Search DC's Musings

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Visiting Jack


I wrote this story November 4, 1995; kind of rough but I still enjoy the sentiments. I hope you enjoy it. DCS

It had been almost one year to the day since I had last seen Jack. This time I had taken my bride of two months to Tulsa to visit with him, and his wife, in their large home in Tulsa. The weather was exciting, we flew through enormous clouds peppering a deep Midwest autumn blue sky. As soon as we climbed into the rental car I turned on the radio and learned the area was under Tornado Watch. Leslie felt this was an exciting alert, never having had to spend the night sleeping on the couch with her brothers and sisters as mom listened to the radio to see if she needed to bundle us into the bathtub for safety.
On our short drive to Jack's home I felt the nostalgia build as I drove across the town of my birth. Leslie was unusually silent, perhaps sensing my reflection, perhaps merely absorbing the sights along our route. The trees were wearing their autumn colors, branches swirling as the winds became stronger. As we entered Jack's neighborhood, I was pulled between speeding up so that I could see him sooner or slowing down so Leslie and I could enjoy the large homes with their immense yards, so rare in our part of the country, yet so prevalent in Tulsa. I opted for the latter, to please myself and to give my wife a sense of what my birth town was about.
We pulled into the circular drive and knocked on the large door. So many times I had entered this house, with its 1950s design and layout. The by now faded coral, avocado, and gold colors telling of a past time when the home was new and stylish. Jack opened the door, stooped with his age, clutching his keys in his bathrobe pocket, shuffling in his tattered slippers. He smiled that large smile; as I got older and surpassed Jack in size he seemed to physically shrink but his smile seemed to get bigger.
As I hugged him and introduced him to my wife I appraised his deteriorating physical condition. He was thinner, his once thick white hair had thinned considerably as well. He moved very slowly and apparently with caution, stooped and teetering. His face was etched even further marking the map of his life. Physically the man had never been, in my mind, in the best of condition and now he was frail.
What really interested me however, was the state of the man's mind. Jack had always been able to regale us with endless stories of his youth, as well as ours. Life had not always been kind to Jack, but all my life he had always been able to entertain me with stories that inevitably ended with us both laughing. Jack saw humor in many things, and told about them often. This was what I was hoping he would be able to do with Leslie, tell her many of the stories I grew up with.
Jack did not disappoint, he told the stories. A sign of his age entered as he repeated a few, as he misplaced me and my uncle in a few, but for two hours he sat, smoked and spoke. About his family and growing up in Tulsa and Oklahoma at the beginning of the century, about his son and grandchildren, everything I had hoped he would tell her. Leslie listened, questioned and laughed. I was happy, my wife had been able to sit and visit with Jack.
Over the next few days we had several visits with Jack. Fighting the thunderstorms as we made our way the few treacherous miles from where we were staying to his home. Each visit filled with Jack telling stories and Leslie and I listening as we watched the rain pelt the windows and lightening crease the sky. I left Tulsa feeling content that my grandfather had met my wife and that, although aging rapidly, he was still capable of story telling and giving her the history of her husband's family. I had been able to share part of my life, my birthplace, with Leslie and my own stories of living there as a small boy. The feeling stayed with me for a long time, I had visited with Jack.

I was tremendously excited, having trouble concentrating and completing routine tasks. Finally my brother called, waking me in the middle of the night, he told me Jack was with him. I cried and could not go back to sleep. Later that day, as morning broke I kept thinking how much I wanted to see Jack and my brother. Unfortunately my schedule dictated my presence at home to attend to business, causing my mind to wander as to Jack's appearance and well being. I awoke early the next day and quickly showered and dressed. Leaving Leslie I began my drive to Ventura. Similar to my visit to Tulsa last year, it was raining and the traffic was slow. Jack was pulling me through the traffic, across the miles and over the hills. The usual drive was doubled by traffic and after several hours I arrived.
As I walked in the room my brother beamed at me and we did something we never do, we hugged. Not the pat on the back men at times concede to, a real hug. Mike, stepped back and said, "Jack, Dennis is here."
I looked down at him with his body wrapped in hospital garb, eyes shut as he slept, head barely covered with thin hair, and tears welled up in my eyes. This was Jack! How long I had waited for this moment, and here he was. I sat and visited with him for a few hours, most of which he slept through as my brother and I talked and caught up. He appeared healthy for his age, and Mike was excited about his condition saying he would be leaving the hospital later that day. As I left to drive home to tell Leslie about my visit I was elated, the emotion would carry me through the remainder of that day and several to follow. I had visited with Jack.

My dad had called in the spring and told me that Jack had died. It was not a surprise, but a bit of news I did not want to hear. It had touched us before, death. But that was so long ago, another life. I learned about it too abruptly and with too much repetition. High school ended with the death of my mother, freshman year of college with the death of her mother and fall of sophomore year was greeted by the news that mom's brother had died. These were not expected, at least not by a teen ager trying to figure out too many things about life to spend any time thinking about death. Jack's death was not a surprise, but still a shock, and we were able to better understand the tragedy. I was happy that Leslie had visited with him and relieved that his pain and suffering had ended. Our family had become a little less uncomfortable with death, we had experienced this before.

My brother's call that had awoken me to inform me of Jack's arrival had occurred almost one year since I had last seen my grandfather, and about seven months since his death. Jack was the first of the next generation, quite a burden for a little eight pound boy. In a few years he will start hearing the stories of his namesake and from his grandfather, father and uncle. Perhaps one day he will bring his wife to visit my father so he can introduce her and have him tell the stories he had heard growing up.
My excitement and emotion from my brother's call was due to the lack of experience my family has in birth. To this point I was more experienced at losing members of the family instead of gaining them. My older brother, Mike, taught me how to add instead of subtract. What a relief to be crying tears of joy rather than sorrow.
I visited Jack, my grandfather, to introduce my wife and give her a sense of my background. I visited Jack, my nephew, to introduce myself. Life's visits and introductions, from the time of our birth until our death, have purpose.

No comments: