Friday, October 5, 2012
Friday's Volume: The Memory of Old Jack
Chapter 1: "Though he stands leaning on his cane on the porch of the hotel in Port William, looking out into the first cool morning of September, 1952, he is not there. He is four miles and sixty-four years away, in the time when he had music in him and he was light."
Thanks to my friend and author Dale Cramer, my love affair with the people of Port William began with Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. Through that memorable and colorful barber, I was introduced to most if not all of her citizens. So I was delighted to find yet another Berry read in a local used bookstore: The Memory of Old Jack.
Until the final chapter, the entire book spans less than a 24-hour period in which Jack Beechum, a farmer whose entire life has been lived off the land, reflects on his 92 years. He remembers wars, recalls deaths, courtship and marriage -- which includes a powerful tension between marital obligation and romantic passion; he contemplates his parenting – or the lack of it, friendships, working the land, the “difference between hopeless and hopeful work”; and the difficulty of leaving his home of decades to live out his days in the old hotel converted to an old folks’ home. “For years now Jayber Crow has referred to the establishment as the local airport: ‘Where are gathered those about to depart into the heavens.’”
You will certainly not find in The Memory of Old Jack the hype and fast movement that is so prevalent in most of today’s entertainment. It’s a patient book filled with a certain rhythm, like life, and therefore, you must be patient with it. In doing so, you will discover a pace that slows down the soul and makes you cry for what was and will never be again. All of Berry’s writings are compelling to me, and just like Jayber Crow, he tells yet another wonderful story, this time through the eyes of Uncle Jack; a story that is earthy, tragic, triumphant, and heartbreakingly beautiful.
Some books take hold of me, and this is one of them. Even after turning the last page, I couldn’t put the story or Uncle Jack away. I’ve had to live with it and him awhile. Cherish his stories. Honor him. Even grieve his losses. Much like we need to do with real people who have touched our lives. Although possibly not for everyone, The Memory of Old Jack will remain a part of my “favorite” collection to be savored again and again through the years. But for now, Old Jack and his memories ... well, they just pause and sit a spell with me.