Jack grew up on a south-central Kansas wheat farm. He began driving an orangey-yellow, Minneapolis Moline Model U tractor the summer he turned seven years old—all red-headed, freckled, and snaggle-toothed. His dad, Pops, tied a rope around his waist so if he fell off, it would pull the hand clutch and, theoretically, stop the tractor. Jack’s now certain that would not have worked, and he would’ve just been drug across the field. (Yes, I know the word is actually dragged, but Jack, in his proper Kansas dialect, says drug.) (He also says nuke-yoo-ler instead of nuclear, but that’s a whole other issue.)
As a high-schooler—still red-headed and freckled, but now with better teeth (because he turned them himself every night) and sporting when he refers to as an “afro-mullet”—he drove a 1971 Camaro: gold, with a 10-foot whip antenna. (Actually, owned isn’t exactly correct. He still owns it. It just doesn’t have an engine.) Until Pops passed away in 2011 and renters came to live in his pink, asbestos-shingled house, Jack’s childhood bedroom still sported a black velvet, “Born to Drag” poster. Weekends consisted of treks to St. John, the uppity town eight miles west and two miles north (all measured in wheat fields), where he and his buddies would aggravate their rivals by blat-blating around the town square and then racing the cops back home. Plus Coors. Weekends were made for Coors.
Jack was handed very little. He was expected to work all through school; purchase his own car, fuel, and insurance; and pay his own way through college. (Can you imagine? I couldn’t.) Over time, he shifted his attention from the family farm to the local farm store, and before he’d even finished up at Barton County Community College, he found himself in the position of Parts Manager at a Peterbilt dealership—a title he’s had for more than 35 years.
The man can repair almost anything using duct tape and baling wire, a trick he learned keeping his family’s gasping, Allis Chalmers combine running summer after summer after hot, dusty summer. Our not-quite-as-handy friends call him for all manner of what-do-you-know-abouts and hey-do-you-think-you-could-help-mes: stubborn mailbox and laminate flooring installations, leaky plumbing and uncooperative furnaces. Our garage is stuffed with tools, most often used to help someone else.
Given his association with farm implements, hot rods, heavy trucks, and miter saws, you might assume that jack is stoic. Maybe even gruff. Au contraire. He’s the most tender-hearted person I know. He doesn’t cry watching Hallmark commercials; he cries talking about watching Hallmark commercials. He has a clear understanding of what actually matters, and he ‘s moved when he encounters those things.
He feigns arrogance to get a laugh:
What’re you up to, Jack? “Six feet and good lookin’.”
He gets clever with waitstaff:
What would you like, sir? “A bacon-cheeseburger. Leave the garden in the kitchen.”
He tries to confuse cashiers:
Need anything else today? “Cash.”
And our new, favorite Jackism:
“You’ve heard of black magic? Well, this is Jack magic, baby.”
I cannot recall a single time in our nearly 14 years of marriage that Jack’s raised his voice to me. There’s been no name-calling or threatening. No mind games or manipulation. It took me a handful of years to relax into that reality. On occasions when I find myself in a gathering of only women and the conversation inevitably turns to the airing of matrimonial grievances, I’m helpless to participate. Jack does the laundry in our home. He’s happy to help with dishes, clean the floors, scrub the bathroom. I began graduate school full time three months into our new marriage, and he dove into his first-time parental responsibilities of my girls—not quite four and six years old—with aplomb. It was years before people realized he was “just” their step-dad.
In short, Jack is the male version of Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way. Toolbox rather than carpet bag. K-Hits rather than “A Spoonful of Sugar.” Work pants and pocket knife rather than frilly apron and parasol. And although he’s fairly secure in his masculinity, I’m certain he wouldn’t appreciate the nickname “Mary.” What else could I call him, then?