Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Happy Birthday to A Brother Deeply Missed

UPDATED below!
Today would be my brother Jack's 62nd birthday. It is hard to believe he has been gone for ten years. Jack was a year younger than me and, though we fought as much as any brother and sister do, we were also very close. Jack was one of those rock-solid people. He married young, started a business, raised a family, planted gardens, canned produce, hunted, made and smoked sausage, made his own wine and beer. He lived as healthy a life as anyone I have ever known and yet he died of cancer at too young an age.
Making sausage

I was the opposite of him. I led a gypsy life moving around from place to place, having a lot of romances and a lot of adventures. I was never good at settling down and he worried about me. Whenever I called him he'd say, “Are you okay? Do you need anything?” I think he had a hard time believing we were so different. I always told him I was okay and usually that was true but I loved knowing that he cared.

Jack was a big man, 6'4” and muscular. He worked hard all his life, mostly as a full-time carpenter and part-time farmer. He made bread and wine and the hottest peppers I ever tasted in my life. When I lived in Texas he always asked me to bring him the hottest peppers I could get when I was coming home. I'd go down to a farmer's market in the Rio Grande Valley to a farmer known as the Pepper Man and ask for the hottest peppers he had. The Pepper Man warned me that the ones he sold me were powerful. I assured him they were not for me but for my brother. He said, “Well, tell your brother to be damn careful about going to the bathroom when he's cooking with them.” That cracked Jack up.

He loved to read, especially outdoor adventure books. When we were kids he was in love with Jack London and the Kazan books and he was the kind of reader who always had to talk about what he was reading. He'd tell me the entire plot – whether I was interested or not – and read passages to me. James Oliver Curwood and James Fenimore Cooper and Edgar Allen Poe. More than anything he loved the outdoors. I remember one time my mother, a devout Catholic, told him she was disappointed that he had stopped going to Mass and the sacraments and he said, “I'm nearer to God in the woods than I've ever been in any church.” He was right about that.
Jack with his children, Mark and Amy

He was a great story-teller. I never saw him or talked to him that he didn't have some story to tell me. He especially loved hunting stories. One of his roommates from college told me that, when they were bored at school, they'd go get beer and get Jack to tell stories. He could do that for hours.

I woke up this morning thinking about him and thinking about a ride we took some years back. I was home for a week from wherever I was living at the time and it was a cold snowy day. He said, “Come on, let's go for a ride.” So we got in his truck and went to DePrater's and picked up a case of beer and we took off down West Creek Road and then off up into the woods on logging trails. He knew every inch of those trails and, let me tell you, as much as I loved going “woodsing” with him, he still scared the crap out of me. We saw deer that day and turkey and the whole time we were driving he kept telling me his latest hunting stories. We drank a lot of beer.

Late in the afternoon, it was starting to get dark and the snow was coming down harder and coming down fast. The snow on those logging trails was halfway up the wheel wells and the going was getting rough. We were going slower and slower trying to get through the snow. I had no idea where we were. Finally, the snow was too deep and he stopped the truck and said, “This isn't working.” I, of course, was scared to death. He finished his beer and then said, “Guess I better turn the hubs.” He leaned over, took a pair of pliers from the glove box, got out and turned the hubs on the front wheels, and off we went through the snow. He loved doing things like that. What a jerk.
Me & Jack, 1952

I miss that jerk. So today he would have been 62. He just left the world too damn soon. I hope he is in a snowy forest somewhere with a case of beer and a truck that he can get through anything. And I hope he knows how much he was loved and how deeply missed. Happy birthday, brother.

Thanks for reading.


UPDATE:
A couple hours after I posted this about my brother, I got an email from Glenn, the son of one of Jack's friends from high school, who now lives here in Massachusetts. He wrote,  "Jack was the strongest man I ever met." Then he told me a story about how Jack was helping some guys build the car wash out on Bucktail Trail across from his dad's shop. Somebody made a bet that Jack couldn't carry 2 16-ft. 2x12s on his shoulder up a plank to the second story. He said the guys had been carrying them one at a time up and Jack picked up 3 of them and walked them up the plank. As Glenn said, "he was one mountain of a man."

So naturally I had to tell him about the time I was downtown talking to our cousin Bobby Valentine (who was a bear of a man). A whole bunch of guys pulled up and started harassing Bobby, things escalated, and Bobby said. "Meet me out at the airport in an hour." I was scared because Bobby was all by himself so I went to a pay phone and called Jack and told him what was going on. Jack said "thanks" and hung up. Later I saw Jack and I asked what happened and he said, "nothing." Next time I ran into Bobby, he said he was there and there were 7 or 8 guys and, just as things were getting tense, a truck pulled up and out got Jack and our other cousin, Jackie. Jackie wasn't all that big but everybody knew he was nuts. Bobby said all the other guys took off. End of that fight. 

So then Glenn wrote back a story about Jackie's nephew Wally. It was great because I thought Jack  would like nothing better than to have his birthday celebrated by people telling stories.

4 comments:

Consuelo Saah Baehr said...


This is very interesting, very well written and very
touching. I loved reading about Jack.

Kathleen Valentine said...

Thank you, Consuelo. He was a force of nature.

patty said...

Oh, Kathleen, I enjoyed reading this! Thank you for sharing your brother with us

Kathleen Valentine said...

Thank YOU, Patty!

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