Happy Birthday, Ol’ Man

Email from Jim, April 21, 2005, 8:29 AM: “I’m planning on going up for Jack’s B’day. FYI.”

I remember clearly the flood of thought that washed through my brain on reading that message. “Does he want company?” “What do I do about YAG?” I loved road trips with my brother and his dog. But we had performances going on for one play and another play was going up in a couple weeks. May 9th fell during that play’s tech week. It was not the best time for me to be out of town. I knew if I missed part of tech week I would probably return to find some kind of mess that would just make more work for me.

But something, Celtic sixth sense or whatever you want to call it, said, “to hell with YAG. You are not indispensible and somebody else can cover for you. Go north.” And so I did. Jim and Valdemort and Sam (dog, not archaeologist) and I loaded ourselves into Jim’s Honda minivan and headed up. Miraculously, in a region of the country where it can snow as late as June, we had a little bit of summer that weekend. The boys fooled around with their fancy new garage. I kayaked to Cedar Point. When we asked Grandaddy what he wanted for his birthday dinner, “hot dog on a bun,” was the reply. A man of simple tastes. No fish or any of “that green stuff”, aka eggplant parmesan, thank you very much.

I saw my brother alive and walking around one more time, at Mouse’s graduation party. Our next meeting was in a hospital intensive care unit. He was unconscious by the time I arrived to say goodbye. If hindsight is worth anything at all, it’s because those of us he left behind get some comfort from speculating that he likely knew a year ago he was not going to live much longer. The trip to the UP was the last chance to see his parents, visit his garage, and walk the beach.

We didn’t predict that Jack would die before his next birthday. I certainly didn’t expect him to live forever and at 86 years, just about anything can happen at any time. On the other hand, he was pretty darn healthy for an old coot. Living a quiet lifestyle with The Commander looking after him, he might’ve motored along indefinitely. But that changed instantaneously when he slipped on ice January 31. After a mind-bogglingly horrific odyssey through two hospitals and a rehabilitation facility, he slipped away on March 23.

Happy birthday, ol’ man. Wherever you are, I hope there’s a little snort (or two) of Jack Daniels. And a hot dog on a bun. A cookie or two or three. S-A-N-D. A sunny, warm, fly-free beach next to a shipping channel filled with lake freighters. Jim and Sam to walk the beach and look under vee-hickle hoods with. Duke and Don and Lewie and some of the others who went before you. And a few B52 bombers doing a tree-top flyover. Love.

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