The romance was fast and furious. He was 79; I was 77. He flirted. I was flattered. In no time, it seemed we were a couple. He lived in a room at his daughter’s home. I lived as a widow alone in my house with three dogs. We would make plans and he would drive to my place (never late), pick me up and we were off.
I loved being a passenger in Jack Atkins’ car. He talked more than I did, but we’d also go many minutes in silence, just thinking our own thoughts and admiring the Nevada scenery. We drove to the state he knew as a kid, the state of Washington. We drove to nearby Laughlin, NV for one-night staycations. (Jack did not snore, by the way.) We had innumerable barbecues where Jack cooked at local picnic sites. We went to New York for a week. We went to the Big Island of Hawaii for a week. (Jack had come to Las Vegas after spending most of his adult life in Hawaii.) We went to the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. We had a flat tire. We saw a man passed out along the highway outside of Laughlin. We bought beef jerky. We saw the Pacific Ocean.
Jack and I never argued. We were too old for that. My likes were accommodated; his were too. We mostly ate separately unless we were on a trip or at a dinner show. Because we lived separately, I had plenty of free time; so did he. Jack had three daughters in town, Darlene, Jackie and Charming. He often said he was very proud that he always kept his daughters safe. If his daughters had a car problem or some other kind of issue in their home, Jack was there for them. If I had issues, he was there for me, too, installing new faucets in two bathrooms, hanging a cordless vacuum, figuring out how to remove water from a rain-soaked patio, repairing a non-functioning window wiper on my car and even chasing down a roof leak.
Jack was handsome in my eyes. His skin was slightly dark, a testament to his Native American and Canadian heritage. He had a full head of hair. He had a great smile and always looked wonderful in my pictures. I loved walking behind Jack. His broad shoulders and slim hips were lovely. He always tucked in his shirts which is not common among men his age. I don’t know when he bought his first sparkly shirt, but that became a trademark when he was with me–the guy with the sparkly shirt–and he was with a not-so-remarkable lady.
When I met Jack he had been in Las Vegas several years and was full of energy. He had joined some line dancing classes. His remarkable memory made him very good at line dancing, He knew the steps to more than 300 line dances. He and I danced ballroom many times at Western-themed restaurants and with Craig Canter on Monday nights at the Tuscany’s Piazza Lounge. Later in one of the line dancing classes at Lake Las Vegas where he was recruited to teach, I was his student. Most senior line dancers are women, so Jack, who loved women, was in his element. Jack and I also went to many local concerts sometimes accompanied by friends Libby, Gerri and Pat.
Along the way I learned about Jack and the news was not all good. His mother was not around after he was about age three. His father was an alcoholic who when home was a menace. Jack slept outside in a local cemetery or in a nearby swamp some nights. He nibbled on a neighbor’s dog food when his own refrigerator was empty. No hugs. No allowance. He said his teachers were his mother and he liked school because he felt safe there. Somehow Jack figured out that if he worked he would have money so even as a kid, he had odd jobs. He also figured out that an education would be good for him and after saving his own money and taking advantage of classes and benefits in the Navy, he earned an electrical engineering degree. In his working life, Jack had a variety of jobs, everything from computer programmer to heating and air conditioning repair foreman.
Along with those good decisions came a number of bad ones, mostly about physical strength and street morality. Jack was three-quarters Native American/Canadian, and in grade school, along with other poor kids, was picked on. He learned to be physically strong and kept being a tough guy as he got older. He studied boxing, but called himself a street fighter. He was physically hurt fighting, he hurt others. The local police knew him well. Jack’s marriage ended in divorce. He then remarried his wife and later separated from her permanently. He had two other relationships (both women passed away) in Hawaii before coming to Las Vegas.
In between all that, sometime around age 40, Jack was dared by a friend to attend the friend’s church. Jack was back in his home state of Washington at the time. He took the dare and it changed his life. He told me he couldn’t believe a whole church full of people were singing together about Jesus. He said he actually cried and later attended several churches. What he heard, however, were different things in different churches and Jack’s stubborn brain asked what is truth. He then began a lifelong journey to study the original writings and commentaries of the ancient authors of books of the Bible. He learned Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic and became a resource for other Christians. His faith gave him great solace during his final illness. I won’t go into all of this, but his new faith in God was a life changing experience for him. The Jack I knew was the Jack that had changed. He couldn’t have been nicer to me in all ways.
Last February, Jack had an acute stage 5 kidney disease episode. He actually drove himself to an emergency room where tests revealed the extent of his disease and the hospital wanted to send him immediately for dialysis treatment. Jack did not want dialysis, but the hospital also recommended hospice care which he agreed to. I asked Jack to move in with me because his daughter worked and I could be with him. He did move in to an across-the-house bedroom with its own bathroom and TV. We lived together and separately because of separate TV preferences. Jack looked forward to his once-a-week visits from the hospice nurse and the hospice pastor.
Jack was pretty sick for about two weeks and then he seemed to be getting better. He resumed his regular walks at Wetlands Park and in the local shopping center; I went with him as often as I could. We watched TCM movies every evening at 5 p.m. holding hands throughout. He took an interest in projects at my house. He became available for evenings out and we took still more trips to Laughlin. For eight months, we had a great time as housemates. Every night when I changed into my nightgown, I would say, “Good night, Jack.”
About three weeks ago, Jack’s condition deteriorated and his three daughters decided to take shifts being with him during the day. I was able to go out when they were visiting. Jack made two visits to the nearest Nathan Adelson Hospice in-patient unit; the last one was just two days before he passed away. I had visited in the morning; his daughters were with him and called me when he died peacefully the afternoon of November 7th.
I am remembering now all the good times Jack and I had and I’m so grateful. He was a wonderful guy when I knew him. Good night, Jack.