Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Hale Street Gang Goes to College

John and Cynthia Jackson, above, were two of our readers last night when a bunch of us drove over to VTC to swap stories with the college kids. We were super impressed! The kids tackled difficult subjects with candor and compassion, and their writing was courageous and eloquent. Our own selections ran more toward the light-hearted, as the titles suggest: Cynthia read "The Night the Bed Fell In," Cookie Campbell read "A Is for Apple," and Mary Jacobs read A Day in the Life of a Country Nurse. John Jackson read a selection from "Pop." Art Jackson was one of those fathers who never lost his larger-than-life quality. Orphaned before the age of ten, he became a circus roustabout at fifteen and joined the army before his eighteenth birthday, serving as a hard-hat diver on a mine-laying ship in Panama during World War I. After he became a father he worked in a knife factory, but his body bore the marks of a shadowy past, one that John would always wonder about. He writes:
I didn't realize for a number of years that my father's tattoos were in any way unusual. I guess he got them when he was stationed on the mine layer in Panama, since tattoos are more common among sailors than among soldiers. Since they were among my earliest memories, I naturally assumed that all adult men had them. Seventy or eighty years ago, long-sleeved shirts and coats were more a part of standard male attire than nowadays, and I think I was quite old before I realized that most men didn't have tatoos. I can't imagine why I didn't question him about them, and I'm not sure I can remember all of them. The most spectacular was a large parrot, which extended almost all the way from his elbow to his wrist. Another was a wreath with his initials, AJ, within it. A line drawing of a crawling baby was one that I did somehow learn about. I believe it represented Baby Snooks, a newspaper cartoon character. I have the feeling that there were more, but I can't come up with them right now. It's not too surprising that I didn't feel that tattoos were in any way unusual on a father's arms. They were just part of my father's normal image.

John has said he is writing his memoir for his children—a motive I've heard over and over in our group. The writers are trying to anticipate the questions their children and grandchildren will have when they're no longer around to provide answers. It is a tall order, requiring imagination, honesty, and yes, courage, something the kids at VTC last night displayed in abundance. We thank them for their inspiration!

PS: The photograph above was taken at a Senior Center event last fall. Unfortunately, I have no picture of us last night with the VTC students—stupid me forgot to bring a camera.

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