Vineyard Haven

Jack Reed

Jack Reed, longtime previous resident of the Martha’s Vineyard community, died on April 17, 2018, in Colorado.

My dad, Jack Reed, kept asking for a wheelbarrow so he could get out of the Grand Junction Hospital he was admitted to on April 11th for a sudden and major stroke. The nurses laughed, but my brothers and I knew he was not joking. On April 17, Ralph, a Republican dairy farmer whom my dad bought milk from for the past 12 years stopped by the hospital. I met Ralph 12 years before, when my dad moved from the Island to Colorado. My brother Zoli and I used to eat mint ice cream in Ralph’s yard when Dad would pick up gallons of milk, all marked with “Jack” on the cap, to bring to the restaurants in Aspen. Then we would load back into the van and head on to the next stop in my father’s forged chainlink of makers and producers whose inventory he trucked to restaurants. Zoli and I spent most of our time with my father in the front bed of trucks, the Be Good Tanyas on the radio, rice cakes and peanut butter on the dashboard, always on to the next stop of deliveries.

There was the organic rabbit raiser on the mesa, the dreadlocked apple grafter, the old chèvre makers in their sweatpants and rubber boots. The hothouse microgreens couple with the new baby, the Mexican onion growers whose property made our eyes water. In my dad’s cell phone they are all nicknamed: Chris Chard, Big B, Peaches! Shabo, Sonoma Bottling Jim, Rebecca Wellness, Randall Rooster.

The drives continued on, and then all of those boxes and barrels and milk crates were delivered into hot and dangerous kitchens, where the chefs in whites all patted Dad on the back and he weaved in and out of the line cooks and dishwashers like he was doing some sort of square dance.

After hours of drinking root beer in an empty dining room and sitting on loading docks with Zoli, I realized that he wasn’t the most efficient guy, because everything took forever, I mean absolutely ages. But I think now that this was his way of life on purpose. If it takes more time to wash the salad greens, or bag the sprouts, you take more time with the people around you, wherever you are, you make that chainlink a little tighter.

People called Dad Dancing Jack, or Barefoot Jack, or Jack Sprout. I didn’t know him before he was my father, when he was a Harvard editor, a journalist, a raging hippie, a cook, a husband twice, a partner many a time, a father to my older brothers and sisters.

We became very close over the past few years, when he called all of us kids more often and slowed down. When I complained about cramps, he sent me raspberry leaf and nettle tea and a tincture titled Female Longevity from his longtime herbalist Lillian. His packages never had any letters, and the one time I mentioned that sometimes parents write their kids, he sent me a box of citrus from California, with “Juice Me” written on one of the oranges in Sharpie. I called him the Faj, for father; I was named the Daj, for daughter.

When Dad went to Fiji, where he was hired as a gardener for four months, I visited him. He hand-pollinated cucumber plants after the Island’s last bees’ nest was knocked down to build a bungalow for a billionaire. We made shaded bamboo covers to keep the microgreens from curling in the sun, and cranked wheatgrass for hungover superstars. Then I followed him to Napa, where we lived together for the first time in 10 years and ran an organic farm on a cracked mountaintop. When I went to bed in my little plywood cabin on the edge of the forest, I would listen to the coyotes howl from the woods above me, and moments later, a response call would come from below, as my father howled back from outside the chicken coop so that the animals wouldn’t get eaten. At the farmers market, an aged garage band all wearing Hawaiian shirts played Steve Earle covers, and the entire town of Sonoma sat eating their picnics watching my father dance in the grass barefoot.

A lot of people idolized my father for being an “eccentric.” A lot of people whispered about my father crossing lines. I have lived with plenty of shame and defense for the man people bundled him up to be. I have also lived with the most support and love a child could have received from a father. My words are not a summation, nor a generous portion of nostalgia meant to package a life. Death doesn’t bring resolution, but it does bring reflection, something he wasn’t the biggest fan of, so I’ll leave it at this.

For the past week Zoli, our older brother Oliver, and I have been living on Dad’s land in Paonia, Colo., in his yurt without him. We are building an outhouse to keep our hands going, and have been taking care of his Great Anatolian puppy named Pinto. We are sleeping like we did as kids, wherever Dad laid the mattress with the old sleeping bags and blankets that smell like Queen Anne’s lace. We are adding to his shrine every day, which consists of two stacked milk crates topped with a clove of garlic, his old sleeveless tank top, his tinctures, a 2018 Farmer’s Almanac, a necklace of cloves and ginger, and his curated pharmacy of herbs. Lavender, burdock root, hyssop, echinacea.

Two days ago Zoli and I drove his old Aerostar van to Grand Junction for the last time, to pick up his body at a very religious, albeit family owned and inexpensive, mortuary. They gave us his ashes in a complimentary plastic box wrapped in a decorative mini pillowcase. They didn’t feel like his remains, just soot collected from a fire that had burned for a very long time. The suited receptionist told Zoli and me they were out of bread, which they usually give as an offering, so we snagged a few extra bags of Lay’s potato chips from the waiting area instead.

On the way back to the yurt, we made a lot of our own pickups. A table saw from an ad on Craigslist, a sun shower, a six-pack of hard cider, and two free barrels for our composting toilet that a nice guy named Opi gave us from behind a hardware store. Our inventory sat in the back of the van with the pillowcase of our dad’s ashes.

Outside town we stopped by Ralph’s to pick up milk for Pinto. Ralph was framed by a large haystack when we told him Dad had died 10 minutes after he left the hospital. I thought about telling him he was the Grim Reaper in his leather haying chaps, but I thought better of it.

In the old fridge, on the cap of a fresh gallon, was written my name, “Zada.” I didn’t want to pick it up. I wanted Ralph to erase my name and keep writing “Jack” on his milk caps. I wanted boxes of oranges to keep coming. I wanted my dad’s bird hands to keep flapping about. I wanted wheatgrass to keep growing in whatever yard he occupied. I wanted to keep waiting on the loading dock until he finally emerged with the empty milk crates.

There was the voice of my father in my ear, rhythmic, his hands going with an unstoppable force, on the dance floor, in the garden, cranking the wheatgrass grinder, in the hospital when he pumped the space between my thumb and pointer finger with a steady beat for hours, directing me to rub his own lung meridian. Always this rhythm and his voice, “Onward Daj, Onward Daj.”

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