Monday, February 20, 2012

"Farewell, Jack Old Friend"

A little over a month ago our long time neighbor Jack Poindexter died. We will certainly miss him down on Whitehall Road.

Jack grew up in neighboring Charlotte County near the community of Old Well. He said that Old Well was as far back in the middle of nowhere as you could get. If you went any further, he said, you would be coming out on somewhere else. He said he remembered when one of his uncles told him that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and that he guessed Old Well would be next. He said it took awhile to realize his uncle was joking, because to them Old Well was a pretty important place.

Jack was an avid historian, philosopher and maker of walking sticks. God forbid if you called them "canes". Canes, he said, bring to mind feebleness and "decreption", whereas walking sticks speak of health and vitality. Mary still has several of the walking sticks he gave her over the years. Jack walked a lot himself, but never without his cowboy hat and his walking stick.

Somewhere a little before my time Jack bought land on "the Island". This would be Long Island, Virginia not in(horrors) New York. "The Island" consists of 300 to 400 acres of flat bottom land where the Staunton River splits in two, flows around and joins up again downstream.

At one time the "high ground" land in the local area had been so depleted that farmers couldn't raise corn there anymore. The only place you could count on a good corn crop was in river bottom land. So quite a few of the area farmers owned a piece of bottom land for that purpose even though their farm might have been some miles away. I looked up "the Island" on the county GIS map and it's still showing the land being divided up into plots of about ten acres apiece. The land on the west side of Long Island Road is divided up into 31 different plots.

About ten years or so before Jack begin to buy up these plots, the Soil Conservation people had begun to come around and were showing farmers if you grew a crop of Lespedeza one year, it would build up the soil enough that you could raise a corn crop the next. And it was a lot of trouble to travel those miles with your horse and wagon to pick your corn. So gradually the farmers quit using the bottom land and it began to grow back in brush and small trees. This is when Jack started to buy the individual plots and finally made it back into a big farm.

He built an attractive house on a small rise not too far from the big part of the river. I've seen the river flood to where the road is under water for a quarter mile and is lapping on the corner of the screened in porch, but as far as I know the water has never come into the house. But the river did take a terrible toll; Jack and Edith had a young daughter that drowned in the river. I never heard him mention anything about it and I never asked.

Jack had a big old steam tractor that he kept in working condition. One time when Dan Zehr was down on the Island chopping corn with his new John Deere 4020 they got into a discussion on which tractor could out pull the other one. So they hooked them up drawbar to drawbar. I'm sure the 4020 had more actual horsepower, but the steam tractor had a great advantage on the traction end of things. The 4020 just sat there and spun but wasn't able to move the steam tractor at all. Jack also had a tall waterwheel in his yard that he had gotten out of a grist mill somewhere.

When Jack was about 50, he sold the Island Farm, built a little house on a few acres on Whitehall Road, and retired. He took a lot of grief from people about how early he retired. He told me once that a man had asked him if he doesn't miss the farm. He said he told him, " If every morning when you got up somebody hit you over the head with something, would you miss it when they stopped?!"

Jack would often walk over and check out what we were up to at Long Island Lumber. He took a keen interest in son Myron's business and wanted it to be a success as much as we did. Some neighbors would have complained about the number of tractor trailers that come in and out of our little country road. Not Jack. He was delighted; it meant business was booming.

But one thing Jack would always warn us about. "When are you going to get a sawmill?" he'd ask." But let me warn you," he would say,"sawmills are addictive. You get started, you can't stop. You know, if you get on cocaine, there are places you can go to get help. But there's no place to go for sawmills!"

I remember well the day several years ago I stopped when I saw Jack out by his mailbox. I asked him if his heart was feeling strong because I had something to tell him. We were getting a sawmill! You should have heard him exclaim.

Back in the fall one day Jack walked by where I was seeding some grass close to the road. We hadn't seen as much of him the last year. He didn't get out when it was too hot or too cold. His heart was bothering him some. He had a spell just that morning and for awhile it didn't seem like his medicine was going to calm it down. "I'm glad I got to see you again,"he said. "For awhile this morning I didn't know if I was going to or not". I told him that I didn't know what it felt like to be in that situation. He looked me square in the eye and said "Well, I have".

We chatted for a little and then he said he had to go. I felt at a loss for words to fit the occasion. As I watched him walk away I felt like putting my hand on his shoulder. Felt like thanking him for being such a good neighbor all these years. For his interest and support. And maybe even telling him that I loved him.

But all that would have made it seem too much like a final meeting or something. Now I wish I would have. Because, as it turned out, that's what it was.

Farewell, Jack old friend.

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