Jack’s name was not on my original birth certificate. My “non-ID” from Toledo Crittenden helpfully informed me that my father was a man. Oh, and that he had blue eyes, was a high school drop-out, working class, and Protestant. (That last part is a stretch. I don’t think he was an atheist, but he had no quarter with organized religion. He refused to be baptized.) He must have been from Akron, since that’s where my mother lived.
I got that information in 1980. Not until 1996, however, did I learn in a letter from my mother, Jack’s initials: JR. As in Ewing. That small slice of information was treasured. It meant, as it can only mean to the adopted, that I wasn’t dropped out of a UFO or born in a cabbage patch. I wasn’t an immaculate conception. I already knew I had a mother, of course, but now I had a father. In Akron. Or someplace. It turned out to be Buffalo. . My mother described Jack as “nice looking.”
I learned later from Jack that he and Bob had known each other, but not well. Both were truck drivers. Bob knew all about Jack–and me–but Jack had no idea that his old girlfriend had married Bob or that I even existed. Bob wasn’t about to tell him.
Jack’s family line was poor by the time he was born. He never went beyond the 8th grade. He worked from the time he was 12 or 13 . His first job was unloading slots for a local gambler. He moved up to driving truck, which he did his entire working life with literally millions of safe driving miles….
...Jack taught himself several languages, including fluent Chinese (Mandarin? I don’t know). I once saw him hustle a 30 something Chinese woman at the Buffalo airport…Jack is a big shot in the Masons, the American Legion, the VFW, and the now defunct Veterans of China-Burma…Jack is a voracious reader. He knows everything except how to keep a checkbook. He once called me up to talk about robber barons.
…Jack was and is a New Deal Democrat. His father often warned him never bring home a Republican to darken the family door. His hero is FDR. Jack’s wife was a bigwig in the local Democratic Party and once took him to Washington to meet LBJ. Jack loathes the Bushes. He always votes a straight ticket. In China he met Mao, and had High Tea with Madame Chaing kai-chek. He says that if he’d been Chinese in 1948 he’d have been a “goddamned Communist.”
Jack had lots of stories. In Nanjing, his main base of operation, he said he ran the harbor for awhile and pulled bodies out of the river. Once an old White Russian general chased him around a bakery with an ax, suspecting him of a dalliance with his young wife. Jack soundly denied this activity to the old general– and me- saying one of his drunked up officers had done the deed. Sent to Shanghai for awhile, he helped another soldier bury stolen gold bars under the floorboards of a room at the Hotel New York. Jack didn’t ask and didn’t want to know where they came from. No matter what Jack said to the contrary, I have always believed that I have one or more Chinese siblings. “I’d know if I had a kid,” he’d tell me. I had to remind him that he didn’t know about me until 2000. “That’s different.” Jack promised to take me to the place of my conception, a “motor court” still in operation on the old Akron-Massillon Road. I was in Ohio and he in New York, so it never happened.
Jack knew Jimmy Hoffa and years after Hoffa’s disappearance and “death,” he claimed he ran into the most famous missing person in America in a hotel lobby in Honolulu. In his later years after his wife died, Jack considered himself kind of a chick magnet.
I think Jack was a great man, but a difficult man. He was one of the smartest men I’ve ever known. He was a man’s man, and I suspect a pretty tough act for my brothers to follow. Strangely, I felt from the beginning that I’d fallen right in line behind him. He had, shall I say, disdain for certain wielders of authority, though he could be quite the authoritarian himself sometimes. He took delight in being one of a two-member team who brought a bastard into the world. At a Friday night bingo game at the Amherst VFW Jack introduced me around to his fellow codgers (he was considered a youngster) as his “late in life child.” One of the old timers shook my hand and chuckled, “We’ve been getting quite a few of them lately.”