That’s what we called my Uncle Jack. Jack was born in 1922, and he was Rita’s younger brother.
Jack was mentally retarded. I realize in today’s world of political correctness, some people are offended by that term. The reality is, that’s the correct term, a term our family understood and never saw as inflammatory. Nor were we ashamed of it just as we weren’t ashamed of Jack…God forbid! Now, I find it unacceptable to call someone a retard.
We all loved Jack; we all knew from the day we were born, that Jack was special. Special meant, he was a flashy dresser, he always smelled like Aqua Velva, Old Spice, Brut or Hai Karate, he always got to sit in the front seat and he could say the rosary in six minutes flat!
Before I get to the meat of this post….no, we aren’t there yet, which will be one of many posts that will convince you that Jack and Rita fell from the same tree. I want to give a little background about Jack and the way things were in the 1920s. Jack was raised by strict but loving parents in a large Irish Catholic family. Young preschool Jack was very active, and quite the handful for my grandmother, Henrietta. Like the time he got stuck under the stove. Or the time he was riding on the back of the Ice Truck naked as a jaybird.
Call it denial, or just unaware, but Jack was sent to regular public school for kindergarten. That was the beginning and end of his public schooling. The professionals tried to convince my grandparents that Jack belonged in a “State School” as in institution. My grandparents bravely keep Jack at home. He did go to a special school, but I think most of what he learned was from his family. This decision wasn’t a popular one at that time. Rita told about friends not being allowed to come over to their house because of Jack, and she wasn’t invited to their homes either.
The Baron: Part I
or “gee your dad seems awfully nice….”
Jack, who was fortyish, was staying for the weekend. He loved his sister Rita; she wasn’t as strict as his mother Henrietta, who, for future reference will be known as Etta. Rita didn’t care if he was silly. It was a trade off because no one could simonize your car like Jack, or clean your windows like Jack. Now don’t get me wrong, no one took advantage of Jack’s talents. He prided himself as a perfectionist, and that he was. He was also in demand, and he went with the highest bid. It didn’t have to be money. Maybe it was a trip to Baskin Robbins, or Bob’s, Home of the Big Boy. Or some pie from Marie Calendars. There were times Jack had a better offer from Shirl the girl in Palm Springs, and he would "cancel" on Rita, it was just too bad. But mostly he loved working, and he took pride in everything he did. It also made him feel important.
I was a junior in high school, and just starting to date. My parents set a very early curfew, which disappeared entirely when my younger sisters started dating….I think my parents ran out of energy by then, and also knew it was futile.
I had a date with a boy from a boy’s Catholic high school that I had met through a classmate of his. A cute boy and I was both nervous and excited. My father was out of town on business, and my mother decided I could stay out later than usual.
Now my siblings were in the family room watching TV, Rita was across the street visiting with the neighbor, and Jack….Jack was sitting in the living room where he could listen to his Tommy Dorsey albums and stare out the living room window that looked directly at the neighbor’s living room window where Rita was. That leaves me. I was getting ready for my date.
I didn’t hear the doorbell, but as I started down the hall towards the living room I heard Jack talking up a storm. Low and behold Jack was deep in conversation with my date. About car stuff. Jack had a memory like no one on the planet. He knew every model car that was ever made, and every detail about them. He asked my date how often he simonized his car, and what he used blah blah….Of course the conversation was pretty much one-sided, as my date sat there desperately waiting to be rescued.
I quickly gave Jack a peck on the check and we said good-bye. With authority in his voice he said “OK, you guys have fun, and don’t keep her out too late.” major eye roll here...We headed out to dinner then to a party with some friends. My date seemed a bit distant and deep in thought all night. When he took me home he said....
“Gee your dad seemed awfully nice. Is your whole family that interesting?”
Next: Etta asks the all important question, “Jack, what's that on your tongue”?