I’m listening to Bob Dylan play Forever Young and reading an email telling me my cousin Jack is in trouble with blood clots in his leg and a racing heart—has been in and out of emergency.
A few months ago I spent an hour laughing with him and a couple of his brothers, we were going over 45 year-old memories.
A friend recently wrote an interesting post on why bloggers blog. Guess I’m writing this to dispel the passing of time. Like the way we take pictures sometimes, a silent and unconscious prayer to slow the earth’s turning—seal off, for a moment, our own inevitable slowing.
Jack, as far as I can tell, doesn’t entertain these ghosts. Takes aging and everything else in stride.
As a kid, summer holidays at my cousins was like living in an episode of the Darling Buds of May. Jack (second eldest of nine) showed me the questionable joys of milking cows by hand—how to satisfy and drive cats mad with a wavering stream of hot milk. He showed me, although I never did have the knack, how to get a last mile out of of a 54 Chevy. Showed me how to drive up a river hill flat out, how to spin out and ease down without rolling over.
Jack showed me what it meant to stack green hay bales until your muscles were hard and your back brown from the sun. Showed me how to spit and split wood. How to get yellow and scratched from rogueing mustard and thistle in an oat field. How to swim in a muddy river; how to swim out beyond a shore choked by algae; how to go through a summer without shoes. How to skin beaver, snare weasels—things that didn’t take, but fascinated me. Jack—an ageless, tumble-down-a-hill, fleshed out Huck Finn.
I was there when he played the clown at an auction sale, walking into machinery, rolling in the grass, making me roll with laughter. He was finally told to stop because the auctioneer couldn’t keep the crowd.
He has had rough patches in his life. He gives away much. Sometimes too much. Knowingly, he’s been taken advantage of. Has that kind of heart.
He’s someone no one will write about, he’s never thought to make a mark, write a blog, never desired more than a simple quiet happiness. Never concerned himself with grand ideas or schemes, never wanted anything more than an unencumbered faith.
Jack is not sophisticated. Fact is, he scoffs at sophistication. Not with words, but by living without our culture’s blinding self-consciousness.
It was Paul Ricoeur who talked about a second naiveté, a spiritual progression from face-value thinking, through critical reflection, to a kind of conscious simplicity—a certain reengaged child-like approach to the world. But Ricoeur didn’t know Jack. In my eyes, Jack was born into it; or maybe, for him, the first and second were one in the same.
With any justice, Jack will pull through this. Pull through like he pulled me through one winter morning after a Saskatchewan blizzard.
There were chores that needed doing. Dad was cautious, the chickens could wait for the snow plow. But Jack had no qualms. And I was in for the ride.
The farm was four miles from town. We made it three—stalled and stuck and in a fender high drift. We’d smacked through a dozen drifts—white waves hitting the hull of the one-ton Ford. Jack made up speed between drifts, but we were slowing with each one, the snow coming higher, flying over the windshield.
The last drift was mean. Crusted hard. And we stopped like a nail hitting a knot. Jack looked surprised. Jumped out and started shovelling—the big grain shovel moving with rock-a-billy rhythm—and I thought the truck might just keep moving on its own with all that momentum. He worked the packed snow out from under the truck, out from around the engine, then made a trail through the drifts ahead. Jack in the distance was a dervish of snow covered steam. Crystals hung in the air around him.
I stood watching, freezing in the minus 30. My hands were going numb, arms hanging down, thumbs folded in palms inside my leather mitts. Jack was back at the truck, grinning, "Lets give her a go." Then noticed, and said, "Your freezing, give me your hands." He took them both into his and we stood there in front of the truck grille, his hands radiating hot, thawing mine.
The truck kicked to life, he rocked it back and forth, a few runs and we were free.
Jack is settling into a marriage and a life that is bringing him joy. Three months ago I asked him how he was doing. He said, "If I was any happier they’d have to put me away."
Here’s to you Jack. Get well.
Jack on the left with two brothers, Stan and Mel