondale, Jim and I would talk by phone late at night, owls that we both were. He always tried to impress “The Man” in case they were tapping his phone and found great delight in inviting such shenanigans, just as he loved to shock political pollsters who called him and skew their professional predictions. “The Man” was never smart enough to fathom Jim and Ruby anyway. I wonder what the State of Illinois officials thought when he was one of the first to travel to Springfield to buy a marijuana stamp, required, of course, for so-called drug dealers. The great irony in things never escaped Jim. He even lambasted the State for its, in his opinion, inhumane laws that prevented him from legally owning a pet raccoon.

On a more serious note, I saw him through many a life change and crisis and he supported me through many. Always, he and Ruby were true friends and the best of people. Humanity could take a lesson from them. They always said that they were made for one another and how true that was. We must all support Ruby now. Life will be very different for her. But she will carry on Jim’s legacy. So, “there you have it”, as Jim would say and then chuckle in his hearty way. Rest in peace, dear soul. Travel to new worlds and explore. The universe awaits you and there are many wonders to embrace. Although you eschewed academics, you were a veritable compendium of knowledge that you freely imparted to all. Thank you for helping so many others appreciate the natural world. I suspect that right now, you are in wondrous awe at the splendor of the worlds unfolding to you and maybe you are engaged in a deep discussion with God and company about it all. There will never be another Jim Jung. God Speed dear friend until we meet again in the Garden! I hope it is even lovelier than your beloved southern Illinois wilderness. We trusted your instincts when we followed you into abandoned mine swimming holes without fear or trepidation. Trust us now – we WILL meet again.

Parentheticus said...

The benefit and celebration of Jim’s life on April 28 will be held at Big Boys Q. . . . located on the corner of Jackson St. and Illinois Ave.

Terry Clark of SIUC's Marketing Department will be announcing more details later.

Anonymous said...

My condolences, all the way from Baltimore. One of the things I miss most about Southern IL was the Hill Traveler's book. This is very very sad.

PeterG said...

I think we should all hope that after we die, someone will write in their blog, that we were their best friend.

I didn't ever meet him, but a touching remembrance.

Anonymous said...

There will be a benefit for Jim’s wife Ruby (High deductible on Jim’s health insurance), on April 28th, at BBQn’s in Carbondale: 3:30-6:30–family friendly, then, loud and raucous music to: 1) celebrate this amazing man’s life; and 2) help his widow, Ruby, with the expenses associated with his illness and death.

Paul D’Angelo and Terry Clark are coordinating the event.

Anonymous said...

Jim you will be missed. What a great man you were. A teacher, a mentor and someone to tell it like it is. Thank you for taking a budding journalist (now a public relations graduate) and showing me the fountain bluff petroglyphs, and making me scale the almost vertical cliffs to see them. I learned a lot that day, but most of all I learned to appreciate nature the way God intended.