SEFFNER — Jimmy Reichert was a cheery baby with blond hair and eyes like the ocean.
He got bigger, and his hair got brown and wispy. Freckles fell all across his nose, just like his two sisters.
He was a stinker — funny, sarcastic. He wormed his way into trouble and smiled his way out.
"He could really get you," said his aunt, Amy Sheen. "He liked to be kind of rotten, you know? But he had this smile, and you couldn't help smile back and not be mad at him. He just gave you that little grin. Everyone talks about it."
He didn't remember a time without leukemia.
Jimmy was 4 when he got sick — maybe a cold. When he had to nap after a walk down the driveway to the mailbox, it was clearly worse.
Chemotherapy and hospitals became normal for Jimmy, but medical bills were never normal for his family.
Their Seffner mobile home had holes in the floor — his mother, Christy Reichert, had fallen through before. There was bad plumbing, roof leaks.
They did what they could with Jimmy's room. While he was in the hospital, his grandmother helped decorate with glow-in-the-dark stars and spaceships.
They painted the walls light blue, like his eyes.
Jimmy went to McDonald Elementary whenever he could. Doctors warned that treatments might impede his learning.
He loved math and was a good reader. He was street smart, too. He got jokes that were a little mature. He said things like, "I'll have my people call your people."
"We always thought, if this is affecting him, how smart would he have been?" Sheen said.
Steroids made him hungry. He went through phases. Chicken nuggets. Bacon. Bananas. Bologna. Barbecue.
He liked playing Nintendo and watching Rachael Ray on television because she looked pretty, like his mom.
He sang in the school choir and holiday plays, and during karaoke at home.
He'd squeeze his eyes tight, wiggle around and wail passionately. He didn't need the screen — he remembered all the words to Life is a Highway, and the song Last Dollar, by Tim McGraw.
1-2-3, like a bird I sing, 'cause you've given me the most beautiful set of wings.
I'm so glad you're here today, 'cause tomorrow I might have to go and fly away.
• • •
Jimmy was proud of all the cool things he got to do.
He went to New York to visit the Pokemon Center for his Make-A-Wish. He rode in cabs and on the subway.
Tampa police officers and firefighters raised money for Jimmy in the Badge Bowl football game. Before that, Jimmy had aspired to be an astronaut. After that, he decided to be a police officer in space.
Officers came to the Reichert home and saw the conditions. They decided to help.
They replaced the trailer with a new, renovated one. The Krewe of Agustina de Aragon donated 750 service hours. Rooms to Go donated furniture.
In 2007, surrounded by his mom and sisters, Jimmy saw his new room.
It was painted blue — this time, deeper. There was an under-the-sea mural, and a net hanging from the ceiling with his favorite animal, an octopus.
Jimmy spent a while screaming and jumping on the bed.
Last weekend, in a brief deliverance from infections and complications, he went home for a little while to play.
Back at the hospital, when nothing else could be done, the family let him go to sleep.
Jimmy died Monday. He was 9.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.