Jack’s lived a Post-It-note-full-life. One complete and continually filled undertaking with moments anyone would want to place a yellow stickie in time’s pages to remember and return to, again and again and again. In any small town, or big city for that matter, a million Jacks and Jills will saunter by you without a hint of the adventures and shenanigans they’ve been up to; and yes, plenty of people live lives of “quiet desperation,” but those people aren’t like my Jack.
Jack Pawich is the kind of guy you want to stop and the street and ask for coffee. To sit awhile and engage in that less than fashionable notion that the innocent learn from the experienced. And it would be entirely time well spent getting the low down on what it means to thrive and survive well into your nineties, married (should that be your thing), jovial, hard-working and honest. “I’ve seen nations and leaders rise and fall; wars break out and end… There have been a lot of ups and downs in my life, but these are the things that have shaped me,” he writes (under the loving guidance of ghostwriter Leslie Loomis) in his memoir A Life Well Lived. He wants you to have the “courage to face anything that comes your way and develop a sense of adventure…” As I was reading his book, I used those yellow Post-It notes to highlight pages where something interesting caught my attention — I nearly went through one of those cubes of stickies.
Farming stock through and through, Pawich’s clan set down in Manitoba on the prairie flatlands near the American border, and farmed there and also just five miles south of Cartwright, in southern Manitoba for decades. Apart of the farming economy most his life, Pawich, now 93, remembers well, sometimes fondly, not always gladly, back on his days with another season’s promise in the ground. His very first crop, he tells it, was a total loss due to one of those “act of God” incidents insurance claim adjudicators like to bandy about. And then there was the time The Man came for his farm and Jack stood his ground with a shotgun staring down the people that were there to take his machines, his land, his livelihood. Turned out it was a miscommunication, and Jack’s stance was justified. He dabbled in selling farm machinery and took his chances with the gambling gods in Las Vegas from time to time, but forever and day Jack would be a man of the southern soil.
Much like me, he marries a smart girl from the city discovered in the halls and byways of a university. He was attending Brandon University in ’49, where he meets Eileen Saniuk, and his life “changed forever.” While playing drums in a band one evening and during “Devil’s Dream,” an apparition of sorts dancing like some beautiful angel came into his line of sight and he was smitten. He asked her out on a date, and the rest includes a decades-long marriage and their four children — three boys and one girl. The book is dedicated to Eileen, who passed away in 2008.
Into everyone’s life comes light and darkness, and Pawich’s is no different. “It’s no sunshine sketches,” my childhood buddy Rod Lovell, now Reeve of the Municipality of Cartwright, told me in a note when he sent the book to me. Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock is a Canadian classic of small town hijinks. True, this book will read like you’re own life, or perhaps the life of someone you know, but it also contains singular moments of anguish and heartbreak that only the brave and those who have survived have the right to convey.
There’s also wonderful chapters offering sage advice on living into your nineties and the art of marriage. “When you get into an argument, talk it over,” he writes. “If you cannot resolve it, schedule a time to discuss it later,” he advises in the marriage section. On being ninety-plus, he stresses, “Be active daily.”
So, if you see Jack, tell him I said hello. Take him for a cup of coffee. Let him tell you, “There is a saying ‘That which does not kill us, makes us stronger'” And he’ll rightly point out, “For you young kids out there, this phrase was not originally coined by American singer Kelly Clarkson, but was a quote from a man by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche.”
So true, Mr. Pawich. “You’ve got to keep on keeping on — no matter what comes your way. Everything you survive will make you stronger and wiser.” Everything — losing a spouse, your parents, the farming economy, war, picking lemons in California, death, and enduring love: A song of experience.
One of those Post-It-note-full lives.