GOODBYE TO A SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN
In the summer of 1955, my sister, who was 14 years my senior, went on her first date with the man who would become her life-long partner. This occasion would have scarcely been a bleep on my radar, if not for one insignificant occurrence—insignificant to everyone but me, that is.
Our family had rented a summer cabin on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and just before Jim Eikner came to collect my sister for their first outing, our father tied one end of a string around one of my front baby teeth, and the other end around a door knob, closed the door, and thus ceremoniously removed the loose front tooth. I’m not certain Jim was ever even aware of that tooth event, but for me, it forever marked his entry into my life.
An occasional contributor to our pages at PorchScene, Jim passed on last week after a brief and unexpected illness, going on to join my sister in the great unknown—an unknown where I expect the men wear only seersucker, and the women wear only linen. They are likely surrounded by hastas and ferns and flowing live oaks, and are sipping martinis every afternoon, while sitting on a veranda, surrounded by other seersucker and linen clad friends.
Jim Eikner was a true southern gentleman, who had a visceral love of the English language, and an intense discomfort surrounding its misuse. He loved Memphis, New Orleans and most recently, Sewanee, Tennessee. As an accomplished artist, his admiration for those places was reflected in his beautiful water color renderings. He had an enthusiastic love of politics, but during the current climate, watched in utter horror as the one-time eloquent process was reduced to a brawl among teenaged girls.
Although he began his professional life as an attorney, a practice for which he had great respect, the part of the process which Jim enjoyed the most was litigation. He was a performer, and performers need to perform. He found that outlet as an active participant in local theatre, and in his 30 year position as the face and voice of the Memphis Public Broadcasting station, WKNO.
With wit, enthusiasm and clever banter, Jim wove his talents onto the stage in various ways, including as participant and director of many performances in the area. The Memphis Gridiron Show, for example, which spoofed local politics, provided the venue for Jim to combine his love of politics, words, music and performance, often writing lines and musical pieces for the shows, as well as participating in and directing many of the presentations.
Of his many notable performances, including that of Norman, in “On Golden Pond,” none suited Jim better than that of Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In a recent local production of the original radio version of what became the well-known holiday film, Jim played multiple parts, including that of Clarence, the animated angel who earns his wings while assisting George Baily.—“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”— The bells that ring when gentleman Jim Eikner receives his wings however, may be the tinkling of martini glasses toasting on a shaded, southern veranda.
To learn more about this southern gentleman, click on this link:
First photo pulled from WKNO’s site
Bottom photo courtesy Deborah Fagan Carpenter