Monday, September 10, 2012

Our Friend John Jackson

A 2009 reading at the Senior Center.
Our dear friend John Jackson, one of the 12 founding members of the Hale Street Gang, died Saturday at his home in Randolph. His wife, Cynthia, and their two children, Mindy and Chris, were at his side. John wrote two years ago about the hard choices he was facing after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Two weeks ago, I learned from mutual friends that his time was running out. It is hard to believe that the youngest member of our original group has left us, and so soon after my mother's death.

John was only 81 when he joined our memoir-writing group in the fall of 2009. He was in what we always refer to as "the Tuesday group," which also included Charles Cooley, Ruth Godfrey, D'Ann Fago, and Margaret Egerton. Margaret was then 99, almost a generation older than John, an age gap that was especially obvious when they compared memories of World War II: John was a mere teenager at the time, and remembered helping his dad, a WWI vet, watch for enemy planes from a lookout station on New York's Walkill River; Margaret was in her early thirties, unmarried, and so desperate to leave home that she was preparing to join the WACs.

John's life story touched me deeply. He never seemed to hesitate before an opportunity to enjoy life to its fullest. He often wrote about the influences that caused his world to expand—a steamboat trip with his grandmother, an unforgettable date with the pretty girl who worked behind the Fanny Farmer candy counter. He wrote about travel and music, key friendships, and, most moving of all, his experiences as a son, a husband, and a father. The last time I spoke with him, in July, he called to say he had nearly finished his book-length memoir and was wondering if I'd have time to print it this fall.

The Tuesday group had loads of fun together. How I miss those days. There's a little 4-min video on YouTube that we made during the winter of 2009–10, in which John comes in at the end with a joke about two bears and a nudist colony. (To see it, click here.)

I remember one Tuesday when John and Margaret just happened to mention the same Irish folk song in their readings. Pretty soon, we were all sitting around the table, spontaneously singing:

Just a song at twilight, when the lights are low,
And the flick'ring shadows softly come and go,
Tho' the heart be weary, sad the day and long,
Still to us at twilight comes Love's old song,
Comes Love's old sweet song.

I can still see and hear us—D'Ann, Ruth, Charles, Margaret, and John—sitting around the table in the craft room on a gray winter afternoon, swaying slightly from side to side as we sang the refrain of that impossibly sentimental old song. It is one of my favorite HSG moments.

Thank you, John, for the tremendous spirit and dedication you brought to our writing group, and for the many ways in which you graced our community. Your capacity to enjoy the good things in life—jazz! fish! love! corny jokes!—is an inspiration to me.

1 comment:

Kelly Green said...

Incredible tribute. So sad!