Life in the Slow Lane: Jim and James

Published 10:00 pm Friday, July 21, 2017

This week I had the privilege of attending a ceremony honoring two long-time Tryonites, James Payne and Jim Jackson. These men are stitched into the fabric of Tryon and their impact on our little village is immeasurable. As I watched Jim and James humbly thank each other and everyone else for their hero-like status in our town, I couldn’t help but imagine how different their experiences have been here in Tryon.

I’ll try and avoid the racial tension that is a part of all Southern towns but, safe to say, Jim had it a wee bit easier than James over the years. James lived a block from the white elementary school but had to walk across town to attend the black school. James had to send his daughter to the black school because he, “didn’t want to cause a fuss” by sending her to the white school, which by all accounts was closer and received much more support from the state. James said that the textbooks they used were passed along after the white school had used them. The pages were worn, torn and sometimes missing altogether. And what did James do as a result? He didn’t make a fuss.

James also told a story of a young black girl from Tryon who, “could really play the piano.” He said that at her first public performance in Tryon, her parents were asked to sit in the back of the auditorium. Then he paused, as if a lifetime of not causing a fuss was welling up inside. After a few poignant moments of silence, James did what he’s always done – he didn’t cause a fuss.

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There was one time, however, when James did cause a fuss. James didn’t like the fact that there was a vacant lot across from what is now the police station. A fuss was made and a legacy was born. If you’ve attended a Summer Tracks concert or other event at Rogers Park in Tryon, tip your cap or your cup to James Payne. Without him telling everyone he met about the vision for that vacant lot, who knows what would be there now.

Whether you’ve been here for a week or a lifetime, you’ve undoubtedly bumped into Jim Jackson; he’s everywhere. Chances are, you’ve given him a ride. During that ride he told you to drop by his house anytime but, “don’t knock, just come in, say your name and sit a spell.” Jim, unlike James, had it pretty good here growing up. It wasn’t Jim’s fault he was born white and had all sorts of privileges and opportunities that James didn’t. Jim started to notice the racial divide as he grew older and began wondering why the blacks were treated differently than the whites. And he did more than his fair share to try and affect positive change. Jim’s been everywhere and done pretty much everything. He’s always willing to share a story, experience or observation and is even more willing to be a neighbor.

Another long-time Tryonite told me that if he had to describe these two men with one word it would be: Jim = Generosity and James = Integrity. That’s some pretty high praise considering the source.

One day Jim and James won’t be here any more. I’m just hoping they leave a little of their humble and welcoming spirit behind for us. That’s the secret sauce of this place and it’s our job to carry on their legacy of service, friendship, tolerance and humility.

Jim and James, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU for your service, sacrifice and for doing more than your fair share to make this place so special. And for setting THE example of how to be a friend, a neighbor and a Tryonite.

Written by Michael Baughman