My Uncle Jim had the best, most purely authentic Wisconsin accent I’ve heard. People from other parts of the country might mistake it for a Minnesotan accent, but the distinctions, while subtle, were there. I don’t think he was conscious of it, and I hadn’t really considered it overtly until this past week. I will forever be able to hear him say certain words in my head, like “no” or “Green Bay”.
Jim had the best fish story I’ve ever heard, even though I don’t know that he’s ever actually put a line in the water. Apparently, he came back from a ride on his scooter up north, scraped all down one side, scooter suffering similar road rash.
When asked about it, he said he got hit by a fish. Upon further probing, and I believe this was verified, it was a muskie. Now, you might be thinking “how close to the water was he?” or “how in the world did he get hit by a muskie?” Apparently, an eagle dropped it on him. He managed to not fly off the bike at highway speeds, but as he hit the sand shoulder, he wiped out.
I should probably note here that Jim had a mildly tumultuous relationship with eagles. On the one hand, the academic in him was excited to discover that the nest above his cabin had baby eagles one year. On the other hand, just a day or two later, the retiree in him lamented about how loud baby eagles can be when they’re hungry.
And so, I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not the muskie drop was an accident.
People who know him know that Jim taught college and middle school, but he also taught speed reading courses, and wrote a book on ways to adjust breathing, posture, and other variables to optimize brain speed. It’s a very interesting read.
It was my honor to have helped Jim to put his book on Amazon and act as his digital agent. We had discussed writing frequently over the years, sharing some common ground with Kurt Vonnegut and the world view that informed his writing. In much of our correspondence, he’d conclude with “so it goes” as both a reminder to me that he remembered this mutual appreciation, and also for the humor. (The irreverent saying usually followed a description of a major life event for a character, like their death. In our case, it frequently followed an assessment of the Bears.)
We had a pretty interesting writer/editor relationship going when he got the news about the cancer, and through the joyous and rocky revelations that ensued. Even facing down his own mortality, he was patient, measured, and kind when we spoke.
I’d be remiss not to at least mention the verve and vigor with which he enjoyed good beer. There was a tiny bit of medicinal effect involved, but I think he was mostly drawn to the libation because of the accompanying discourse and merriment. I heard plenty about the Manty Malters, and I suspect they’ve heard about me and our family. I know the tradition of having a beer at any hour goes way back to my earliest days.
When I was very young and impressionable, back when my grandparents still lived behind the tavern they operated, Uncle Jim told me that his thumb was made of steel. He challenged me to try to bend it, and of course I couldn’t. Then he’d bend it and challenge me to straighten it. Naturally, I still couldn’t. A few years after that, I remember watching Jim play tennis behind Frank’s Friendly Tavern. The force with which he hit a tennis ball was impressive, and it was then that I understood why I couldn’t budge his finger.
It must have been that grip strength that kept him on the bike when he was attacked by the muskie.
And so it goes.
Find Uncle Jim’s book here: The Breathing-Mind Connection
The short-lived blog is here: https://thebreathingbook.com
Obituary for James Protsman is here: Obituary for James T. Protsman