NUTLEY, NJ - On May 12, 2017 friends and family gathered at Vincent United Methodist Church to pay homage to someone who had become an institution in Nutley, a man named Jimmy who touched the lives of many during his 61 years in town.
The beautifully orchestrated memorial to James A. Cox was organized by Marjorie Baumann and members of the church, who over the past few years, befriended the homeless man.
Rev. Dave LeDuc led the memorial and called those attending to ‘be a witness of compassion to all who struggle’.
Jimmy’s older brother spoke lovingly of his brother’s struggle. He said. “We all make choices; however I don’t know that Jimmy had a choice in his life. As a child he was small and because of that he was treated like a runt and was bullied.”
Jimmy and his seven siblings grew up in Nutley on Whitford St. He attended St Mary’s, Walker Middle School and graduated from Nutley High School in 1974. It was after high school that Jimmy’s struggles began. His family all tried to help him. His niece Amanda said, “He was my friend, a kind, gentle soul who lived on his own terms. I am blessed to have known him”
During Easter this past year Jimmy’ defined his terms when he completed a registration card at the church. In the space for his address, Jimmy wrote: “The Earth is my turf.”
In the ‘Prayers’ section he wrote: For my mom and dad who are deceased and all my friends alive or deceased. He added. “Thank you for the words. They give me solace in my difficult times.”
Jimmy’s brother said: “It makes me sad to think of all the people hurting the same way my brother did… trying to put one foot in front of the other everyday not knowing where to go.”
Reverend Dave’s journey with Jimmy
When he moved to Nutley ten years ago, Rev. Dave became aware of Jimmy through the church’s Care Kitchen where hot meals are served at noon at the Church on the second, third, and last Saturday of each month. Forty Saturdays a year, church staff and volunteers under the direction of Barbara Carrino, feed hot meals to people like Jimmy to nourish them physically and to let them know that people care about them.
The staff learned that Jimmy loved to play guitar, so one was provided for him to play at the Care Kitchen. Rev. Dave said: “It did his heart good to play for his friends.” Jimmy also started to attend Sunday services at the church and always sat in a pew near the piano.
For the memorial, a red bandanna and one of Jimmy’s t-shirts represented his presence. The t-shirt read: ‘Free Your Mind. Music is the unique arena of arranging sounds in time so as to produce a continuous unified and evocative composition as through melody, harmony, rhythm and timbres. Songs emerge from pure emotion and inspiration. Love, happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, fear, disgust, and jealousy have always been the most popular lyrical subjects.’
Jimmy slept in the Nutley parks and in bad weather on the porches of friends. The Nutley Police treated him with great kindness allowing him to sleep in the lobby of the station many nights.
One particularly bitter cold night, Rev. Dave took Jimmy to a shelter in Montclair because he was concerned for his safety. Jimmy however, was more concerned for his safety being in the shelter.
‘I would rather be homeless in my hometown Nutley than in a shelter somewhere else.”
For the past few years, Jimmy lived under a roof canopy of the church where friends provided him with sleeping bags and a pallet.
On a snowy morning this past winter, Rev. Dave found Jimmy standing against the building, near where he slept. He whispered, ‘frozen stiff’ and they slowly moved together into the church.
Jimmy came down with pneumonia and his health declined rapidly. Rev. Dave is now working on engaging Nutley citizens to help on the project of sourcing a ‘warming center’ in town to be named in Jimmy’s honor. He said: “This is our calling. This is our community.”
Jimmy’s Family and Friends
Following the service, Jimmy’s family and friends gathered in the church Fellowship room to reminisce and share stories.
Mary Beth, Rosemary, Irene and Maryanne attended St Mary’s with Jimmy and they graduated together from Nutley High. “In high school he was energetic and fun. Always kind and positive. He was a big part of our group that hung out together in the parks, the mud hole. Jimmy was a great guy.”
Jim attended St Mary’s with Jimmy before moving to Belleville. He read about the memorial in TAPintoNutley and came to honor his childhood friend. “I remember him as a cute little very smart kid with a mop of blonde hair.”
Many remembered always seeing their friend reading in the library in the winter months, where it is warm and the chairs are comfortable. Jimmy’s brother shared that he had an insatiable curiosity and was very intelligent. He added that Jimmy ‘got it from our Dad who was a writer and the library’s best customer.’
Jimmy’ niece Olivia said: “It’s so nice to know a lot of people appreciated my uncle Jimmy. I know I did.”
Authors Note: I am grateful that I had the pleasure of many enlightening bench chats with Jimmy. The last time we spoke was in early April. His face was bruised and swollen from a fall. He was drinking a beer and advised me to stay away from cheap vodka. I asked him: “What do you want today Jimmy.” He looked upward and said: “I really want a home to go to.”
The gentle man whose turf was the earth went home on April 23, 2017, his father’s birthday.
RIP Jimmy. You will be missed by many.
Song: “I Am Love Come to Me” written and performed by Maria and church choir members. Hymns sung at the memorial included: “His Eye is on the Sparrow” “Hymn of Promise” and “Amazing Grace”
If you would like to help or make a contribution to Care Kitchen contact the Church Office or firstname.lastname@example.org.