We named him Jack, after my uncle, and gave him the middle name Lloyd, after Greta’s uncle.
From the time Jack was little he’s looked like me. His younger sister giggled recently holding up his senior picture alongside mine from 1978. It’s the sort of thing I think most kids are ambivalent about. You struggle to be your own man, but get the constant reminder, “You look just like your Dad.”
I’ve always tried to console him with, “You’re a new and improved version of me; taller, smarter, better looking and a harder worker.”
The years of his childhood seem a million miles away. When he and his siblings were babies I always checked on them before I went to bed, leaning down to their faces to hear them breathe. Now when I peak in Jack’s bedroom, I’m sometimes startled at the sight of this 6-foot tall young man sleeping in his bed.
When he was a small boy and I peeked in, sometimes he’d wake up and say, “Hi Daddy,” The six foot tall man responds now with, “S-up?” or a stern, exasperated, “What?”
He got that irritated impatience from me, too.
You can gauge the stages of a child’s life by the stuff they leave laying around. Over the years the Legos that littered the house gave way to skate boards leaned against the wall in the entry hall, and now, and I mean literally, today, there are car parts on the dining room table. We parents grumble and moan, but the hole left in our lives when his older brother went off to college will get bigger when evidence of Jack’s changing interests disappear from the house next fall.
In his childhood he often reminded me of an over-eager puppy, jumping and yipping, pulling at his collar, dragging his master down the street. To this day he’s still straining against the collars life wraps around our necks – school, work, parental rules. I’ve never seen a kid so eager to get on with life.
You hear people refer to those with a big heart. Seems Jack’s oversized heart comes out when things are the toughest.
On a 4th of July weekend when Jack was 12 he paddled at the front of a canoe with his younger sister and cousin seated between us. As we left the swamp and decided to cut straight across the lake toward his grandparents’ lake cottage the sky above was blue and the air still. But behind us a straight line of black clouds carried on vicious winds was hidden by a line of tall trees. We were totally unaware as it bore down on us. It hit us just as we were most vulnerable, in the deepest water and the furthest from shore.
When our fight against the storm was lost and the canoe overturned in the midst of the violent thunderstorm, Jack popped back up from beneath the waves and kept his head. That calm and cool helped keep his sister and cousin calm and cool, too. One of my strongest memories of Jack is of him bobbing in the water amid thunder and lightning and battering waves, his face studying mine, trying to measure my reaction to figure out how much danger we were in. We were in one hell of a lot of danger. But the boy kept his head.
This past winter I told him real estate sales where thin and I needed his help cutting costs around the house. Without a complaint he stopped asking for lunch money and spent the last semester of his senior year coming home and eating lunch.
Small things say a lot. Right or wrong, Meyer men won’t often tell you they love you. They show you in other ways. Right or wrong, perhaps he’s learned that was well.
The volatile temper he displayed as a child is long gone, trained away by as good a mother as any child could have. When the kids were small Greta regularly put them down in front of an old black and white video of the Mary Martin stage version of Peter Pan. When Peter is trying to teach the children to fly he urges them to think “Lovely thoughts.” When the smallest boy is having trouble Peter urges him to think, “Lovelier thoughts!” That was Greta’s frequent respond to Jack’s angry outbursts in childhood. “Lovelier thoughts!”
In a framed print above a computer in our house is a picture of that little blonde boy in a Peter Pan costume for Halloween –green tights and tunic and the cap with an orange feather in it.
That boy flies away now on skateboard road trips with a lovable and dedicated gang of friends to Louisville, Cincinnati and Bloomington. As the weather has warmed this spring, they dash off to the train trestle in Cicero where they literally fly off into the reservoir – as his mother sits at home wringing her hands.
Jack graduates from high school this Friday. In the fall he’ll pull free of our collars and reigns and fly away to college.