Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thanks, Jack!

Jack emigrated north with his family that included an older sister and brother, moving out of the poverty of the Arkansas Delta to begin a new life in southwest Michigan. His Facebook information claims him for the class of 1948 at South Haven, MS high school. I know there is such a town in far north MS but I know also that Jack spent most of his life in South Haven, MI.

It was in the southwest MI community that a quite-young Jack met-and-married my baby sister Naomi. I was long gone from home as the eldest child and only son, having ventured off to college prematurely. I spent a short hitch in the Air Force, and was in Bible College in Portland, OR, so I only got tidbits of the re-lationship and the story.

I think I became aware of Jack around the time he ran the Gulf Gas Station on Broadway. I know he and Naomi later journeyed to Crown Point, IN and married, much to the chagrin of my German father, who saw himself as the master and protector of his family and required an obeisance that today would be considered abusive. He had Jack detained by the police and the marriage annulled. That was how my wife and I ended up with Naomi in our custody for the next year.

Tommie and I were already old timers, married four years, and I guess we were trustworthy. We were sympathetic to her cause and she spent a good year with us in Oregon, while I went to school. At the end of that year, she returned, and as agreed earlier, she and Jack married and went about their business of being newly weds.

Over the next half-century Jack proved his worth over and over. Dad repented of his foolhardiness and made peace with son-in-law and daughter who stayed in the community and lived quite respectably, raising two sons, Wes and Tom, and daughter Susie. I lived away during those years but was aware of the days when the Ramsey boys made names for themselves with the Rams football team. Memory tells me I was present for Susie’s high school graduation.

Wes went on to matriculate from Central Michigan where he was a star wrestler. A devoted educator, he worked in the Ionia area until his retirement. Tom took a different direction in Vo-Ed and spent his life in corporate management with skills resembling his granddad but far surpassing him—perhaps more like his own dad who had excellent mechanical skills and spent many years operating, repairing and maintaining heavy equipment as well as in over-the-road trucking. Jack’s death leaves a grieving family in his wake.

I confess it came as quite a shock to me when I received a Christmas card yesterday from a dead man. The belated also delivered a note from Jack telling me of his recent hospital bout, his diagnosis of mass in his lung as cancerous, and of his soon transfer to oncology to further determine his options. It has been some years since they cracked Jack’s chest and did open heart surgery following his severe coronary. Somewhere during that period of time, I no longer remember; Jack had a near death experience that brought him a new and fresh awareness of God.

Jack became a changed man—transformed as we sometimes say—and he was that. While he did not follow the ways of his Baptist family, or of his Church of God in-laws; he became a man of deep, abiding, and growing faith. That faith, and the support of his family, held him firm up to the moment of his eternal departure.

My friendship with Jack of the past fifty-plus yeas suddenly took on new demensions when I received an email informing me that the morning following my deceased father’s birthday, Jack awoke, told Naomi he loved her, and expired on the spot. Later in the day I received a message from my sturdy, stalwart nephew Wes to “call Naomi” asap.

Saturday, the family will memorialize Jack at the church where he served as a founding Elder for however many years. What I will remember, probably more than anything else, was a trip I made from Mississippi to Michigan with my family and a couple of church kids. We were en route to our annual Church Convention and I got a tank of bad gas.

I limped that Pontiac Catalina to Michigan stopping periodically to blow out the filter, unable to escape the repeated chug-downs, and unable to afford road repairs.We were all thoroughly exhausted and disgusted by the time we arrived. Of course, I sought the wisdom of Jack and we put the car into his home repair shop on old Blue Star Hwy.

Ever the thoughtful mechanic, Step by step, Jack carefully checked everything that needed checking. How-ever, the end result was total removal and clean-out of the gas tank. It was a difficult,exhaustive, and expensive job, but he did it for his preacher brother-in-law. In later years, it was my privilege to fly from California to South Haven and officiate the wedding of my eldest nephew Wes, and red-headed Diane, both of whom are now retired from teaching careers.

Making peace with Jack’s sudden and unexpected departure brings the reconciliation of many memories of a good man made better by the transforming powers of his personal friendship with the One we call Jesus. For me, this is further affirmation of the wisdom of that Christian Apostle who wrote: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope” (I Thess. 4:11-13 NIV).

From Warner’s World, I am; he left this a better place for having been here and that is about as good as any of us can do.

No comments: