Tag Archives: Jack Figart

“Anyway… Beep Beep”

29 Sep

My Uncle Jack, my dad’s youngest brother, was my hero. Born November 9, 1940, he died today, September 29, 2020, just a few weeks shy of his 80th birthday.

Jack and Mary Nelle, his wife of 54 years, loved each other dearly—and they lived for adventures together. They were the first couple I heard of taking dancing lessons together back in the ’70s. When I was a kid, one of my earliest memories was getting to ride in their big camper trailer when they came up from the Texas Hill Country to visit us in Eastern Kentucky. I liked to hang out in the part of the camper that stuck out over the cab and pretend that I, too, was setting off on an exciting trek across the country.

As a youngster or later in life, whenever I visited, Jack and I would always scan the East Texas backroads for Roadrunners, his and my favorite shared bird. He would organize a day of what he called “Tex-sploring,” showing his guests all around the area near Bastrop. He’d always take me to Winchester, TX, since I’m from Winchester, KY.

Back in 2011, when Jack and Mary Nelle lost their Hill Country home and pine-tree-laden acreage burned to the ground in the Texas wildfires, I remember his voice on the phone sounded calm and confident: “We are doing just fine. We are survivors. We will miss the wildlife that came to visit us in our forest. But all the things we lost… it was just stuff. It was easier than having a garage sale!” Resilient and hopeful for the future, they rebuilt their new home on the same spot a few years later.

When my mother died in 2012, Jack came for the funeral and the wake—and all my friends really loved getting to know him. It meant so much to have an actual family member there.

When he lost Mary Nelle in May of 2016, he carried on with an ever-positive attitude, and continued to devote himself fully to creating as wholesome a life as he possibly could for his grandchild, Cheyenne, as well as her extended family.

Three years ago, John and I visited Austin and spent two nights and three days with Jack and Tabby, Cheyenne’s other grandparent. It was she who called me first thing this morning with the news that Jack had died in his sleep. I am so glad that Jack and John got to meet and know each other’s goodness of spirit.

Jack and I talked every few months. Lately he had mentioned a desire to go back to a favorite destination from his past, Mexico, and to visit Panama and possibly retire there. But he also hoped to stay at the bank where he worked part-time until he could beat the record of someone who had served there into his 90s. Ultimately, his strong love for and commitment to Cheyenne, now in seventh grade, kept him from flying off to another destination.

Today, new trees are beginning to grow and the animals are returning to Jack’s Hill Country homesite. He called me this past weekend and I sat on our front porch in the sunshine and listened as he talked again of a yen for travel. He had just purchased a new RV so that he could safely take Cheyenne on the road during COVID-19. We fantasized about a road trip in which the two of them would visit us here in East Tennessee, hang out on our six-acre mountain property, and I could take Cheyenne horseback riding, something she is getting really good at these days.

Jack’s favorite connector word in his dialog was, “Anyway…” He said it liltingly, with the first syllable up high, and the others down low about an octave. Those who know him heard it a hundred times during a conversation. It reminds me of my grandmother, Jack’s mother, who had a wonderful Pennsylvania Dutch accent.

I have reflected on that word, “Anyway,” today while grieving, and I think it encapsulated Jack’s attitude toward life. He met with many disappointments and heartaches, but he always tried not to dwell on them, to move on, not focus on sadness, and to look forward to the future. When we ended the conversation, we both said, “Love you!”

The Roadrunner will always symbolize my Uncle Jack for me. He knew that, and sometimes he would say, “Beep Beep!” Always a traveler, he is on a big journey now and I wish him godspeed. I will never forget his voice, much like my own father’s, yet somehow more vulnerable. And I can imagine him saying to me now from somewhere bright and full of promise, “Anyway… Beep Beep!”

 

Post Script: I had a post card of this Road Runner by Charley Harper tucked into a box of items I had planned to send to Jack in a few weeks. I had sent him many old photos and other family heirlooms in recent months.