Yes, in 2003 I saw it through my binoculars – the big smiley face logo on the Eat’n Park balloon heading South toward my home. It was the answer to my question about finding happiness. Indeed, I interpreted the sweet big cookie smile to mean that I would once again find happiness — but, when? As Dave explained in 1992, balloons travel in whatever direction the wind blows. His answer, coupled with messages sent to me via my car radio playing favorite tunes like the instrumental version of “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” or Bob Dylan’s “The Answer My Friend is Blowin in the Wind,”meant, that for me, wind represented time. But, how much time was never revealed.

Indeed, the opportunity for happiness came five years later after Dave died on November 15, 2007and with his death, my grueling role as a caregiver finally ended. It took me a year to settle accounts, visit family, and travel with friends. But even after the busyness of that year, I returned to an empty and lonely home and an empty and lonely life. Time to be re-attached, fixed up and matched. And how best to do this in 2008? How else, except by modern matchmaker — the popular  computer app.,

You don’t want to know how many “hits” I ignored, how many ridiculous offers I received from potential dates never accepted, or men I agreed to meet but never saw again – do you? Of course, you don’t. So, after a year of this nonsense, I was about to give up when, in 2008, I met JIM, and as the saying goes, “It was a perfect match.” One which lasted fifteen years until …

Time to leave 2008. I climb into Wish, my hot-air balloon, followed by our passengers. We are comfortably seated inside its large basket and wait for Wish to ask …

WISH: “Where we off to boss?”

ME: “Well Wish, we gotta go forward, fifteen years into the future.”

WISH: OK Boss. Get Ready… get set swoosh

Wish crashed down in a wooded area behind my new apartment on December 10th, 2023. It was early morning, and our entry was beyond rough. I’m talking medically rough; slamming into boulders rough, worse than a concussion rough, as bad as a brain bleed rough, and never coming back to life rough. We landed in time for me to rush into the small apartment I had downsized to in 2021. My passengers were not allowed to follow because I knew the unfolding scene would be a slow-motion reveal that I would never get out of my head. It was the picture of Jim, my beau of fifteen years, sitting on the toilet, bent over with his head hanging towards the floor, drool escaping from his mouth. He had suffered a sudden brain bleed and, although still breathing, I knew Jim was gone. I re-lived the event, watching myself call 911, waiting for the arrival of the paramedics, then, frozen with fear, hearing, “He just stopped breathing, start CPR.” I was sitting in a catatonic state on my bed in the bedroom as time stood still, seeming interminable for twenty minutes until the paramedics announced, “We have a pulse; get him on the gurney.” I watched them wheel Jim, now on life support, out of my apartment, hurrying to the ambulance and onto the hospital. I cannot recall how I got to Allegheny General’s ER from my apartment. Once back home, I knew the old aloneness would engulf me again, and sleep would be fitful, as in the past.

I was dinged awake by my cellphone around 6:00 A.M. Grabbing the phone, I prayed for news that Jim had suddenly opened his eyes, returned to consciousness, and, looking for me, said, “Where You At?” But no, it was an alert from my smartphone’s Snapchat, the social media app. I have been using to be a cool/groovy or, as they now say — dope Grannie.  My two fourteen-year-old Granddaughters set up the app., along with a new image of me called Bitmoji.

When I opened the app, I was greeted with a new Bitmoji Story. My new Bitmoji was wearing a white t-shirt with a smiley face, the same as the Ean’n Park insignia. But I was jolted because she was standing by a window, looking out with an anxious expression on her face. I was jolted when I read the cryptic message at the bottom left of the page … “worry about it.” Indeed, I was overwhelmed with worry and with good cause.

Jim passed away on December 16th. My sports-loving, consumerism-hating, cooking but not cleaning, fun-loving, religious yet mischievous, brilliant, politically active, and gruff-voiced but gentle soul was gone. What followed was a Catholic funeral with a view of Jim in an open casket. The next day was the funeral, complete with incense, ringing bells, a mass followed by internment, and a luncheon wake. For me, it was overwhelming since, being Jewish, I was accustomed to the tradition of burial first and then Shiva with a few prayers, food, friends, and stories about the deceased. Because there was no opportunity to share the many fun Jim stories and the first three letters in the word funeral are FUN, I have dedicated Blog #3 to Jim. I will attempt to have some fun by bringing back some of his words, even if I cannot bring back his unique, gravely-loved voice.  

Ah, yes, Jim’s words. They are enshrined in “Norton’s Tale,” the first in my book series, “Skunk Tales Trilogy.” Jim loved my stories and insisted I read him each new chapter aloud. Having been born and raised in Beaver County, he was particularly fond of Brenston Beaver, one of the main characters, and thus became Brenston’s voice. So, Jim would translate whatever Brenston said from the correct English written by Moi into his well-known Beaver dialect. For your pleasure (drumroll), I introduce a snippet of Brenston Beaver’s dialect, AKA Jim Giammaria …

MORDECAI WILHELM: “… so here’s the problem. Bubo banished all the skunks from the forest, and he’s organizing a search party.”

BRENSTON BEAVER: “Sounds like somthin Bubo would do…We don’t pay attention to no big bird. In case ya didn’t know. We river animals run our own show down here. And we don’t take orders from some screechy owl. Fact is, he’s had it in for us for a long time now, and we don’t pay no attention to his commands… So what ya got planned?”

MORDECAI WILHELM: “…The skunks need a strong raft capable of transporting them a great distance to a new land… Nobody’s better with wood than the beavers.”

BRENSTON BEAVER: “You might not be no builder, but I gotta say you hammered the nail on the head with that one. Why, we can build you the strongest raft you ever seen… Course we’ll help; why not? It’s a change from our usual work. As I see it, a job’s a job. Might as well be workin for you. Besides, all we ever build is dams and lodges, lodges and dams. This here raft thing might be fun and besides, it don’t hurt to stick it to that old owl.”

For those passengers who have heard Jim speak, imagine Brenston saying the above dialogue using Jim’s gravely, hoarse voice with its gentle slur and words spoken just a bit too loud. As for me, I will shed a few more tears, know that Jim rests in peace, and bid farewell to 2023 before embracing 2024 with different roads and new experiences. 

Stay tuned to learn more …