A Life Well-Lived

Jack entered this world in 1918 just as America was pulling out of World War 1 with the collapse of Germany. Horse and buggies were far more common than the electric car and the telegraph was more effective in communication than the telephone since so few people owned one. State and national news came from the daily paper and Americans were falling in love with the silent movie era. Radios wouldn't become a household luxury for several more years.The fact that Jack even survived his first year is amazing considering the influenza pandemic that swept across the state of North Carolina that season killing over 13,000 in just six months.

Born to a young mother and an often-absent father, Jack's mother did her best to provide for him but after his father abandoned them while he was still a baby she had no choice but to move back in with her own family. Her father was a hard-working, pull yourself up by your bootstraps type of guy and he often resented the child living in their home. Her mother was more gracious and kind although it was hard on their reputation as devout, church-going people whose daughter was now a single mother. The pressure mounted and Jack's mother eventually left home and headed north to Chicago, leaving her mother and father to raise her son.

The kindness and love of his grandmother certainly helped but he could never quite measure up to his grandfather's standards and never felt that he could do enough to earn his love and respect. He worked hard for his grandfather on their farm and learned early on that he was pretty smart as evidenced by his high marks in school. He was also a pretty good athlete. He learned quickly how to earn and save a dollar. At age 11, he witnessed the stock market crash of 1929 and within six months the unemployment rate has doubled to 3.5 million. Food riots were happening as people resorted to breaking into grocery stores to steal canned goods and meat. Food ration slips for basics like sugar, pork, and kerosene was common and everyone got a ration based upon the number in their family.

Growing into a young man during the 1930's he woke up early to help his grandfather on the farm, kept up with his studies, and helped to support himself at home. His faith became very important to him as he witnessed time and again the provision of the Lord to provide for his every need. The idea of God as his Heavenly Father resonated with him and he chose to place his trust in a loving God who promised to "Always be by your side....never leaving nor forsaking you"(Joshua 1:5).

Every single penny he earned was earmarked for helping support his family and going to college. He was accepted to Davidson College in 1936 and was fortunate enough to earn a little extra scholarship money to play tennis while working in the school cafeteria and earning an accounting degree. Just when the tide seemed to be turning the news came to him that his grandfather had passed away and he was called back home to help his grandmother on the farm. As an only child he felt it was his duty to help his grandmother and make sure she was taken care of before he resumed his studies. Over time, he was able to earn his accounting degree through Roanoke College.

While he was home from Davidson he met a cute and sassy little drum majorette, whose nickname was Bobbie. He often drove home on the weekends to see her and when he had to move back home to help his grandmother, the relationship grew. They were both pretty crazy about each other and he would later say of her, "She was the first person who ever really loved me unconditionally and believed in me. I just wanted her by my side." 

Unfortunately her mother did not think the same. Bobbie's mother had plans for her to go to New York City to perform on stage and become a Radio City Rockette. She already had one audition and she had received a 2nd callback. She was an only child and her mother had dreams of stardom for this girl (aka - The original stage mom). When Jack came around to take Bobbie on a date, her mother was less than pleased and would sometimes make up a reason to accompany them on a date. "Bobbie, I need Jack to take me to the market before you two go anywhere." Yes, she could see how crazy in love those two were and this was not going according to plan. 

Jack and Bobbie didn't know what to do but they knew they were in love, they were going to get married, and they would do it with or without her parent's blessings. Bobbie was definitely not going to NYC without her Jack. So the most logical choice for any 21 and 22 year old was obviously to elope. When Jack came to Bobbie's house one hot August afternoon in 1940 he told her mom that he knew about a great little peach stand and wanted to take Bobbie there to buy some peaches. They found themselves on a friend's front porch who also just happened to be an ordained Presbyterian minister. Before God, the minister and each other, they took their wedding vows. They returned home so excited and giddy in the moment that they had actually done this crazy thing and completely forgot all about the peaches. They had no choice but to confess right there to her mother and father that they had just gotten married. Furious wouldn't even begin to describe her mother's reaction. At barely 5 feet tall and a firecracker herself, she promptly banished them from her home and refused to speak to either of them for quite a while. 

Settling into a home in Virginia was a blessing and although they had very little money they were happy. However, it was 1941 and America was being called into the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Jack enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and for two and a half years he sailed the Pacific Ocean on a frigate. A smaller ship that went ahead of the larger naval ships, a frigate's purpose was to comb the ocean for submarines and make sure that no larger ships were in the area of enemy forces.  In 1943 he found himself off the shores of Okinawa when an onslaught of kamikaze pilots attacked his fleet of destroyers, cruisers, and frigates. Jack recalled that the pilots flew so close to his ship that he could see their eyes. Kamikaze pilots would only have enough fuel for a one-way trip and his fate seemed to be certain. Instead he watched in horror and awe as the pilots sailed right past his ship and hit the frigate directly ahead of him. It was destroyed and sliced into two pieces. He and a handful of other men rescued the remaining survivors of that boat. Less than a year later he again found himself praying for his life to be spared due to a massive typhoon that hit the Pacific like a freight train. He was instructed to tie himself to his bed so that he would not suffer a head injury or be killed from the tossing and turning of the boat. Had the ship capsized he and most of the crew would have died tied to their bedposts.

He was honorably discharged in California in 1945 with a $32 paycheck from the Navy. He spent two months working odd jobs to earn enough money to finance a train ticket back to North Carolina. When he returned to his wife and three-year old son it was a tough adjustment to say the least. His first born son didn't know him and he was learning to re-kindle the relationship with his bride. Money was very tight and Bobbie often found her self praying to God to provide them the food for tomorrow night's dinner. Over time, they learned to become a family and eventually welcomed another son, followed by four daughters into their home. They were faithful to each other and the Lord was faithful to them. After Bobbie's father died, Jack decided to build onto her mother's home because, of course, she had long ago forgiven them for their crazy elopement and grew to love him just as much as Bobbie did. 

A man that came from the humblest of beginnings and could have easily determined that his circumstances would become his fate, he chose to rise above it all and was blessed with the the large and loving family that he never knew growing up. He lived a life that would "strive to always maintain a clear conscience before God and man." (Acts 24:16). 

His children went on to become a doctor, a pharmacist, nurses, and educators and he helped pay for their education as much as he could. He maintained a successful accounting practice and was the trusted treasurer for numerous community organizations and his church. He was blessed with 14 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren. In 2010, he and Barbara celebrated 70 years of marriage. Nine months later he went to be with the Lord. Less than a year later his beloved Bobbie joined him in heaven. He used to sit on the screened-in porch, holding her hand and say to her, "Don't ever leave my side." She would just pat his hand and they would seal it with a kiss.

Jack and Bobbie were Jack and Barbara Spainhour, my mom's parents and my grandparents, who we lovingly referred to PapaJack and Grandma. A story that is part of my heritage and a legacy my grandparents left for us and for generations to come. Oh a life-well lived indeed!

"Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them." 
(Deuteronomy 4:9)

For PapaJack 1918-2011 & Grandma 1920-2012


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