It began with a sob. I was 17. She doesn't know that I heard. But through the door to my mother's bathroom I could hear her crying. I didn't know why. I still don't. Times were happy for the most part, and although I knew we struggled financially, as far as I knew, we were making it okay.
But I'm a fixer. A healer. It's what I do. It's part of the reason I have such crappy taste in men, because I want to heal their wounds because I know they are good people and even if it doesn't work out for us, maybe it will for the next girl. That is not the point of this story though. This story is about my mom.
I didn't know what was bothering my mom that day but there was something in her world that I wanted to fix. With singular purpose, I pulled out her phone book, the little white one with the gold writing on the front that had been around forever and I found the address I was looking for.
Dear Mr Namehasbeenchanged...
And so began a correspondence with a man I had never met. A man who preferred that I call him Rat Fink rather than Mr. Suchandsuch. A man who held a quiet, yet invisible place in our lives. Who had never met my mother yet she had his address.
My Mother's father.
Jack was my Grandmother's first husband. He was her brother's best friend. They had two children. She was 15 maybe 16 when they got married, and 17 when my uncle was born. My mom came along when she was 18 and then the marriage was over.
Jack was in the military. That's what men did back then, you know, in the early 50's when college was not the only option schools pushed. Most of the details that I know about Jack are encased in letters I pray that I saved. Hand written correspondence that started with the first one I sent, and I'm not sure when they ended.
In that first letter, I berated him for not being a part of our lives. I told him about my family, how he had missed out not only on his children but his grandchildren. Looking back, I was probably pretty harsh. But all I knew was that he had never met his two eldest children.
I learned a lot about Jack from those letters. His time overseas. How he once held the world's record in the javelin throw. The invitation to the Olympics in Rome, turned down if I remember correctly, for his military obligations.
I learned how when he received the divorce papers, he went, in his grief, to his priest who told him to walk away and forget the family he had started and to start over. He met his "new" wife and began again. They had 4 boys together and were married, well, they never stopped being married. He told me that he never missed a child support payment. And that he regretted taking the advice of the priest.
The summer after I graduated from High School, I arranged a meeting between my mother and her father. We all gathered at an uncle's house oddly close to my mom's older brother, who declined the invite to meet him. I met Jack, and Jan, his wife along with a couple of uncles who's names I have forgotten. After that day, Jack and I continued to correspond for awhile and I learned about his love for Ham Radio which I find similar in spirit to my need for reaching out on the internet. Same concept, different technology. He might also be why I like throwing things... hmm.
You know how it gets as you get older. Life takes over and you forget who's turn it is to respond. The "I really should drop a note" thought takes over but when you have time, somehow, you have forgotten.
I wish I hadn't forgotten for so many years because I learned this evening that I can't drop Jack any more notes. We, all of us, learned today that Jack died back in December. Oddly, on Uncle Mike's birthday. I didn't know he was sick. A lame excuse, I know, I knew he wasn't a spring chicken, a comparison I know would have made him smile. But in my mind, just as I have not been aging, neither had he. He was 70 when I met him which makes him what? 75? Or something... Somehow, I lost a lot of years in the shuffle of working and trying to survive. Wrapped up in my own dramas and learning life's lessons. I know he understood.
I am so glad I wrote that first letter.
We never really became one big happy extended family. My mom still hardly knows her other 4 brothers and Uncle Mike never was interested in the idea of meeting his father. I never started calling Jack "Grandpa", and he never expected that I should. He will always be Jack. He needs no other title in my mind.
Jack holds a special place in my heart. We spoke the same language, he and I and I will treasure his letters and stories always. Maybe one day Jan will send me my half of the letters. Those would be a great treasure as well. I'm sure he kept them. We're sentimental people like that.
I wish there was more to say. He believed in Heaven, but I'm sure there is no need for Ham Radio there. Perhaps he is young again, competing in track and field events. Perhaps he is Roller Skating with Uncle Bob, Uncle Bill and Aunt Carla. I like to think that the next time I bout he'll be cheering me on. Roller Derby seems like it would have been his kind of adventure. I wish I could have shared that with him.
I guess there are a lot of things I will wish over the years I had shared with him. No use in mourning them now. So instead I will say,
Goodnight, Jack. Sleep well.