Jack (or Mr. Longhurst, as I called him growing up)—Jack was Joline’s dad. Joline was my best freind and she shared her Jack with me me. She shared her entire eight-person Brady-Bunch-like family with me. Of the three men in my life, Jack offered the most unconditional, uncomplicated, compassionate love.
I haven’t seen Jack for six or seven years, but my heart can perfectly conjure his uneven walk, transition-lens glasses, wispy white hair and eyes that squinted to make room for his big smile. The smile two of three sons and one of three daughters share. The smile he never quite managed to suppress during inappropriate mealtime conversation after Sunday services.
I met Jack when I was thirteen. My mom accepted aunt Minn’s invitation to her small, community church as a means to reconcile their broken relationship since the end of my parents’ marriage. Jack was the pastor of that little Baptist church. Joline befriended me before we found our seats. Her unabashed tenacity and oversized family had me at hello.
The first time I rode in their 12-passenger van I knew I was going to be okay. The high-energy vibe, quite different from my typically tranquil three-person commutes, was grounding. Comforting. This was my tribe.
I wrote this letter to Ruth and Jack last November. Their youngest daughter, Sharene, put it in an album for Christmas. I’m thankful to be part of their story.
Goodbye, Jack. I love you.
Dear Ruth and Jack,
You’ve been heavy on my heart since Sharene told me about Jack’s cancer. I wish I was close enough to share many prolonged hugs.
Your family is an icon of my teenage years. You saved me from a well of loneliness and chaos. I like to imagine I’m still part of your big, busy, beautiful family.
The summer you invited me camping is full of my best Longhurst-Kile memories. It was at Elkwood campground in Kananaskis that Sharene and I became inseparable. One morning we woke long before the rest of you, excited to watch the sun rise. We lugged blankets and our still-sleepy selves to a dew-covered bench and huddled in the darkness.
Facing a mountainside of trees and valley, the cold air bit at our exposed skin like the mosquitoes we’d meet later that day. Engrossed in conversation—likely boy-themed—we missed the sun taking over the sky. With sheepish giggles Sharene and I agreed to keep our oversight of choosing a bench that faced west a secret.
One day you two went back to the city to run errands. You pulled into the campground after we’d gone to bed. The next morning we woke to six new bikes and my beloved, pink ten speed magically crammed into the van. I was moved that you were thoughtful enough to collect my bike so I could be part of the fun. That was the same day Chad and Rob (or maybe Mark?) peed on a newt they found on the trails. Charming, boys.
The week Ruth had to work, Jack took the seven of us camping himself. We headed to a more rustic site in Kananaskis. We spent hours in the tent playing cards, telling stories and giggling. I have a foggy memory of leaving the tent to ask for a mug of Ovaltine—on a dare, maybe? Jack, you graciously and gladly prepared my hot drink while you and I chatted, the siblings eavesdropping from their station. On my way back to the tent I fake-tripped, sending my cup dramatically flying into the air. I hated Ovaltine and I was all about the entertainment. The siblings knew, but I’m sure I had you fooled. Poor, wasted Ovaltine. Kids are jerks.
That trip is where the bucket came from that you used as a prop when you spoke at my wedding. It still had my name on it. A bucket with history. You jiffy-marked our names onto seven buckets to wash up each morning and night. We used our buckets to perform an impromptu dance to Amy Grant’s Hats. I have a picture I’m sure you took, Jack. All of us kids (minus Jo and Chad) are in it. You can barely see me, because Heather and her bucket-head (purposely, I’m sure) jumped in front of me the moment you snapped the picture. I swear Heather never liked me. :)
Sundays after church I not-so-secretly hoped to be invited for lunch. Your home, in all of its buzz, quieted my spirit.
I have memories of sitting around your dining room table brainstorming synonyms for “erection.” I feel like Rob started that one, but we all ran with it. I sat quietly delighted to be included in such abandoned folly with my favourite people.
After meals, when Sharene or Jo was on dish duty, I would stand at your fridge and absentlymindedly dry whatever they passed me. My heart beat with longing at the weekly chore chart. That chart fascinated me. I loved to watch it change with each visit. To me it represented a team, a unit, a system that had order and familiarity.
Joline’s signature sleepover move was to fall asleep while I was still talking. She wasn’t subtle about it either. Her bearish snores abruptly interrupted my spellbinding stories. Thanks to her, I can sleep through anything.
I’ll let Mark tell you about the time Sharene and I had her friend call and convince Mark he wasn’t alone in the house. Meanest. Prank. Ever.
The fun Sharene and I had living together once she graduated makes me wish I could go back in time. The week she moved in we put my ABBA album on repeat and cleaned the house with the ferocity of a lady’s maid. We christened the corner cupboard with the glass doors in the kitchen “Candy Land.” Sharene filled it with her very large supply of sugary treats. She was away the week of my birthday, but she called on June 28th and told me to look in her closet. She left a Costco-size tub of Fuzzy Peaches (my favourite at the time) with a birthday note.
When Sharene decided to move to Edmonton, following her was a no-brainer. Her friend, Lisa, and Chad took the two bedrooms upstairs and Sharene and I settled in the huge bedroom in the basement. We set up my futon as a couch and shared her bed. I’ll never forget the morning I woke to her gently caressing my butt cheek. But if I bring that up, she’ll probably tell you about the time I karate-chopped her neck in the middle of the night and promptly fell back asleep while she waited for her adrenaline to pass.
That was the same year I came home early from work and surprised Chad, who had skipped out on class to practice his cage dancing, naturally. From the back door I could see the living room where there was a large mirror on the wall, ideal for perfecting his art. Not wanting to move or make a sound, I stood frozen at the door, holding my breath, watching his zealous, freakishly-good moves. And then he noticed me. I’ve never hit a deer, but I know how one would look in my headlights thanks to Chad.
Thank you for those memories and a thousand more I will hold in my heart forever. Thank you for folding me into your family when my own was so unpredictable. Thank you for giving me a safe place to grow and become. Thank you for pouring your love and time and energy into me. For seeing me. For knowing me. For believing in me. For cherishing me. For allowing me to feel true belonging.
Thank you for having daughters I fell in love with who showed me, through their own, that I have love and friendship and playfulness and warmth and creativity to offer. Thank you for having a son whom I spent a good chunk of my youth pining after. Chad set the bar high for the person I would choose. Thank you for showing up when it mattered. Thank you for the unspoken invitation to call on you always and forever.
I love you more than I can convey with silly words. You are my family and my heart. Your love shaped and healed me.
Jack, you are beautiful and I’m grateful to have been touched by your love. My hope for you is that the goodness you’ve sent out over the years comes back to you in waves. That you know you are held sacred. You have been a place of refuge and wisdom and laughter and strength. I love you always.
Ruth, thank you for your gentleness and for taking me on. My hope for you is that you are held and supported. That you find sanctuary in your family and friends.
With all of my heart and tears and a thousand hugs,