I will never meet Big Jim Marshall. He died last week in Stokesdale, North Carolina, twenty-four hours before he was to see his son at the big truck show in Greensboro. His Son got word the night before he left to go up. When he got there, all the arrangements had been made. Big Jim took care of his family. They didn’t have to do a thing other than show up at the funeral. With nothing to take care, his Son headed on over to the truck show for the afternoon. It’s what Big Jim would’ve done. It’s what Big Jim would’ve wanted him to do.
I got the Big Jim stories from Buddy Steve who grew up on the same road as his cousin, Jim’s son. He always gave the impression that Big Jim was more than an Uncle figure to him; that he provided some fatherly role that his own father couldn’t due to being so old and having to live up to the role of being High Sheriff. If Buddy Steve needed someone to talk to, Big Jim would be out back, in the workshop, rebuilding a classic pick-up. He was always back there, Steve said. He had married into a family of strong women. It was just easier to let her have her way and move a lot of his life to the back yard where he could hold court. Steve joked about the longevity of the women in that family and the number of thirty-plus year widows that abounded. He didn’t say they knocked off their husbands exactly. Maybe they just wore them down to death. It took Big Jim a long time to wear down back there in his refuge.
Big Jim did a good job with his boy. He’s a great guy that takes care of his family and friends. Today, he’s wondering if he is doing well enough with his time. The death of a close one always makes us think we should spend more time with our loved ones. It is their final lesson to us. Hopefully, we pay attention.
His Son, Jeff, said there was a “no suits” rule for the pall-bearers (who were all named in the documents Big Jim left behind). Big Jim didn’t go out the way he came in, but the way he lived, wearing his bib overalls, ford t-shirt, and Jack Rousch hat in his hand. It was the outfit he wore everyday, no matter the occasion. Even when he got to go to the Daytona 500 with Jeff and sit in a suite due to Jeff’s connections with his job, he wore the same suit: overalls, Ford t-shirt, Jack Rousch hat. Unaffected, he sat that entire race talking with Richard Childress, who was seated beside him, about the old days of racing and working on cars. I am sure he was beaming inside, proud of his Son who was able to get him in a spot he never thought he would be. He didn’t put on airs though. He watched that race the same way he would have watched it on TV, down at Dub’s. When you are already Big Jim, why try to be anybody else.
Tonight, I will raise a toast to a man I never met. It is my loss, but I think I’ve got a good likeness of him in town I need to reconnect with for a proper remembrance. God speed Big Jim.