Jack was a friend.
Jack was a family friend to be exact. My dad met him at work, I think. I was too young to know really how they met him, but ever since I could remember he was around. He was the kind of man every child needs as a friend. Once Jack invited my family to a friend's farm. The friend was a potato farmer, and had cultivated his potatoes but hadn't harvested them yet. The friend told Jack to come and get as many as he wanted. As a child of about 5 years of age going potato gathering was very exciting. I had my little bucket and started gathering. I found a huge potato, the biggest potato I had ever seen! I proudly showed Jack and he made me feel like I had found a piece of gold. He told me that potato could probably feed my whole family! Yes, every child needs a friend like Jack.
Everyone knew Jack.
I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, and Jack lived there as well. Everyone in the town knew jack. If you walked downtown, everyone would smile and say "hello" to Jack. He was a friendly guy and always willing to lend a hand when he heard one was needed. He was the town snowplower and would always go the extra mile. He would often come down our street and pile the plowed snow in the field next to our house so my sister and I could sled ride down it.
Jack was generous.
I remember as a kid how he would always come on Sunday mornings and bring doughnuts. I will forever look at an apple fritter and think of Jack. Once when we were on vacation Jack took my broken, rusty little red wagon and refinished it. As we came home and drove in the driveway there it was, all shiny and new. He even took me for a ride in it!
Jack was silly.
Jack would tease the bejeebers out of my sister and me. I had a security blanket as a child and he would call me "Linus". He told me my ears would fall off if I didn't wash behind them, and if I kept playing with toads I would get warts. And to think I believed him! He would let us climb on him and sit on his feet while he walked never tiring of our play.
Jack was smart.
Jack taught my family how to make saurkraut, an important side dish in Pennsylvania. I remember him in our basement with my parents standing over an old whiskey barrel and using an antique cutter to cut the cabbage. Apparently beer was an ingredient in saurkraut, because he would always say "a swig for the cabbage and a swig for me".
Jack was an alcoholic.
He spent hours at the local bar, then drive home drunk. He once woke up the next morning to find a huge dent in the front of his truck. He panicked, not knowing what he had hit. He drove around looking for some evidence and found a tree on the way to his house that had damage that matched his truck. Phew! Just a tree.
Jack was mean.
He was known to get into fights at the bar when he was drunk. As a child I heard my parents talk about Jack's drinking, and not knowing what being drunk was like, I remember thinking he must have turned green and got muscular, kind of like the Incredible Hulk, and smashed chairs and things. Jack had a family but lost it due to his alcoholism.
Jack was lonely.
We moved to Texas when I was 10. We went back to visit a couple of times and visited Jack. He was off of work because of a work-related injury, and drunk pretty much all the time at that point. The townspeople no longer said "hello" to Jack, they avoided him and looked at him like he was a burdeon.
Jack died alone in his bathroom.
I remember the day I heard. I mourned my childhood friend, who really died many years before his true death. I will forever remember Jack as a part of my childhood.