NEW ORLEANS — As we pass through life, as long as things are “okay,” we tend to just keep moving, not soaking in the atmosphere, not spending the proper amount of time appreciating those around us and the wonderful gifts they give us on a daily basis through small acts of kindness or larger acts of outright love.
As we age, we tend to savor the times more, realizing that life is fleeting and soaking in everything, sometimes kicking ourselves for not doing it sooner.
Saturday we buried a grammar and high school classmate of mine, James “Jimmy” Triay. I can’t say that I knew him well in adulthood, having gone our separate paths, but I do remember the young man I went to school with. I’m not sure there was a time that Jimmy didn’t have a smile on his face. I can’t recall that I remember Jimmy having an affinity for school, but he sure had an affinity for life. Even at that young age, he seemed to know what was important – people, family, looking out for others and helping them smile.
He loved his music and played in some bands during his high school years. School was mandatory, music was his passion.
To say Jimmy was a character is putting it mildly. Let’s put it this way – I’m fortunate enough to have both of my parents and all five of my siblings still with me. They all know who Jimmy is and all have at least one story or memory and they all come with smiles.
Photo of the Jimmy I knew, circa grade school, with his sister Nancy.
Because I don’t have a lot of personal memories of Jimmy past high school I’m relying on others and what I saw online and at one of his performances to piece together the portrait of someone who touched so many lives with his music and his personality.
I’ve met people like Jimmy before, but they are rare. You see, Jimmy seemed motivated to have a good time – and, Lord, he did. But it seemed to be his life’s goal to help others have a good time as well. His musical shows, at least those of the Lost in the 60s band he fronted, went at a frenetic pace, nearly no time between songs, to some of his bandmates' chagrin, but keeping the energy in the show.
In an interview he did about another band of his, the Blue Meanies, Jimmy talked about wanting to take people back – back to their youth and simpler times – times when the most important things in your life were hanging out with friends and trying to impress the girl or guy you might have had your eye on.
We all have songs from our youth that are tied to special times in our lives – both good and not so good – but we tend to even look back on the “not so good” with smiles as long as they weren’t too bad, we came out okay in the end and we learned something along the way.
Jimmy had a distinctive look and I’m sure the girls loved him with his curly blonde hair and wide and engaging eyes. Jimmy was a family man, in love with his wife and kids, his siblings, parents, cousins, nieces and nephews, and he was able to touch so many other lives through his music.
He had a successful printing business and Jimmy was undoubtedly popular with his customers, with the nickname “Jimmy the Printer” on his obituary on NOLA.com. Ever the people person, putting Jimmy in charge of a business where his job was to make people happy was sort of like putting Wimpy in charge of taste testing hamburgers (I know, I've dated myself there). But I think there’s no doubt that music was what drove Jimmy. Along with his family, it’s what got him up every day, what helped him put the smile on his face and keep it that way well into his battle with cancer.
It’s a battle he succumbed to, but death is a battle we all concede to at some point. What makes the difference is how we lived our lives along the way. Did we cherish the moments? Did we enrich others' lives? Did we put smiles on people’s faces. Did we live our lives or spend a lot of it just biding time?
64 seems to be the new 45, so by those counts, Jimmy’s life ended far too soon. If we count the days we “lived” and compared them to those we “got through,” how many of us can say we “lived” full lives for 64 years? Jimmy packed 85 years of living into his 64-year life.
There are photos of Jimmy smiling in his hospital bed, with a triumphant pose of arms outstretched. He struggled to the microphone and sang at a packed benefit for him in the final weeks, tearing up at the show of support, at the lives he touched. There are videos of him at the hospital, himself a patient dealing with the Satan known as chemo, but still picking up a guitar to sing for – and with – his new friends, those also battling the insidious disease - crowd pleaser to the end.
Video of Jimmy playing for fellow patients
Jimmy lived – fully, taking the bull by the horns – for all of his nearly six and a half decades on earth. No one is perfect, but when we check our scorecards, we’re all looking for more birdies than bogeys. I don't know if Jimmy ever played golf, but he definitely spent life under par.
I didn’t make it to see Jimmy before he passed. I probably hadn’t seen him in 40 years. I didn’t get to enjoy the Jimmy Triay adult experience, and I’m the poorer for it.
Jimmy Triay, I can say from the packed services Saturday at Jacob Schoen, from the gaggle of friends and fans at his benefit and from the scores of well wishes online and even on the radio, that people still needed him, and were willing to still feed him, even when he was 64.