by Steve Swartz
I was in 8th grade, home on Christmas vacation and still in bed when I heard my mother answer the phone about 8 a.m. It was her brother calling from Denver to tell us that their oldest brother, Jack, had died a few hours earlier when the long-haul truck he was driving plowed into the back of another truck parked on the side of a foggy Pennsylvania highway. Then I heard my mother, needing more verification, call the trucking company to find out if her brother had really been killed.
There had been no mistake.
It’s more than 40 years since we got that call, but I believe that every Dec. 27th since I’ve thought about that morning. Uncle Jack was my roommate for about five months between the time he took a job in Kansas City and when his family moved out from California to join him. By the time he moved out of the house, we were pretty good friends.
When I think about that morning, it’s not so much about how I’ve always missed him, but more about all the things that never happened because he didn’t come home from that trip. He didn’t come close to reaching retirement when he could leave the road for the last time and enjoy living at home for more than just a few days at a time. He didn’t get to attend graduations, weddings or the births of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He didn’t get to give advice or be a joker to his kids or me or any of us.
He didn’t get to hold the hand of his wife, my oh-so-fun aunt with the goofy name of Snooky, when she became confused with Alzheimer’s disease. Nor did he get to comfort my cousins Kathy and John through their health crises.
I’m not sure I ever knew what caused the crash. Was the parked truck pulled all the way off the road? Did the fog make it hard to see? Was Jack tired? It doesn’t matter.
If my old roommate could talk to me today, he might tell me how he regrets not getting to do all the things he was supposed to do. And he might tell me to think about that every time I get into a car.
Steve Swartz is the Public Information Officer for KDOT