Monday, February 20, 2012

As Long as He Needs Me. . . . Jackie

      I would have told you sooner, but time is no longer of the essence.  Jackie went on - steadfastly - until she was sure she could flee.  When the children finally came, she whisked away the silly air mask (it felt like an extra, fat nose.  Probably looked worse.  And it wasn't necessary.  She had been waiting for the children.  As they entered her 'cell', she was transformed, in regal trappings, having no further need of the pallet upon which she lay.  She was exuberantly FREE and exclaimed, "Ah, I-can-fly!" 
      (A native of Manhattan, nee Mars, it had been a most unusual - often dual, if not duplistic - span of living. Born and nurtured co-operatively by her dear, gentle, beautiful mother, Mary - of an artist's soul so creating Jackie was a canvas explosion of color and metallically-charged energy that glowed as she evolved; this effortless and perpetual motion was performed in the very incubator of natural, growing, giving, living things - the family farm.  How Mary, urbane to a degree and devoted to her God, her family and the Arts, came to love and marry a strong  but softy good man who 'planted his lady-love and their progeny in the isolating but never insular, town of Mars, PA is of no moment.  It was just exquisitely RIGHT and safe for this sedulous salesman of dog food - an occupation requiring constant absences - whose presence was deeply felt at all times by his family.)

Mary lauded Maggie's first efforts - at once inchoate and polished
      Margaret, Jackie's older sister - and the first-born - was blessed with her mother's artistic talent.  Yes, Mary 'farmed', efficiently but in such a charming manner that the children felt they were tumbling along in a fairy tale - one their contemporaries might call 'growing up'.  IS there any other direction?  People are so careless with words, Jackie always thought.  Father had an extra barn erected to house Mary's potter's wheel and art supplies. But the animals were never a chore - to be tended before closing the curtain on the mundane and immersing herself in creation.  hardly.  the animals were family - a natural part of an ongoing creation.  Loved and cared for, they in turn produced AND played.  Moreover, with Father gone, they protected - Mary and the children were theirs to shield.
       (Two strapping brothers preceded Jackie.  Indeed, Jackie was the youngest by ten years from the second boy.  Of necessity, then, she stood out, was unique, waif-like 'runt', if one dared.  Nary a one did.  Bursting upon this bucolic, established, peaceful, productive and somewhat egalitarian, came Jackie, debuting as an oddity and maintaining her reputation fearlessly, doggedly throughout the lifetime she was to spend among us.  'Special' being a family trait, well established by her siblings intellectually, athletically, spiritually, Jackie would distinguish herself by maintaining her status - oddity developing quite naturally. 
      Indeed, some thought she'd accomplished  her transformation into 'creativity' with a modicum of stealth, as often occurs when the label-lickers are on the outside, behind a thick shard of depression glass, myopically looking in.  Never did such matters concern her.  Once independent enough to walk unaccompanied to the main road to await the school bus - for a while, in that Mary's early morning rituals didn't allow for the luxury of walking her baby to the main road, she trained two large geese, Hansel and Gretel, so-christened by Mary, to trek to and fro and remain with their charge until she was safely en route - Jackie was launched and never looked back.  In ANGER, that is. In reality she remained with Mary long after Mars.  When Father's death came in the form of a sudden, untimely, premature heart attack, Mary lived with her maiden sister after which they both morphed into appendages of Jackie.)
      After graduating with honors from the University of San Fransisco, Jackie married and the couple joined the Peace Corps.  Never intended to be but a faddish gesture, Jackie's stint in Central America was aborted by the most unexpected discovery that she was 'with Joshua', as it were.  Three months into pregnancy, policy placed her on a plane back to New York where she lived with her husband's parents until Joshua, born/bouncing along with doting grandparents, could be weaned from her care.  She catapulted herself into the work force, starting at the lowest rung but reading at night to utilize her considerably creative and proficient skills in math and personal relations and learned/mastered the oil industry - in theory.

      When her husband finally returned, announcing they would devote themselves to the family business, expanding his father's green-grocery empire into New Jersey, Jackie naturally went but was lured more by that state's fractionating towers than ferns.  Not surprisingly, the home front became fractious as well, and the oft-repeated mistake of marriage-resuscitation by means of baby addition was made.  The plan was totally foiled but brought Jackie the joy of her life in her daughter, Jennifer.  A repeat performance of hostile housewifery was followed by her return to oil and separation from all things matrimonial.  But by the the time the settlement was dusted off her shoulders, Jackie was carrying the responsibilities that accompanied prompt and persistent promotions as well as the duties of single parenthood.
      (As brains would have it, Jenny, too thrived in New York, with nannies and nice trappings that went with Mummie's rise and raises in the company.  Serendipity stepped in, and one day Jackie discovered an accounting error that, had it gone unnoticed, would have cost the company millions of dollars. But noticed it was, by our girl, who quickly gained equal notoriety within the inner circles of management.  Soon after all the corporate handkerchiefs were wrung out, Jackie was invited to gavotte into the garnished grand 'inner circle' of where-it-all-happens.  Staying only long enough to go through one full dance card and garner enough money and moxie to leave, she formed the first all-female petroleum provision company on the Wall Street District.

      The timing was such that 'minority rights' were all the rage and the enticements to proliferate proved most profitable.  I know this first hand because she invited me to spend a week in New York, working alongside the women who ran each respective department.  My participation - welcome enough because I wore skirts and was related to Madame President - was punctuated pecuniarilly as well as it was given to me to produce a polished, illustrated, inventive, attractive, glossy ten 'or so' page brochure introducing the world to the vagaries of the oil business.  I left my saintly father and shaman husband in charge of our four children and bit the (silver) bullet, flying in to New York, waiting whilst George, Jackie's driver schlepped my luggage to the limo, toughed it out in rush hour traffic delays on the LIE - at one point, we were (that would be George and I) stalled in traffic and I simultaneously noticed the spire of my childhood Brooklyn parish and a PHONE in the limo - attached to THE VEHICLE'S REAL LEATHER REAR WALLS!.

      Counting to ten, humming "If they Could See Me Now", (George was Russian and didn't 'do' the theater), I called my husband and gushed my circumstances actually trying to elicit pity for this shocking inconvenience.  No go.  "Hanging with the 'SWELLS' are we?"  BRAIN: "You got it, Bucko!"  Lorane:   "Honey, Jackie is YOUR cousin.  I should think you;d be happy for her - after all she's been through!"  And that's the truth, ladies and gentlemen.  As for husband, like the man said, "NEVER have I EVER met a ruder pest!"  Sure, we ate at Delmonico's - a working dinner at three A.M. - and went out one night to a Greek restaurant, crashing a wedding, dancing and crushing good, real stemware with our shoes.  But that was ONE night.)
      There IS no 'short' of it - or I would share it with you.  Over the years I've spent a fair amount of time with Jackie.  I brought our girls up to 'the city'.  She came down here for every illness and funeral we've muddled through.  I became FAR too familiar with limos - but we were following them.  In all of these years, all the hours, days, walks, business excursions, I never saw Jackie pass a homeless person without putting money in his hand or cup.  Never broke stride.  Kept on talking, walking.  Can't recall the names of all the underprivileged folks she 'took in', trained/educated and then hired.  Dear Aunt Mary and her sister visited, then re-visited Ireland before venturing to Rome - the Pope, no less - and Greece and South America.
      When our kids were in college in DC and she was starting a branch there, they dined well and learned at the four inch heels of a brilliant business mind.  She bought at least one 'house' in Florida - that I know of - so that Mary and sister would be comfortable while sister was having chemotherapy and radiation treatments arranged by Lady Loving.  Jenny has had the best of educations and is probably a decent match for Rand-McNally when it comes to global 'particulars'. When the tables turned, Jenny, the sweetest of young, disillusioned young women - having heard family 'still-on-the-outsiders' speak - with tongues touched by the devil - ill of her mother, the 'black sheep of the family' - I would say to her, "Jenny, listen with the ears of your soul.  Your mind could never comprehend this behavior.  And as you must hear, you must also consider the source.  And then you must forgive and let it go." 

       Eventually she was dealt a horrible health hand.  The past twelve years have been devastating physically and emotionally.  But she stayed in the game.  Jackie doesn't fold.  Confined to a wheelchair/scooter, she first braved the busy traffic of 'the city', working part-time.  A series of vascular disasters left her in constant pain, living in 'assisted' dwellings, in the Bronx - one to two hour from her beloved daughter and her little girls.  I recently wrote of the beauty to be found in the resilience of the human spirit - as it is evidenced in children who must face indignities and physical deprivation, pain and suffering. 
      I find myself in the unenviable position this evening of relaying, nay, reinforcing that same resilience - this time found in an adult who worked hard, loved deeply, lost much and trusted implicitly that, just as the good family and friends who cared for her when in need, she would 'light up' at the thought of finding peace and solace with her God. 
      So, Jenny, Sister Maggie, brother Phil, ALL those who care, do not be sad.  And don't be afraid.  (He calls each of us by name), "Jackie, come. follow Me ans I will take you home. And you will have My joy and comfort under His wing.
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