Jim Carmichael’s 80 years on this earth were not enough for his family. He lost his wife Julie less than a month before his own passing, a fact that reveals more about their connection than words on a page can describe. His children James (Kris), Cindy (Darrell), Drew (Dana), and Lucy (Caleb), as well as his sister Gilly (Mike), her kids John and Ginger, and his beloved grandchildren Hannah, Jack, Katie, Sydney, Nola, and Leela are all so sad they won’t be able to share a meal, a story, or a card game with him again.
A talented salesman, Jim was a Territory Sales Manager for F.B. Wright for 48 years. He began his work with the company in Detroit, and was transferred to Cincinnati in order to serve as their main salesperson for GM’s newly opened plant. Although his work was in sales, much of what made him good at his job was his ability to identify and design solutions to tricky problems. Jim and his second wife Julie found their perfect home in Oakwood, a suburb of Dayton, and couldn’t stand the idea of leaving their perfect house—and so they stayed.
While Julie was known for her bold design choices, we have only Jim to thank (blame?) for the elaborate ceramic pastel floral chandelier that hung in their japonais-style dining room. Jim was inordinately proud of this chandelier, and the story of its acquisition is almost as florid as its riot of pink and yellow flowers. DOCTOR Carmichael (he was not a doctor) talked his way into the high roller blackjack tables in Vegas, and used his winnings to purchase the chandelier at his local chocolate seller, Esther Price’s sales showroom. Many a Thanksgiving dinner or aggressive round of Hearts was played under that much beloved (by him) chandelier.
Jim was an astute and unrelenting player of card games. He would as happily beat a crying grandchild as a Vegas cardsharp; no quarter was asked for or given in a game of cards with Jim. He inspired the competitive instincts in all opponents, who wanted nothing more than to wipe the smug smirk off of his laughing face as he gently but mercilessly dropped a queen of spades on an unwilling victim. Repeatedly. With a chortle of glee and a twinkle in his eye. Unless, of course, he was shooting the moon. Every Thanksgiving evening, that dining room was filled with the sounds of laughing, groaning, and occasionally swearing, as his family gathered around to play Hearts or Euchre, though he was known to play a round of Crazy 8s with his grandkids.
Jim’s favorite holiday was, unsurprisingly, perhaps, Thanksgiving—it featured all of his favorite things: good food, lots of family storytelling and game playing, football, and a nice crisp autumn walk around the block with the family’s dogs, most likely a black lab or two. There are many tales of Thanksgiving food disasters that inspired yearly retelling and good-natured mockery (or annual ridicule, if you were the person who lit the sweet potatoes briefly on fire or festooned the room with whipped cream). He taught his granddaughter Katie to play Hearts at that table, while her brother Jack curled up under it, snuggling the family dogs.
As much as Jim loved Thanksgiving, he may have loved Michigan even more. He grew up there, and spent his summers working on his grandfather’s farm, amassing a well of entertaining (read: mainly dangerous) stories. During the school year, he lived his best life before age 10 in Detroit, and thereafter in Livonia as a talented all-around athlete, campus leader (Senior Class President!), and academically gifted student who graduated in the top 10% of his class, but he spent his summers gathering eggs while being chased by a seriously angry rooster, being leaned on by horses, or being repeatedly entrapped by his nemesis, the bull, midway across a wide field. In Michigan, he married his first wife, and began his family with kids Cindy and James.
Some of Jim’s best times in Michigan were spent on the water, though. He loved to sit on the beaches of Glen Arbor, where he told granddaughters Nola and Leela the story of the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, and the lost bear cubs, which became the Manitou Islands. But there’s another story of the Manitous, and it involves his much-beloved (again, by him) Boston Whaler. Jim decided to take Drew and Lucy to the islands when they were children. Now Jim LOVED that whaler, probably because he got to sit in the only padded seat on the boat. Not true for Drew and Lucy, who were relegated to a bare board bench. Jim would proudly tell you that whalers are the safest boats out there, because they ride on top of the waves. This is great on a river or small lake. It is less great on Lake Michigan; Drew and Lucy were repeatedly paddled by the board bench as the boat skipped across 5-foot waves for at least 4 hours.
Jim’s love for boating (and that boat in particular) continued, even though he had to swim it back to shore more than once in a smaller lake or river, whether because he lost a paddle or forgot to drop the ladder. He also took canoe trips to the Boundary Waters and once went the wrong way down Lava Falls, a perilous (and unintended by the guide) route while white-water rafting with Drew on the Colorado River, riding the edge of the raft like Dr. Strangelove. Quoth Jim: “that was fun!” Quoth his guide, looking at the absolutely destroyed prop: “oh my god.”
Jim loved nothing more than canoeing or kayaking down the Crystal River in Michigan with his family. After years of unbalancing every canoe he sat in (Jim was 6’4” and had been scouted to play professional football by the Miami Dolphins), discovering kayaks was a revelation to him, and he spent the whole of a trip down the Crystal marveling at its absolutely clear waters, and shooting the culvert with significantly less drama and danger (he would have called this excitement) than the canoe provided.
But you can’t always have a kayak, particularly in the wilds of the UP, which leads to one of his grandkids’ very favorite stories: the Lucy Mad Story. After securing a canoe from a, shall we say disreputable, boat rental office with broken windows and a very disinterested purveyer of said boats, Lucy and Jim, with Dana and Drew in a second boat, put in on an algae-filled lake, having been assured that they could easily reach the river just by popping briefly into Lake Michigan from the tributary and turning onto a calm and delightful river. You can probably guess that such a river was never located, and Drew and Lucy had another very exciting boat trip into the big lake. Drew and Dana hung back, as the canoes approached the lake and its 6-foot swells, watching to see just what Jim would do. Well, it turns out, no amount of boatsmanship can make a rental canoe stay right-side-up heading straight in the waves of an ocean-sized lake, and so over they went. Then Drew and Dana watched Lucy storm past, leaving Jim to mournfully tow the canoe to an abandoned beach inside the cove. Later, we all learned that that cove was known for having some of the worst shipwrecks in the lake, many of which were plainly visible. Jim never tired of retelling that story, followed with enduring mockery for briefly lighting a swamp and a lawn mower on fire on that very same trip.
Jim was a story-teller, and every story started with a “Well…” But he wasn’t always a master of words—or at least he had decided to keep his own counsel a little longer than most kids. By age 5, Jim still hadn’t begun to speak. It’s not that he couldn’t. It’s that he wouldn’t. His brash Scottish mother finally did the only thing she could think of: she refused to give him pie until he said the word. Fit to be tied, Jim (who always very much liked a cherry pie) finally red-faced burst out the word “PIE!” with resentment and also probably hunger. And he never stopped talking again. Phone calls between Jim and his sons might be better qualified as shouting matches, while these Carmichael men seemed fairly certain that they needed to project across the distance from Atlanta or Milwaukee to Dayton.
Jim’s love of food invokes another good story, showcasing his willingness to try new things. His first trip to a sushi restaurant with Drew did not occur until he was in his 50s, but he tried every roll and bite of sashimi with great delight, including the ball of wasabi, which he was certain was a slice of avocado. In typical Jim fashion, he choked the entirety of that fiery horseradish down stubbornly, tears pouring down his reddened face, followed swiftly by another tasty sushi roll. Fortunately, his first sushi meal was not also his last, and he delighted in going out to meals with his kids in Georgia, Colorado, Ohio, and Milwaukee.
He made friends with every member of the waitstaff, even managing to procure extra tater tots for himself on a regular basis at his care facility in his later years. Cindy remembers having to explain that when a waitress calls you “sweetie” or “hon'' in the South, it’s not a personal compliment but part of the culture. That didn’t stop Jim from falling in love with a little southern diner, where the waitress charmed him by calling him sweetie, and also continuously refilled his plate of pork chops and his cup of sweet tea. He insisted on returning to enjoy a little more of this southern hospitality. He loved his time with Cindy and Darrell on top of the mountain, and he would sit happily on the porch for hours, enjoying the view and seeing what the world had to offer that day.
That image of Jim sitting on the porch of a beach house, or a mountaintop cabin, or even his own front porch, is one of the ways we will all remember him. He could sit and happily contemplate the world, and watch the neighborhood action, waving at kids passing by, chatting with a neighbor or mail person, calling his dog to sit beside him. He will come back to us when we drive across a meadow at twilight and think of him looking for deer, or when we take a breath of fresh Michigan air or a bite of pie from Cherry Republic, and hear him say “it just tastes better here.” That patience with and appetite for the pleasures of the world is a part of his wonderful, quirky, vibrant humanity, and we are lucky to have loved him.