“You know Jack had lots of girlfriends.” My heart dropped. Somehow I thought I was the only one. I thought of our summer together, working side by side, as we finished various projects at my new lake house. The hot days, the way he looked at me when he was ready for a swim.
Jack was tall, dark and handsome with big feet; he strolled around with a down- home humble air--not arrogant with his good looks. He had a quiet way about him; he was calm but energetic—always ready for fun. When he looked at you, it was if he looked right inside your heart, and he understood all your thoughts and concerns. He was a great listener. He never interrupted when we chatted in my garage as I painted old kitchen chairs, or even complained when I accidentally dripped robin egg blue paint all over him. Jack was a patient soul.
Very little phased Jack, he was more than happy to let me lead the way in the projects even if he knew I would have to start over. He was generous too. He always allowed me to eat the last part the sandwiches we shared. I felt a kinship with Jack, but in my heart, I knew I was not his only friend. Jack had that way about him; I could tell he was one of those guys that was first at the party and last to leave.
Life was his best friend. He truly never met a stranger. When he was on his boat-other boaters would wave and say, “Hey Jack!” or “There’s Jack! How ‘ya doing over there!” Jet ski’s often circled his boat slowly creating a wake of hellos. He loved to fish late in the day watching the sun set on another beautiful Lake Wedowee day. Jack was definitely the big man on and off the lake.
Athletic by nature, he would run six or seven miles with one friend, and then bike along with another friend for ten miles or so, and then think nothing of swimming by a girlfriend’s house, and then still have the energy to swim home. And even though he was the strong and silent type, he was always ready to share his viewpoint on various issues if one stopped long enough to pick up his subtle cues.
For a while this summer, Jack came by my house every day, and waited until my dog Hiker and I went for our daily walk. We picked up our conversation where we left off the day before, without missing a moment’s time. Then we would start working on my various projects from painting to gardening and if it got hot, he just sat down and rested awhile.
Our builders, Chris Jones and Jimmy Stephens first introduced me to Jack. He was a new addition to our job site and at first I wasn’t too sure about him. We had a conversation that went something like this:
“Is he gonna cost us more money?” I asked Jimmy.
“Nah, he’s a good ole boy. I’ve known him awhile now.”
They were right. He was a good ole boy. Even my husband liked Jack. My dog liked Jack, everyone on the site liked Jack, so I just had to get to know this fella named Jack.
According to his mother, Jack brought home girlfriends almost everyday. She’d get home from work, and there he would be swimming in the cove with either Abby or Sue—but never both, Abby did not want anything to do with Sue. But those girls loved Jack. Each girl would swim over two coves just to be with Jack. He was so forgiving, too. Once he let Abby have babies at his house, and he was not even the father.
He never saw the point in calling fault with anyone; but let’s face it, he loved the ladies. Once he jumped in bed with a woman who left her door open. It was a quiet summer morning and she left a door open accidentally after letting her dog outside.
And even though Jack didn’t know her real well, the bed looked comfortable and he probably had already ran and biked his way through the county and needed a nap.
Needless to say, she was not pleased. His mother had to go pick him up and explain the ways of the world to him.
I was surprised that Jack still lived at home-- he seemed like quite the man about town. Oh, he was, she explained. Jack was known for being a wandering fool. You couldn’t get him to stop. She would leave for work, and as soon as he knew she was out of the driveway, he would be off to his own job. Jack did what most of us would love to do—you know, not thinking too much about your day, just doing what feels right and following the day where it leads you. Jack had a general schedule, but nothing set in stone. A wanderer. He was a peace pilgrim of sorts.
You see, his parents adopted him, after his first set of parents said they just couldn’t manage his wandering ways. For a long time, he liked to hang out in and around Jack’s hamburgers on highway 431. Then one day in 2005, probably after a double cheeseburger, he sauntered in to The Veranda, a new antique shop opened by Ramonda Crouch. He got plenty of attention from Ramonda and her fellow employees. He loved chatting with the girls on the big wide front porch, and found the perfect spot for an afternoon nap. Jack was truly smitten with Ramonda.
After a long discussion, Ramonda and Gene Crouch brought him home. They named him Jack, since he obviously had a special place in his heart for a good cheeseburger. They were aware that Jack had his drawbacks and knew it was going to be a challenge to parent this independent soul. While they did their best to corral him into staying at home, Jack had business in this world that needed to be tended to.
Most of the time it led Jack to a construction site. He loved to hang around construction sites. Jimmy Stephens, of Jimmy Stephens Construction explained to me that someone, somewhere, fed him a biscuit and then from then on he didn’t mind swimming far and wide towards the echoes of the hammers to meet some new friends in hopes of snacking on a biscuit or two. Let’s face it, what dog doesn’t love free biscuits?
Ramonda and Gene put a dog tracker collar on Jack and each day Jack seemed to surpass the last day’s travels. The two were simply amazed by the amount of territory he covered in a day. They did their best to keep him home, but it was near impossible. Jack was his own man—in a dog’s body.
Jack unexpectedly passed on November 29, 2013 after a brief illness. He had been to the vet for his yearly vaccinations and heartworm. His parents think it could have been a reaction to the heartworm medicine, but no one knows for sure.
I do know that many of us lake folks will miss Jack. I for one, felt like he was part of a posse of angels who walked me through a season of extreme grief. After we starting building our home, our youngest daughter, Julia Tarter, 20 died in a weird auto accident.
I attempted to dodge grief by traveling anywhere and everywhere that I could walk and walk and walk without knowing anyone. When I was at the lake, my dog Hiker, Jack and I would walk and talk. When I would pull up to our home he was often sitting on the driveway waiting for me, more than likely waiting for a biscuit, but it felt like he was there as a silent angel. But I didn’t care if it was just for the biscuits, or to swim with Hiker, I like his carefree ways. He reminded me that life is what you make it.
What I had found after suddenly losing Julia, who was an extraordinary young woman who loved and cared for all was that I was in extreme pain. I had no answers, and didn’t want to hear any yet either. What I did know was that sometimes people filled conversations with that silent dead space, or the awkward advice, and fear-projected glances that sum up feelings like, I can’t imagine, thank goodness it didn’t happen to my child. It became too much of a burden to manage well meaning conversations, to make each person feel okay about my pain and my heart being completely broken–the kind of pain that only someone who has lost a child can understand. But Jack was just Jack. He listened and watched over me, and though he was a canine, I felt like he was there on a divine mission.
Painting furniture, gardening and crying through each project- Jack listened and understood my pain. When an 80 pound black dog, walks over a licks the tears off your face, you know you are not alone.
Perhaps Jack was sent to wander so he could run with those who needed a push, to listen to those who needed to talk, to help a fellow canine deliver her babies in the comfort of his home. And by just being Jack, he reminds us to value the simple gift of kindness, to make time for listening, and to love all without judgment, and to enjoy a good swim after a long day and always wave—life is short.