Jim, Harry and Bob. For all of us Cummins Kids, they were like the gods on Mt. Olympus, if those gods were Irishmen with Oklahoman accents and construction boots – bigger than life, forces of nature. I truly think they don’t make ‘em like that any more. Maybe it was the things that shaped their lives – the Great Depression childhood, World War II and service in the South Pacific, the explosion of business and lifestyle in the 1950s.
It’s not a surprise that their construction business grew from building houses and commercial buildings to roads to highways and bridges and steel. It took something as big as a bridge or a section of turnpike to match their energy and work ethic. I’m always a little bit surprised when I see pictures of them in coats and ties. In my memory they are always wearing khaki pants and construction boots.
They were all brilliant and they could all do anything they put their minds and hands to. They had varying amounts of higher education, but every one of them was a brilliant engineer and could tell you how anything on the planet worked. We all knew they could fix anything, and that it was useless to try and stop them if they decided to do it. They read and knew about the larger world around them, and they cared about it. Being doers, they contributed to their community, state, and the country they loved in many ways. They weren’t ones to just sit and talk about it.
They weren’t saints. They could be hard on their kids and wives, and always hardest on each other. But they loved their families and their brothers, and their parents, and in the end everyone knew that. You couldn’t help but be proud to be their son or daughter, niece or nephew.
The men and women who worked for them adored them and respected them because they were the best kind of employers – worked harder than anyone else, never asked anyone to do anything they couldn’t do better and faster. They were loyal and cared for people. They gave themselves to their families and communities. They cared about things like hard work, and doing things right, people in need or in trouble, and what it meant to them to be an American.
They all met Jesus in their childhood Baptist church, and though they may have struggled with some of that, they knew who God was, and God knew them, and I have no doubt they are in heaven right now, greeting each other in booming voices and slaps on the back that would knock lesser men down.
I am proud to be the daughter of Harry Earnest Cummins, Jr. and the niece of Robert Payne Cummins and James Brooks Cummins. They were good men, and they all left big holes with their passing, and somehow an even larger crater now that they are all gone. Whenever I do something hard, look at a big task, or need to think big, I will reach for that part of me that came from them, and thank them for the example they set.
With Uncle Jim’s death last night, I am saying good-by to him, but also to them as a set, and that seems hardest of all. Thank you, Lord, for these bigger than life Irishmen. Help me to live up to sharing their name and their DNA.