A tornado of loss: friends rally to aid creative community fixture

A benefit for Jim McCraley takes place from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Hi Brow Pub in Upland. Photo/by Cerena Cooper

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

Friends and supporters are rallying around longtime Claremont music fan and creative community fixture Jim McCraley, who recently lost his brother and mother, with a benefit concert and fundraiser, “For the love of Jim,” this Sunday, August 6.

The event, at the Hi Brow Pub, 1557 N. Mountain Ave., Upland, runs from 3 to 7 p.m. and will feature music by The Bells, Mick Rhodes and the Hard Eight, Les Fleurs de Claremont, and Honey Buckets, as well as raffle prizes, a full bar and pub menu.

McCraley, 59, had been beset by health problems of his own prior to becoming his mother Elizabeth’s caretaker in 2018. She was suffering with polycystic kidney disease, a hereditary malady that fills the kidneys with cysts. His mother later developed irregular blood pressure and digestive problems.

McCraley is also afflicted with polycystic kidney disease.

“So it behooved me to be here, not only as her oldest son, but as somebody to bear witness to something I’m probably going to go through in my twilight years,” he said

His mom battled the disease for 15 years and was on dialysis for the previous five.

On March 17, with her blood pressure fluctuating dangerously, she was admitted to Kaiser Permanente Ontario Medical Center. Complications abounded, including a UTI and low kidney function.

He had been hoping for a recovery, but over the next two weeks his mother’s condition worsened.

McCraley’s described his brother David as a gregarious, generous soul, a musician, artist, comedian, and “all around charmer.” He also had heart problems.

“He’d been kind of in denial about his heart disease for the last few years, although we were all aware of it,” McCraley said.

In the early morning of May 31 David suffered a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital.

“And it wasn’t 20 minutes later that my brother [Steven] called and said that David had died,” McCraley said.

His mother had already buried two daughters. He decided it was best not to burden her with the news.

“Both of those were devastating events in her life, and I knew that no matter what my mother’s health was, the news that my brother had passed would have absolutely done her in,” he said.

So, with his last remaining sibling, Steven, he sat up into the wee hours May 31 trying to figure out how to tell their mother about her latest loss.

Then at 6 a.m. his mother’s doctor at Kaiser Ontario called: it was time to gather the family.

Elizabeth McCraley died at 1 p.m., May 31, just 12 hours after her son, a tragedy she was mercifully spared from knowing.

The family of seven, which had seen the deaths of two of McCraley’s sisters in recent years, was now just three, including him, his brother Steven, and the boys’ long estranged father.

His mother died with a will, but her Chino home was not in a trust, so it will go into probate, a process McCraley said will likely take 12 to 18 months. Because of his heart problems — which have required two surgeries in recent years — McCraley is unable to re-start his once thriving landscaping business. He’s pursuing disability insurance, but it’s a complicated, time consuming process and it too won’t likely be resolved for months. He and his brother are looking at all options, including taking in a tenant or two. But in the immediate, they do not have the means to cover their mother’s mortgage past this month or next, and fear the family home may be lost.

“We’re considering whether it’s possible to keep the house from going into foreclosure with the current incomes we have right now,” McCraley said.

It’s hoped the benefit will raise enough funds to give them some financial breathing room to sort things out.

McCraley grew up in Orange County. His family, with five young children, moved to Chino in 1976 when he was 12. Looking for affordable places to feed all those kids, his mother and father happened upon Griswold’s smorgasbord.

“That was my introduction to Claremont, and it was love at first sight,” McCraley said.

He moved to Claremont in 1985. He had been working at Music Plus record store in Chino, but his co-worker, Kevin “Mr. P” Ausmus, from legendary local punk rock/performance art provocateurs the Desperation Squad, told him he belonged at Claremont’s Rhino Records. There he met lifelong friends, and later worked at various other Claremont institutions including Some Crust Bakery and the Claremont Colleges’ Huntley Bookstore.

After a five year stint in the Bay Area, he returned to Claremont in 1994. Shortly thereafter he became a father to his girlfriend’s two young daughters Celeste, now 25, and Camille, 23, and in 2003 the couple had a child of their own, Ivy, now 19.

About his mother: “Her door was always open, there was always a place at her table or spot on the couch to sleep,” McCraley said. “She never saw a scam artist, a finagler, a freeloader; she sheltered, fed, and nurtured everyone. She never kept her heart closed, always saw somebody in need and just accepted you at face value.”

Several of McCraley’s peers have died or been down on their luck in recent years. Each time, he’s been there to help with benefits and memorials.

Now it’s his turn.

“I’ve watched this community come together time and time again,” McCraley said, ticking off the names of friends who have died over the past several years. “We don’t let each other fall. We don’t let each other go through things alone. Be it triumph or challenge, this community is steadfast … and I’ve never seen anything more beautiful in my entire life.”

The Courier asked him how it felt to now be the recipient of that community largesse.

“My reaction was to burst into tears,” he said. “In all of my days — and I’ve been around the world a little bit — I’ve met so many beautiful people. But often it’s been on a one-to-one individual basis. But when I came to Claremont, this community opened its arms to me. I was a misfit in Chino. I was a long-haired, dirty, unwashed hippie. And I come to Claremont and they had a place for me.

“Life has enough cruelty and challenges on its own. And the fact that we are in a community that practices kindness on a regular basis, it makes the whole difference. It makes everything worth it.”

“For the love of Jim” runs from 3 to 7 p.m. this Sunday, August 6, at the Hi Brow Pub, 1557 N. Mountain Ave., Upland. More info is at the Facebook event page by searching “for the love of Jim,” and at thehibrowpub.com. a


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