Pine Nuts: Jimmy was a friend of mine

Jimmy was a friend of mine. He was blind, but often saw more than I did. He was nine when he walked up to my lifeguard stand, introduced himself, and asked me to teach him how to swim. I taught him how to swim and he taught me how to see. He taught me how to read braille and see with my fingers. He told me the color red was the sound of trumpets blaring, and I heard color for the first time. He cared nothing about the color of skin, and asked me to read him Alex Haley’s Autobiography of Malcom X that was just out, and from reading that book together, well, we grew alongside each other.

His dad installed a square post to a basketball standard so that while blindfolded, I could feel the post before taking the ball in to play Jimmy one-on-one. Wrestling? I cannot tell you how defeating it is to be locked in a Double Nelson in ten feet of water.

As a teenager Jimmy fell in love with a girl his own age at summer camp, and as Cecelia lived in LA it looked like he would not get to see her again until the following summer. So I drove him down there to take them to a drive-in movie. On the drive down we passed a field of cotton and I mentioned to Jim how snowy white it was. He asked me what white looked like, so I pulled off the road and let him feel the cotton. He picked a bouquet of it and presented it to Cecelia when she came to the door. I thought she was going to cry, me too.

While at the drive-in I excused myself to the refreshment stand to give them time, but not too much time, for a smooch. He confided to me on the drive back home that he wanted to steal a kiss, but they decided to wait until they were married.

Subsequently I enlisted in the Marine Corps and would receive letters from Jimmy in bootcamp in braille. One evening during mail call our drill instructor asked if he could have my letter from Jim when I was done with it. I could not imagine why he would want to have such a letter, but I found that out the next time I got into trouble and was ordered to report to his hootch. As I was leaving that hootch, having been read the riot act, I saw Jimmy’s letter posted on the wall above the fire alarm, with a note that read in all caps: “IN CASE OF EMERGENCY READ THIS!” I later told Jim about that incident and he had a good laugh.

Jimmy learned to read and memorize a series of tie-line numbers that would allow him free access to long distance phone calls. While I was living in Hawaii he would tell me to pick up the phone at noon and sure enough, without a ring, he’d be there on the line. He got so good at it that the phone company hired him to detect and bust others who had also learned to read that secret code.

Jimmy left this earthly realm last September and is now in heaven teaching others without sight how to see. Thank you, Jimmy, for teaching me …


Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

Jimmy and McAvoy Layne.
Photo courtesy McAvoy Layne

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