Jimmy Corp and the Nonsense that Binds a Family
August 25, 2015
Posted By: Shaunescy
By Shane Borrowman
In my family, we treat Santa Claus like “Fight Club”: The first rule of Santa Claus is “Don’t talk about Santa.” The second rule of Santa Claus… You get the idea. This way we can maintain the idea of Santa and the practice of Santa—all the stories and gift giving—while skirting the real vs. not real debate. It works. No harm done.
So Santa doesn’t come up often, and I don’t get the opportunity to spin stories about what he does in the off season (gold mining in Alaska), about how too much egg nog once landed him in court for a public intoxication charge, about workplace safety violations in his toy department. Since I don’t get the chance to talk about the secret life of Santa, I make a habit of dumping all of that narrative energy into other characters.
Take Jimmy Corp, for example.
Like all kids in Montana, my twins have already spent an oddly large amount of time studying the Lewis and Clark expedition. They’ve drawn maps, watched documentaries, visited the local L&C hotspots in Beaverhead County. My wife teaches American History, so dinner-table talk has, at one time or another, focused on everything from the legality of the Louisiana Purchase to the pronunciation of “Sacajawea”—the traditional one that begins with “sack” and ends with “we-uh” and the more-likely-to-be-true version that ends with “way-uh.” Seriously. That came up.
I don’t have a lot to offer in these discussions, so I have a tendency to look for the places where I can interject some creative nonsense.
“Why,” my daughter asked, moving food around on her plate but not really eating anything, “was the group called The Corp of Discovery?”
“Well,” I said, “that’s because of Jimmy Corp, one of the main guys in the whole mission. Really, it should have been called The Lewis, Clark, and Corp expedition. Jimmy’s the one who put everything together, from organizing the supplies to buying the boats. He was close to President Jefferson. Good friends. They used to hang out together, drink a few beers, and watch soccer matches at Jefferson’s plantation. Jefferson’s the one who really brought soccer to this country, you know.”
John and Sam looked skeptical. They’ve learned that I have a habit to tell two-part lies: the main lie with support from the secondary lie. In this instance, the primary lie is, of course, the very existence of Jimmy Corp. But the lie about Jefferson and soccer is placed as a distraction, something to fixate on while the main lie builds momentum.
“Today is, in fact, Jimmy Corp Day. It’s been a recognized holiday in Montana for more than fifty years. I’m surprised you didn’t hear about this at school or on television. It’s a big deal. There are parades, the biggest in Butte, Billings, and Twin Bridges. I used to have a Jimmy Corp Day t-shirt, but I got rid of it when I gained some weight a few years back.”
All of this came in a rush, my fork frozen halfway to my mouth.
“A lot of the rivers and other pieces of the landscape were originally named after JC, in fact, but the maps got changed after the whole expedition was over. No one in Washington thought ‘Jimmy’s River’ or ‘Mount Jimmy’ sounded good. Same thing happened later, as Montana was settled. Any of the towns that tried to have a name like ‘Jimmyville’ had to change.”
John jumped in: “No way. That can’t be true.”
“Check Google,” I told him, “there isn’t a lot about him online, but I know you can find at least one site.”
“You’ll just go to Wikipedia and make a page for ‘Jimmy Corp.’”
“No I won’t,” I said with a tone of righteous indignation. That’s exactly what I planned to do. I’d already, in the space of a few minutes, decided I needed to make a page for Jimmy Corp on Wikipedia, one that linked to a second page about the history of Jimmy Corp Day. I was even thinking of buying the domain name www.jimmycorp.com.
The kids saw through me, and I abandoned the fiction of Jimmy Corp.
But I didn’t abandon JC entirely. He’s taken on a life of his own within the family. When we see the name Jimmy, or the word Corp, we jump back into the story. We speculate about Jimmy’s upbringing in those really scary forests where the Jersey Devil lives (invented as we watched a documentary about that particular bogeyman). We fill in details about his life after the Lewis, Clark, and Corp expedition—early success as a scout for the US cavalry followed by an emotionally unfulfilling marriage to a Cajun girl he met while hunting alligators.
Jimmy has become a family fiction, a running joke, a weird bit of make believe that we giggle over far more than we should.
Jimmy Corp has become part of the family. Knowing him like I do, I’m pretty sure he’d be cool with this—as long as we don’t talk about the time he got into a fistfight with Clark over naming the “Clark Fork” river.
Shane Borrowman is a native of Anaconda, father of twins, and professor of English at The University of Montana Western. He has published on a wide range of topics, including the development of boxing in Renaissance England, medieval Arabic philosophy, and American zombie films. He is editor or co-editor of four writing textbooks and six collections of original scholarship. Visit http://www.shaneborrowman.com , home of Shane's blog, Kairotic Palaver.