Archive for December 18th, 2009

I came across this old photo from the early 70’s and was instantly sent back in time. The two gents in the shot from a Christmas season long ago are my Uncle Joey (holding the Seagrams 7 bottle– I’m not sure that he was just mugging for the camera) and Jack Reynolds, who everyone called Fat Jack , Jackboy or, as my Dad would say, Jackeee. You needed at least three e’s to get the full effect.

In 1972, we moved from one edge of our county to the other, to a little remote brick house on a hilltop plateau where the wind always swirled and the view went for dozens and dozens of miles, across the hilltops down into northern Pennsylvania. It was exquisitely quiet there, often many hours passing before a car might appear on the narrow road.

My aunt Norma and her husband, Bob, ran a dairy farm just over the ridge and Fat Jack would often be seen there tinkering with the equipment, his short, round body rolling around in the dirt under tractors in his ever present bib overalls, crudely cut off at the cuffs to accommodate his short legs.

Jack and his dad lived at the bottom of the hill in a home that his father had started building in the 1950’s. At the time when Jack’s mom died, they had only finished the basement and that is where they stopped. Jack and his father lived in the small walkout basement, a place that had a dark and dank appearance when you drove by.

Jack was in his 20’s when we first met him in the early 70’s and didn’t have a driver’s license. He could seen chugging up the hill on an old Ford tractor pulling a trailer with a large collection of his tools. Jack absolutely loved tools of any sort. Any spare money he earned went directly towards buying tools, the tool department at Sears being the primary recipient of his spending.

Jack couldn’t read or write very well, if at all, but he had a natural ability for figuring out how things worked. He couldn’t read the words but he could read diagrams and schematics like they were his first language. This ability made him a valuable asset to a farm where there are always things in need of repair. Bob was always asking him to work on this or that at the farm.

But if Jack didn’t want to do something for whatever reason, he would just say “Nope” with a grin and pick up his tools. But he’d stick around.

When we moved up on the hill, Jack started coming to our house to do a few repairs there. He took an instant attachment to my dad and I my dad took to him as well. He became a regular fixture at our house, often eating dinner with us or drinking a beer with Dad. Jack was not big on hygiene and was always carrying a little– no, a lot of dirt and grease on his clothing from playing with machines. Night after night he would plop himself in one of my mother’s upholstered chairs to the point that there was a dark, greasy line on the arms of the chair where his belly would rest. It drove Mom crazy and she would yell at him ( she wasn’t shy about yelling in her house) but she would never think of not letting him sit there or at our dinner table.

Bob, my aunt Norma’s husband and a constant needler of people, called Jack my dad’s third son and would often ask when stopping in, “Where’s the fat son?”

Eventually, after his own father died, Jack parked his tractor and started driving an old yellowish Ford Econoline van packed with his tools. He didn’t have a license but that didn’t stop him from buzzing around the hills around us, being well known to most of the farms in the area. Dad, who was with the Sheriff’s Department, turned a blind eye although a few years later he would help Jack get a driver’s license and assist him in finding work as a maintenance man at a local nursing home. He seemed to be thriving.

Fat Jack passed away sometime in the 1980’s when his Econoline slid off the road and hit a viaduct. In the impact, ┬áhis tools were thrown forward against him. He probably would have appreciated the irony of it. Might have even been happy that it was his tools that ended his life.

His basement home is no longer there, long ago bulldozed over and there remains no trace of Fat Jack anywhere but in the memories of a handful of people who got to know this strange little character. I know I haven’t fully captured the man here but I just felt that he deserved a few moments of recollection.

Everybody does…

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