Hubby and I quit watching television in real time years ago. We record the programs we want to see and will sit down and watch multiple episodes skipping all the commercials. During our working years neither hubby or I had the time for television so now we watch many of the series we missed on Netflix. I recently discovered a series called “Parenthood” that ran for six seasons on NBC. It is an updated reimagining of the 1989 film by the same name. It is the story of four grown siblings, their families and their parents leaning on each other as they deal with all the trials and issues of marriage and family life.
This show has struck some very emotional cords with me and I was quickly hooked and have been binge watching over the last few days. I recognize myself in much of what transpires. So many of the situations covered in the series have been a part of my own life. I like the characters of this show have suffered through miscarriages, death of a child, cancer, financial hardship, unemployment, betrayal and marriage problems to name only a few.
But, none of those is the reason for this post. One of the shows characters is a young boy named Max who has Asperger syndrome. Asperger’s is a condition on the autism spectrum, that affects more males than females and those with Asperger’s are generally higher functioning and many are socially awkward and have an all-absorbing interest in specific topics. There is no medical treatment and communication training and behavioral therapy can help people with the syndrome learn to socialize more successfully.
In the character of Max I recognized a boy I went to high school with. Back in the sixties, no one I new had ever heard of Autism much less Asperger’s, but I’m sure that would be the diagnosis if Jim was growing up today.
Jim was without question the smartest boy in school. He consistently aced every assignment with what appeared to be little effort. Jim was also what was known back then as “a very odd duck.” Jim had quirky habits and gave off odd vibes. He would ignore most people and seemed oblivious to all the snide remarks and jabs made about him. He also dressed unlike any other young person I had ever met. The Catholic school we attended had a strict dress code and we all wore matching uniforms. The boys wore navy blue slacks with a white shirt and tie. But, not Jim. He simply refused and finally a special dispensation was made for him. Jim showed up every day in a military style uniform (his mother would make) of matching kaki pants and shirt with a wide black belt that crossed from his shoulder to encircle his waist. He always wore a long army green trench coat in bad weather. Looking back it was as if Jim’s uniform was a precursor for the wardrobe of the show “Hogan’s Heroes” that came to TV a half decade later.
Jim’s family, descendants of German immigrants who helped found our county, owned one of the oldest and biggest farms in the area. Jim, his parents and three little sisters lived in a large hundred-year-old farmhouse with his grandparents. Several of Jim’s uncles and their families also had homes on the farm. At that, time there were more people with Jim’s surname then any other name in the county phone book. As I’m writing this I stopped to do a search of the white pages and found there are still several pages of them listed, in a time when many have forgone landlines.
Jim and I had very little contact during the three years we attended the same school. But, the summer after our junior year we returned home from Mass one Sunday morning to find Jim sitting on our front stoop. He had come to ask my parents permission to take me out on a date. Since my parents had a passing acquaintance with his family the permission was given. For the next two years Jim became a regular fixture in our home every Sunday.
Honestly, I have to admit that I did not care for Jim. He was just to strange for my liking. But, my brothers loved him, and thankfully Jim spent the bulk of his time with them. Jim had some strange talents my brothers never tired of seeing. Like being able to smash a soda can between his thumb and little finger, never missing a ringer at horseshoes and telling tall tales of his hunting and fishing adventures. He was also a talented artist and they enjoyed the quick caricatures he would create.
There were many Sundays when Jim would be sitting on the stoop when we came home from church and he would be left sitting alone on the living room sofa when we all retired for the night. He simply would not leave until the last dog died.
At some point each Sunday afternoon we would go off on our dates. Every other Sunday we would go have dinner at his parents house. I spent those afternoons either helping in the kitchen or playing with his little sisters. When his mother insisted he spend time with me we would walk in the woods, or around the lake. But, in bad weather, he would drive me the 20 miles into town to see a show. Whenever I was in the car with Jim I had to sit in the back seat because Jim did not like having anyone ride shotgun. In the theater, he always set in the seat behind me.
As hard as I tried that first summer my Mother would not let me tell him to get lost. When I ask why her answer was always the same-- “because at your age you should be dating and I know he is safe.” Yet my folks would not let me date anyone else.
When school started that fall I transferred to the local public high school for my senior year, but Jim continued to come around. Even when I began dating one of my classmates on a regular bases he still would not get the hint to go away.
Jim even ask me to attend his senior prom and Mom insisted that I go with him because I knew all the kids at my former school. The night of prom we arrived at the school and Jim jumped out and went into the building leaving me sitting in his car in a formal that had a big hoop skirt that required help to untangle from the back seat. After more than thirty minutes of being left alone I asked a passing couple to help me get out of the car. Once inside I was refused admission because I did not have a ticket and someone had to go find JIm and bring him to get me. He led me to a table and then proceeded to ignore me for the rest of the night. When I learned he had plans to attend an all-night party, some of the students had planned, I insisted he take me home first. I refused to go anywhere with him after that night.
My mother was very unhappy with me and embarrassed to face his mother when there church work caused them to cross paths. But, I had all I could take and no amount of pressure from my mother would change my mind.
After graduation, Jim enlisted in the Army and went off to basic training. Wanting to be a paratrooper he then went to attend Jump School. I was so happy he was no longer a part of every Sunday at our house and I was free to see who I pleased without having to keep my plans secret from all of my brothers for fear of their sharing the news with Jim. But, Jim kept writing to me. He even invited me for family visitors days. He did not seem upset when I refused.
One day I got a phone call from a man who said he was the Chaplin at Fort Benning where Jim was assigned. He said that since I was listed as JIm’s next of kin (this was news to me) he was calling to tell me Jim had been seriously hurt and his family needed to come to the base hospital. I put my Mother on the phone and that night we were waiting in the drive when my Dad came home from work. On the drive to Jim’s house Mom explained the situation to my Dad who then had to explain it all to his parents. Being in the army had been JIm’s lifetime dream but he had not been well suited to service. That morning he climbed to the top of the paratroopers practice platform and jumped off without his safety harness. He was in serious condition in the hospital. I went to visit Jim’s parents when they returned from their stay in Georgia only to find they were very upset with me. They blamed all of Jim’s problems (and his suspected suicide attempt) on my rejecting him.
A few weeks later I got a call from the same Chaplain telling me that despite his having met JIm’s parents I was still listed as his next of kin and the beneficiary of his life insurance. Once again I put my Mother on the phone and she learned that Jim had taken a second jump off that tower and this time it was fatal. My parents and I made the trip to deliver the news to Jim’s Parents. It was the last time I had any contact with them. When the life insurance check arrived my mother forwarded the money to his parents along with all the artwork Jim had given me over the years, only to have it returned with a curt note that they did not want any part of any of it. Mom then had our parish priest deliver the check and the artwork to them. Father Pezold instructed them to use it to honor his memory. That was the last any of us heard from them.
I know I should quit watching “Parenthood” since each episode seems to bring up some painful time from my own life that keeps me laying awake reliving the memories, but somehow I am so drawn to these characters that I have to see it through to the last episode.