Chili peppers, spreadsheets and a toy telephone

Today I wanted to write to remember the one-year anniversary of the death of Jack McClarty, a close family friend, who died November 7, 2007.Jack

My life is forever changed for having had Jack a part of it, and for that, I am grateful. I was honored to share a few “words of remembrance” at his Memorial Service, and in his memory, I share them with you. One thing I realized, in trying to decide what to share, was the difficulty in summing up a life. I realized that I needed something tangible, and maybe it is the photographer in me, but I needed something I could see, not just words. Because of that, I turned to three props: a bag if chili peppers, a hand-drawn spreadsheet, and an aging toy telephone…


I have known Jack McClarty all my life. That’s approximately 19,130,400 minutes. As an engineer, Jack loved precision. Now, I’m no engineer, but as I calculate it, in order to cover that many years I have to cover approximately five years per minute, approximately one month per second in these “words of remembrance.” I can hear Jack asking, “Erin, what exactly is the difference between a eulogy and ‘words of remembrance?” And me responding, “Well, Jack, would that be ‘a eulogy’ or ‘an eulogy?” As I thought of what I would say, I began to ponder, how do I remember Jack? I ask the same of you—how do you remember Jack?
What came over me, in pondering this, was not so much a thought or an idea, but a feeling. When I remember Jack what comes over me is a sense of constant presence—and usually sitting there in his spot on the end of the couch, often with his feet up on a stool. Never flashy, never the center of attention, never a lot of fanfare, but always there…And I realized, in the midst of this pondering, that I needed something tangible, some representation of who Jack was in my life and in our lives. I needed something that I could grasp in order to communicate this sense of constant presence.
Luckily at that point I remembered that though I have been surrounded by engineers my entire life, my training is not in engineering, but in seminary. If there is one thing that they teach in seminary it is the three-point sermon. I also remember learning that a sacrament is a “visible sign of an invisible reality.” Both seemed appropriate to the situation, so I came up with three things, reminders, signs for me of who Jack was and who he will continue to be in my life. Allow me to share three “sacraments” with you, three visible signs that are my tangible way of remembering the life of Jack McClarty.

Point Number 1: Hot Peppers
Jack loved spicy food. The spicier the better. But to me these hot peppers also represent Jack’s love for cooking good food, and enjoyment of providing that for family and friends. He was an incredible chef, cooking everything from deep fried catfish (and hush puppies) to Thanksgiving turkey on the BBQ (the oven in Mexico, where we used to celebrate Thanksgiving, was not big enough to fit a turkey initially, but when we had a large enough oven it was too late—the turkey on the BBQ tradition had stuck) to the most amazing filet of beef ever this past Christmas.
These particular Serrano peppers are from the garden in the McClartys’ back yard. Tommy and I planted them this summer. The garden became a symbol of growth and new life in the midst of what were increasingly difficult days. Jack never failed to give me the report on the garden, as the summer progressed. “The pumpkins are looking great!” “I think we’ve got the morning glory that is going to take over the neighborhood” And just a few days before he died, “Guess what? The garlic has started to come up!”
These hot peppers are to me a reminder of Jack’s enjoyment of life–from good food and good wine to the good friends with who enjoyed them.

Point Number 2: Spreadsheets
If it is true that life is lived in the details, then Jack lived life to the fullest, and could document it thoroughly. This spreadsheet is for me a reminder that Jack was a man of order and detail. There was nothing in life that could not be made better by documenting it thoroughly on a spreadsheet! He had spreadsheets for motor home trips and for ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner—I think that one even had the aisle numbers where to find things, until they rearranged the grocery store. Everything had its place, and there wasn’t anything that couldn’t be documented and calculated better by putting it in a spreadsheet.
This particular spreadsheet he made for me just days before he died, plotting my progress as I ran the New York City Marathon, then recording it on a graph to show my pace per mile and per kilometer for the duration of the race. When he called me to congratulate me on finishing he also noted, “It seems like you slowed down quite a bit at the end! We’ll have to discuss that when you get home.”
A spreadsheet, for me, is a symbol of Jack as an engineer, orderly and detailed, who liked to have things thought through and knew that the details in life mattered.

Point Number 3: The Telephone
Now, for those of you who have followed me up to this point you may be a bit confused by this last item. This little plastic telephone was a birthday gift to Jack one year when I was a young girl. This phone was for him to take backpacking, so that he could always be in touch. He noticed that I admired the phone, so he gave it to me. When the novelty of it had worn off I returned it to him, since it was, after all, his birthday present. The next occasion that rolled around I received it back, wrapped up all pretty as a gift. Thus began 30 years of giving this silly little plastic phone back and forth, trying to disguise it as a real gift, or catching the other off guard so that the true contents would not be known until the gift was opened.
This phone, though perhaps the most unusual of my three symbols of Jack, is, I think, the most special to me. For me it represents a lifetime of relationship. It’s not about the phone—it never was. It is about the fun of giving it back and forth, of trying to pass it off as a normal present, of wondering when you might get it back and thinking of the perfect occasion on which to present it. It’s about the history it represents and the shared memories it conjures up. . It represents the enduring, loving relationship of presence over these many years, for which I am so thankful.

We are gathered together today to remember Jack McClarty. He was a loving husband to Martha, a caring father to Trisha and Melissa, and a very, very proud grandfather to Jack, Alison and Tommy. Just this morning Martha received a note from a work colleague of Jack’s. I think its sentiment speaks well to his life and his memory:
I was shocked and saddened by your note. I had an email from Jack only four days earlier and had no idea he was having any health problems. Jack hired me into Ford Aerospace in 1982 and I had a professional and personal relationship with him since that time. I have always been grateful to Jack for giving me the opportunity to start a new career after coming out of the military He was always a gentleman, always honest and just a great person to work for. Customers we did business with in the early days still ask me how Jack is doing, I think this is a real tribute to his character and his ability to establish long term personal relations.
The last time I spoke with Jack, it was over the phone. At the end of the conversation I asked him how he was doing and he dismissed the question, choosing not to focus on himself. Instead he said, “We love you and we’re proud of you, and we can’t wait to see you when you get home.”

But as it happened, Jack made it home first.

Jack, we love you, we’re proud of you, and we can’t wait to see you when we get home.



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