Oxford Misses Jimmy Pitts
Introduction and remembrance by Sarah Beth Reddick. Thanks also to Shannon Watts, Priscilla Grantham, and Laura Cole for helping us all to remember Jimmy. All artwork on this page by Jimmy Pitts.
Jimmy Pitts lived in Oxford for well over a decade. He held positions at Square Books and the University of Mississippi Law Library. He was also a regular contributor to The Local Voice for many years. His true passion was art, all kinds of it, and in abundance.
I met Jimmy several times before actually getting to know him. That’s how it is with people like Jimmy. They are everywhere. They have a finger on the pulse of the town they inhabit, and you bump into them again and again. I moved into the Oxford Apartment Cove during the spring of 2009 and we finally got to talk at length during several late nights and during run ins by the mailbox. We ended up working together, along with Laura Cole, on a zine called Salt. We were in fairly constant communication, and I always smiled when I received his emails, even if they just had a few words or an updated PDF attached, because Jimmy could make even the most mundane communication fun. He was a bit of a perfectionist and could revisit font style and size and margin spacing over and over again until he finally felt he had it right. That same eye for detail in combination with his passion made him prolific. I loved going home and getting out of my car at 2 or 3 a.m. and hearing singing from inside Jimmy’s apartment, or from his front porch.
One of the last times I saw Jimmy, we were hanging out on his couch, watching a documentary in the middle of a summer afternoon. When it ended, he poured us both a cold drink, and asked me what was going on in my life. It had been a year of endings and new beginnings for me, and Jimmy listened carefully to everything I had to say, before telling me plainly and firmly that in order to really start over, I had to let go. I remember his kind eyes at that moment, and that we both started laughing when I asked, “But does anyone really know how to let go?”
When I left his apartment that afternoon, he was back on his laptop making revisions to the issue of Salt that, unbeknownst to us, would soon be on display at his memorial service. He called out, “Hey Sarah, I made your name bigger than everyone else’s because you keep telling me what a badass you are.” I thought he had actually done that, and when I protested, he looked at me, eyes twinkling and said, “No, I didn’t make it bigger. But it does have sparkles around it.” Jimmy brought a special light to everything.
Jimmy had friends everywhere, and he cared for them deeply, and he lived life with what I consider to be a rare and impressive integrity. I still haven’t figured out how to let go, but in Jimmy’s case, I do believe it’s the remembering that will best serve everyone he touched.
I have too many good memories in my head and heart of Jimmy Pitts to narrow down to a favorite. Most of my earliest memories are centered around growing up together in our hometown of Corinth, Mississippi. We were both avid readers and loners as pre-teens and would find ourselves in the town public library during summer months. He and I spent hours among those old dusty bookshelves. We’d read, share our favorite books, and he’d write his poetry. He always carried around a notebook filled with things he’d written and he would share the passages with me. Who knew we were building a friendship that would last over 30 years. I feel so very fortunate to have had such a talented and creative soul in my life and I find peace knowing he spent his life doing all the things that brought him happiness. The memories of his smile, his laughter, and his bigger than life personality will stay with me forever.
You read and hear about Jimmy Pitts: editor, poet, painter, and songwriter. I suppose that’s what he would want to be remembered for, but those things don’t capture who he was. Nothing can, though. Jimmy wasn’t one to be captured, maybe because he was usually in the process of creating. He taught himself to play the guitar, drums, and keyboard, and I would watch smiling from the other side of the room, never knowing which instrument he’d use to play a song. Countless times I’d go to his apartment, his hands would be covered in paint. He’d show me what he was working on and would shrug as if it was no big deal, but it always was. He made it all seem effortless. My favorite memories of Jimmy, though, are simple. Talking on the front porch, going out for Hibachi, listening to REM, and walking to the Square, Jimmy snapping pictures the whole way of the ground and the sky.
Right around December 1st of every year, my kids become extremely nosy. They climb up on kitchen chairs they’ve dragged into the closets so they can see what’s on the top shelves. They peer into hampers in the laundry room. They are compelled to investigate any and every place where a Christmas gift could be hidden. I knew it was only a matter of time before one of them found the big box containing the electric scooter. It had been in the back of my car, a quilt thrown over it, for three days. Risky, I know—but it was too big and too heavy to hide. Jimmy offered to keep it at his place; we made the exchange a week or so before Christmas, meeting under the cover of darkness in the parking lot of my apartment building. He told me he would bring it back on Christmas Eve once all the kids were asleep. The big night finally arrived. I sat on the floor in the middle of my tiny apartment, surrounded by wrapping paper, ribbons, and assembly manuals written in what had to be a three-point font. In German. There was still so much I had to do before my kids woke up. It was after 2 am when I heard a very light tap on my door. Now I could add, “Assemble my Daughter’s Electric Scooter” to the list. I opened the front door and there stood Jimmy with the completely assembled scooter. I threw my arms around him and whispered, “thank you, thank you, thank you!” in his ear. He rolled the scooter into the living room, and propped it against a wall—making sure my daughter would see it as soon as she came downstairs. I felt like a huge weight had just been lifted from my shoulders. I collapsed on the sofa and patted the cushion next to me. “Stay?” I mouthed to Jimmy. With that little half smile of his, he pointed to his watch, and then gestured toward the floor at the presents I had to wrap, the stockings I had to fill. He was right, this was no time to take a break; the kids could wake up at any moment. Jimmy leaned over and kissed my forehead. He ate one of the cookies we’d left out for Santa, drank the glass of milk, and walked out into the cold night, closing the door quietly behind him.