Thursday, January 22, 2009

Uncle Jack Beechum, You Make Me All Teary-Eyed

"He knew that I was living in loss, that the baby had been born into loss. He knew, if anybody did, that there was nothing that could be done about it, nothing certainly that he could do, and yet he came."
Oh, Uncle Jack Beechum. You are responsible for the first tears I shed in this book. And you took me by surprise! And I love you for it.

And I love Wendell for writing this section of Chapter Seven so tenderly. Here we have an old man, a retired farmer, living alone in a hotel in Port William making regular house-calls on a young widow and her baby because he could and because he wanted to.

I love that his visits come at odd times and sometimes exasperate Mrs. Feltner. Oh, Mrs. Feltner, I know just how you feel. Making room in your day for the important thing, when the important thing so often feels like an intrusion and an inconvenience is not easy, is it?

Learning to welcome that intrusion with grace and generosity into my day is a life-long pursuit for me. I love that Hannah looks back on those visits with such gratitude. The fact that Mrs. Feltner allowed it, is also a gift.

"He brought me presents--little sacks of penny candy with their necks twisted shut, or little bouquets from neighbors' flower beds to which he helped himself.

But he himself, though he would not have thought it, was the best present...He came to offer himself, to be with us in Virgil's absence, to love us without hope or help, as he had to do. This was a baby that needed to be stood by, and he stood by her."

I am struck by the beauty of this picture of "coming alongside" and just being present in someone's life. There's no agenda, no plan, no schedule, just a visit. It's the gift of pleasant company when solitude means pain and heartache.

That Hannah and Uncle Jack give and receive the same gift makes this scene all the more profound for me. It's God's economy, I think. A spent, old man, with no social graces offers himself, just as he is, and it turns out to be more than enough. A widow and an orphan allow themselves to be blessed and end up being a blessing.

Tissue, anyone?

Have you cried yet?

Do you have a Jack Beechum in your life?

If I were a real blogger and if this were my full-time job I'd take a few moments and figure out how to put all the great links that have been left in the comments up on a sidebar for all to see. Since I'm not going to do that, I want to encourage you to read through the comments and follow the links that have been suggested by fellow readers.

I especially enjoyed the one on thrift.

If you can, I recommend having Blogger send you an email when there's a new comment. If I weren't getting those I'd have missed Carol mentioning sex and I'd have missed Diane's long-awaited arrival. (Her husband, John, is reading the book right now and I'd love it if he'd join the conversation here. Wouldn't that be fun?)

See you in the comments,

:) Lynn


  1. Oh, I love Uncle Jack too. My father-in-law is my Uncle Jack. No social graces and it took me years to understand his heartfelt gestures. I'm glad I finally did because we have shared some precious moments. (His own children still can't see past all the gruffness, so I'm extra glad I finally can.)

    Carol mentioned sex? I missed it! I will sign up for comment alert via email right now. Thanks for the reminder.

    I ordered a copy of the book from Amazon over the weekend and today got a message from Paperback Swap that my request there has been filled. So, I have two copies of the book on the way. I'll be glad to send a copy to the first person who asks. (Hope you don't mind me advertising that here?)

  2. Nope, Sandy. I don't mind at all. That's a generous offer--someone's going to wish they had email notification. :)

  3. Oh, John, join us, join us. We need you, John. What do you have going in your life that is more important than the Hannah Coulter Book Club? Saaaaaay you will....

  4. My "Uncle Jack" is my friend Layne, who wasn't a very close friend until she came alongside me and stayed there when we had a stillborn daughter. Layne came to my house every day and sat with me silent, ready to listen, or ready to talk if I needed to listen. She stayed with me and my husband during the labor and birth of our daughter, and helped guide us through the business of funerals. And she continued to come and be there for weeks, and months. It was the most amazing experience I'd ever had up to that point.

    My feelings for Layne are strong since then, and even though we have seen each other only once in the past 7 years, each time we talk I feel anew the affection and gratitude I did almost 9 years ago.

  5. Laura...

    Thank you sharing this comment. It teaches me that there are times when there are no words, times to be silent.

    God is so gracious to bring the Uncle Jacks and Laynes into our life when we need them.


  6. Uncle Jack is a surprise...he is not connected with the land anymore (living in the old hotel) and his life had no immediate purpose like those still farming and raising families. He stands out to me in that way. I can hear Mrs. Feltner thinking he probably needs a Real Job instead of just getting in the way of her work.

    I love how Hannah could identify what a gift he was to her at that time. And I am jealous of his ability to say the right thing to someone caught in grief...I am often at a loss for words and itchy with silence.

    My favorite part:

    "He came to offer himself, to be with us in Virgil's absence, to love us without hope or help, as he had to do. This was a baby that needed to be stood by, and he stood by her."


  7. I'm starting to sound like a broken record and I won't spoil Wendell's other books for those who may want to go back and read them. There is more to Uncle Jack that I'm sure Hannah didn't know but readers of a previous book do. He knew grief in a way that allowed him to share Hannah's grief over Virgil and to share her joy in the baby.

  8. See, I think that's interesting that we don't need to know anything more about Uncle Jack than what's written in Chapter Seven to be profoundly moved by his actions and Hannah's reaction to them.

    Di--do you think he really knew what to say or do you think it was his mere presence that was a help to Hannah? My impression is that his gift was in his coming and the surprise of finding comfort in his company. That encourages me that I don't always need to know what to say around grief. It also makes me wonder if I say too much.

    It's almost as if "silence" is becoming a character in this book...

  9. Oh Sandy....that is good info.

    Di. I loved that portion too. I love how Margaret brought joy back to the family.

    Once upon a time, I was a junior in high school taking drivers ed.
    My parents were killed in a car accident one night.
    After a break of three days we all returned to our classes.
    One day in drivers ed we were to watch a movie about car accidents and how to avoid them.

    Mr. Haupt, the Varsity Football coach and Drivers Ed teacher, pulled his chair along side mine while the movie played.

    He said not a word.

    He came alongside me to offer that silent support.

    I remember his actions with tears.

  10. Lynn,

    When I was just reading chapter 8 and 9 I thought....

    more silence.

  11. Donna just made me cry.

    I thought you all should know.

  12. Donna just made me cry too. Thanks for sharing that.

  13. Raising hand wildly out here in cyberspace.

    Do you think we could go back and talk a little about the Christmas before Virgil left, in Chapter 5? I loved Wendell's description of that day and especially remember how Hannah's grandmother bought a new suitcase to bring with her so as not to embarass Hannah. That really moved me, both the Grandma's sensitivity and Hannah being thankful for it.

    "To keep from embarassing me, as I understood, she had bought a nice winter coat and a little suitcase."

  14. Okay, I was going to respond that I have frequently cried during my reading of part one which I just finished today...then I get to Donna's comment and I'm crying again. I think it is because the way he expresses grief is so familiar to me...and it still lingers in my life. I don't realize how close it is under the surface until I read something like this.

    Sandy, I do hope that someone who does not have this book will come forward, BUT, if they don't, I'd love to have my own copy. I'm greatly resisting the temptation to underline in my library book version....

    Tammy ~@~

  15. I cried at the "Poor little child! Where's her daddy?" spot. I hadn't cried in the pages before and I thought I wouldn't have to cry, but that did me in.

  16. My audio copy from the library came today! Now I just need a six hour road trip...or maybe six hours of knitting tomorrow.

  17. When I used to deliver meals-on-wheels it grieved me that so many of the elderly were sitting alone glued to the TV. They felt useless. If only they knew what Uncle Jack knew.... the gift of themselves, the gift of time spent sitting with another in their grief is infinitely valuable.

  18. Oh, yes...Uncle Jack. I am glad we got to him. He made me cry too.

    He did what I long to do in a crisis.
    I am glad we're talking about it.

    A few year sago, I had a friend diagnosed with melanoma. I froze. Words, body, and thoughts all froze. I wanted to say, think and do what is right....but there was no right.

    I can see that here is only me to offer. There is only our friendship and love to simply "be". I guess you, and Jack are teaching me that: Such as it is, the love we can give by our presence is what is needed. I like that.

  19. dang. just lost a long comment.

    1. don't have the book yet - it's coming.

    2. just read through these comments, mostly referring to a section of the book I've not yet read, and I wept. There is such a weight to silence, when done right, don't you think? An elderly relative who some deem useless or, worse, inappropriate? silence. A wise, compassionate teacher? silence.

    or, the news I got this morning, about a HS classmate of mine who was diagnosed with cancer on Dec 27th. She died this morning. 3 small children.


    I like whomever said above that silence is a character in this book. I totally get that.

    3. Did you guys know that Di is famous? How did I miss that? She's a total stud.

  20. I commented brilliantly earlier...and now you will have to do with my 10:00 p.m. dimly lit comment. Mr. Haupt is my new hero. I love the image of a football coach (no softie, motivating those meatheads to play a game that guarantees pain) just sitting next to dear Donna. It makes me cry and smile and just thank God for Mr. Haupt.


  21. sidetracked:

    This doesn't go along with the other comments above, but it's something I have been thinking about today. Reading about Hannah's life makes me see that I am rather lazy. In all my running around and busy-ness, I don't actually do much of anything.

    No real garden. No canning. Not much sewing. If I do fix a good dinner, there is certainly no pie for dessert.

    Grandmam and Mrs. Feltner would be shocked.

    makes me want to be better. do better. be more myself.

  22. Wendy--I think we'll be talking further about what Hannah does and what we do in the course of our days. It's an interesting observation and one, I think, Wendell wants us to have as we read about life in Port William.

    I'm sure you accomplish much in your day!

  23. I've been thinking more about Uncle Jack and there's one more thing I'd like to say (are you surprised?).

    It strikes me that his visits were to see the baby and to visit with Hannah. They came at a time when grief hung in the air and yet they're described as pleasant and lighthearted. It says Uncle Jack knew there was nothing he could "do about it" and yet he still came. I get this sense his visits were not so much about grieving with Hannah as they were about being in the presence of Margaret and sharing that joy, letting it multiply between them. Again, I see Wendell allowing grief to be present but letting the characters move around it, focusing on something else, in this case, Margaret.

    Poiema's comment about the elderly is so true and I think we'll be talking about usefulness at any age as a larger topic the further we go in the book. I know it has caused me to think more purposefully about having my boys interact with the folks at the local nursing home.

    All of your comments have impressed upon me the truth that even our smallest gestures have meaning. It matters what we choose to do with our time and it matters how we pay attention to one another. Nothing new but I'm grateful for the reminder.

  24. Beautiful comments.

    I have to correct myself.

    The coach is Andy Hauptman.

    When I read how much you all liked him....I thought, that does not look right...and I realized I forgot part of his name.

    Forgive me.

  25. I read this entry yesterday and hesitated to comment since the first person to come to mind was actually a couple.

    Some next door neighbors (an older couple) were vital to my mental health for about 18months when I had three under 4 yrs of age, and DH was in residency (read gone.a.lot).

    So, I can relate somewhat. But initially I thought it a little odd: old man, single woman.

    However, I'm open to getting to know Uncle Jack :)