By Jim Hagarty
When you reach your mid 50s, it is not unusual by that time to find yourself becoming one of the oldest persons at the family reunions. It seems to happen slowly, almost without your noticing, but before long, there are a whole bunch of babies at the get-togethers and not so many people with hair as thin and white as yours.
This is the case with me. As a kid, there seemed no end of aunts and uncles coming to visit and whose homes we would vacation at in return. But now, I can count only two aunts and one uncle among my older generation.
And on Saturday, when I returned home from the hardware store, my son said excitedly, “Your Uncle Jack was here.”
“You mean my cousin Jack,” I corrected him.
“No, your Uncle Jack.”
Sure enough, he was right. This was startling only in the fact that my uncle lives a long way away, in North Bay. And he’s 96 years old. A little old to be just dropping by.
He had come down, with his daughter, in his “new” 2002 Chevy Cavalier to visit a few relatives and his old home town. To appease his daughter, he let her drive, but he left no doubt he was fully able and ready to do the piloting himself.
Jack left me with me a recent news clipping from the North Bay Nugget which did a feature on him under the headline, Never Too Old: Local golfer still hitting links at 96. A colour photo accompanying the story shows him draining a 12-foot putt.
I caught up with my uncle and other members of his family at a restaurant in St. Agatha later that afternoon and had a terrific evening of fun. There was not much reminiscing; my uncle truly lives in the moment. He was interested in my children, and learning about their interests.
In the newspaper story about him, he is quoted assessing the reasons for his longevity this way: “I’ve been a happy person all my life. I never took trouble to bed with me. And my wife always had me have a rest at noon, when I was in business.”
Jack Simpson was born in a farmhouse just north of Stratford (it’s still there) in 1908. The First World War was four years away. The Titanic was under construction in Ireland. The Wright Brothers had taken their first flight at Kitty Hawk only five years before. So much has occurred in the world around him over the past near century that could have made him depressed and cynical and bitter. But he never gave in to any of that. Instead, he remains a man with a boy’s heart – living to enjoy life and all it has to offer.
It wasn’t as if he never had any trouble. For the last few years of my aunt’s life, he devoted himself to the care of a wife who would come to not even recognize him. But rather than weep alone, he remained outgoing, learned how to cook for himself, and now, by all accounts, is quite the chef. A chef who, at 93, went out and bought himself a whole new set of pots and pans.
My Uncle Jack plays golf three times a week with his friends at a North Bay club that has more than 80 seniors who regularly play, more for the social aspect than the sport itself. Many of them don’t even keep score.
He is looking forward, this winter, to flying to Mexico for the baptism of his great-granddaughter.
Twenty-three years ago I stayed overnight at his place and by accident, made off with a tube of toothpaste from his bathroom, a tube I’ve never gotten around to replacing. We have joked about that off and on whenever we’ve met or talked on the phone in the time since.
And the first thing he said to me when I walked into the restaurant Saturday night was, “Where’s my toothpaste?”
Yes, a happy person he has been with a instinctive knack for making those around him happy too, through the use of humour and an ability to direct his gaze outward and not in.
Happy Birthday, Uncle Jack.
I’ll get that toothpaste in the mail tomorrow!
(An angel paid Jack a visit a few years ago, about three weeks after he played his final round of golf. I hope he didn’t die of a broken heart. I never did send him the toothpaste.)