Uncle Jack will not likely go down in history as memorable. He never did much to merit acclaim or notoriety. The oldest of five brothers and sisters of a medium-sized Midwestern city, he was a relatively unknown family member. He likely did not graduate from high school, which coincided with the duration of the First World War.
He was drafted into the army, and served overseas in France during the war. At war’s end, he returned to the States, and was released from his military service. He more or less broke family ties at that point, not completely, but he limited his presence “at home”. He began to move around, from one part of the country to another. He was unattached to anyone, though he had a friendly personality, and always seemed able to make friends, wherever he might happen to be.
So long as his aging parents were alive, he would show up at his family of origin unpredictably, stay awhile, then move on. He had a brother, another bachelor, who was the stay-at-home type, and three sisters, all of whom eventually married. As mentioned, there was no close network bonding him with any of his kin, probably because he was never at home long enough for this to happen. But he never seemed lonely or morose or dependant, at least in the early days, even though he was rootless. With the passage of time his family members grew accustomed to his nomadic comings and goings, and laconically report that Uncle Jack was back home. Everyone anticipated that this would be for just a time, before he was gone again. There was some periodic remonstrance from his sisters about settling down and starting a family life, but he enjoyed living out of town.
He became a traveling salesman, being the garrulous type with the persons with whom he associated. These happened to be professional golfers, whose careers entailed their traveling on the golfing tour, from place to place. Uncle Jack wasn’t interested in competing to join their professional ranks, but he did enjoy the life of a salesman for golfing equipment, travelling along with them. That group became his family. Perhaps some of them had been in the military with him, but it was a group whose company he enjoyed, striking up friendships with many of them. They formed a buddy system. He got to know their golfing habits and made sure they had access to the golfing equipment they needed.
The professional golfing tour of the 1920s and 1930s became his way of life. Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones were two of the better known on the men’s golfing tour in those days. These were the best days of his life for Uncle Jack, consorting with the rich and famous. Unfortunately, those kinds of days didn’t last forever, as the Great Depression began with the stock market crash, casting a dark shadow over the ‘30s, creating many impoverished individuals and families. Uncle Jack was one of them. The Prohibition Era coincided with part of this time period, and accounted, paradoxically, for the Al Capone era and other like-minded entrepreneurs who made the availability of liquor a hidden but lucrative enterprise.
Uncle Jack became a victim of that era and its addictive appetite for whiskey. And the good life with the well-to-do and the famous became a thing of the past for him (and many others), and his ability to get by in a depressed economic period through selling expensive golfing equipment became a thing of the past. His golfing associates notably diminished in numbers, and were just memories of a fading past, and a way of life he had enjoyed. He had no other skills or contacts on which to fall back. He eked out a living, continuing his periodic return to the home of his youth, but it was an uncomfortable fit both for him and the family. His brother, a bachelor like himself, frequently helped him out, but they were not close friends with one another. Their lifestyles were totally different. His brother became a religious stalwart in his parish church, and a faithful practitioner of the faith, while Uncle Jack could not be called a religious person, by any stretch of the imagination.
A saving feature of his life, however, was his decision not to attempt marriage. When asked why he had never done so, he replied that he couldn’t inflict on any woman the way of life he was now leading, though earlier on he had close friendships with women. This realistic admission of his situation helped balance out the ledger of his life. Throughout the remainder of his life he manifested momentary flairs of the kind of man he had been in former days, recounting his association with pro golfers, and regaling his listeners with the jokes he could tell with the best of them, and with what it was like “in the good ole’ days”. He died tragically on New Years Eve, 1945, in Jackson, Michigan, late in the evening, beneath the wheels of a car backing out of the driveway, as he walked along the sidewalk. His brother, as usual, handled the affairs of his funeral. They lie buried together in a family plot, closer now than they were in life.
Uncle Jack was never prominent in the life of the family, but the name Jack has continued in the family tree. He certainly did not lead a wicked or evil life. But was it a wasted life? Perhaps. But he was good enough to know he would make any girl an inadequate husband, and he had the humility and adequate true self-knowledge to know what he should not do. Possibly he was like the good thief hanging on the cross near Jesus, and from that cross making one request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And why should he not have heard the reply: “…today you will be with me in Paradise”. (Lk 23.42, 43)?
We are a community of laymen and laywomen who, with vowed Passionists, seek to share in the charism of St. Paul of the Cross through prayer, ongoing spiritual formation, and proclamation of the message of Christ Crucified.
One thought on “A Wasted Life?”
Your reflection caused me to wonder how many “uncle Jack’s” have come back from our current wars broken and demoralized from the after effects of war. Thanks for posing your reflection Father.