Subtleties about a person can be forgotten over time. Your husband might wink at you when he’s joking, or your son might scratch his nose when he’s asking a question. These expressions are involuntary, and you find it endearing to watch. That is the limitation of photographs. Most are posed, not candid. Like staccato strokes on the keys of a piano, they carry the subject from photo to photo, never capturing those habitual gestures.
Not only do I want Caleb to learn about his dad’s personality and sense of humor, but I want to help him see the nuances of Jason’s movements and body language. This letter was meant to become a book, but I felt like I jumped from each memory too quickly and exhausted myself with so much emotion in each paragraph. We didn’t have smart phones, didn’t take endless videos. If so, I could write hundreds of pages with ten minutes of footage. This was my only documentation. Reading this seven years later, it’s almost like the words blur and fade in front of me, allowing me to disperse the cobwebs of nebulous memories…and I can see him again.
August 5, 2007
It’s difficult to write about Jason, but our son should have some way to know him and know what some of his last days were like. I believe that I met Jason after graduating from high school in 2002. I don’t want to go back that far right now because we didn’t start dating until 2004. I fell in love with him shortly after meeting him, but he was only actively in my life from March 26, 2004- March 20, 2006. It was not a long time as far as lifetimes go, but I lived a lifetime of young love, marriage, family and loss during a period of time that most of my friends were only going through college.
Jason liked to kid me just to get a rise. I went to Indiana shortly after we started dating, and when I called Jason, he was spending the time drinking, and he sounded wounded that I would leave him for a week like that. He needed constant reassurance that I loved him. I told him that I wouldn’t call him if I didn’t love him. He told me that he was going to buy a Pitbull so he could use it for fights. He seemed very determined that it was a good idea. He didn’t admit that he was kidding until I got upset. Another time he asked me if I would get mad if he started growing weed behind the house. I basically told him, ‘over my dead body.’ He put on this sheepish smile and had me believe that he had already starting planting. I blew up because he did something so irresponsible! We could get in so much trouble! He let me continue lecturing him for a few minutes until he finally told me he was joking.
It was even “worse” when we made plans with another couple to go horse back riding at a plantation where I was caring for some horses. I didn’t really know the woman yet, and Jason told me that her family owned race horses. I naively believed him. When we were getting to the stable I was telling her about the breeds we were going to ride, and apologetically telling her that of course these horses would not be as fine as the Thoroughbreds she is used to. She looked at me quizzically, and after a few questions, I found that her family was not breeding racing stock. In fact, she had only taken riding lessons when she was about twelve years old. My face probably turned red when I realized that I had been fooled, and I explained what Jason told me. Jason hid on the other side of the barn, busying himself brushing the horse and smiling impishly. He probably didn’t mean to let me believe that story for so long. He’d just forgotten to tell me.
One balmy summer night he described how he came to start Drew Brothers Plumbing. This story goes back before I even knew Jason, but he told me so many stories, and I also learned a lot about his childhood from his family, so I feel that I know a lot about his life. He really drove himself with pre-determined plans. He started in the grocery business after reasoning that food, of course, will always be in demand. His customer service was so charming and personable that he was quickly made into a bookkeeper. That lasted until he bought beer one night while on shift with the last cashier that was also a friend of his. The camera caught Jason buying beer underage, and he lost that job. After quitting the grocery business, Jason started working with a septic company. He assured me that this was part of his personal plan to educate himself on all things related to plumbing, which was his goal. He told me he thought about it, and decided that, “Everybody has to take a shit.” He told me this so matter-of-factly before continuing…He was soon working for a successful plumbing company in Beaufort, learning everything he needed from his boss. Jason stressed that his protegee did everything right. Plumbing fixtures were set meticulously. His work was the best, and he criticized plumbers that did shoddy jobs.
Sorry that I cannot repeat these conversations very well because Jason described his jobs and the shortfalls of other plumbers with specific details about the parts and materials as if I had a working knowledge of what he was talking about. Let me assure you that this short paragraph does the subject no justice. Jason told me about the day’s job almost every night until I was tired of hearing about plumbing. But I tell you the truth- I would trade anything to have him sit me down right now and tell me for hours about setting toilets and laying pipes. He was always earnest and excited. Jason thought about plumbing so much that he would dream about it. One night he called out, “That was a hell of a run!” I was really curious what he was talking about, but he wouldn’t wake up to explain. The next day he told me that a “run” was laying the pipes for a new house.
When we first started dating he was working on the plumbing rough-ins for the town houses in Buck Walter. Many times Jason stayed out all night to get a job done. He also did the plumbing for the student housing at the University of South Carolina Beaufort at Bluffton, the New River Campus. One day he came home and told me that he was outside working when a student came over and commented that he’d hate to be the man doing that kind of job. Jason had a lot of pride, and he had a right to be proud. He pointed at the Drew Bros. Plumbing van and told the guy, “You see the name on that truck? That’s me.” The student put two and two together, realized Jason was not a hired hand but the owner, and made no more ignorant comments. Jason explained once to me that he may not have a college degree, but he was enterprising, and he carefully planned to be his own boss. He would come home at night and smoke on the back porch. We would sit in the white wicker chair or swing. He would tell me about his plumbing jobs during the day and about the people he’d been in contact with. He described a young inspector that followed him on the job, chatting incessantly. Everyone wanted to talk to him. Everyone wanted his attention.
I went to Parris Island one night when Jason was doing work in the new housing development called Pine Ridge. We were going to go on a date, but Jason wanted to put a few things together in one of the duplexes. We went in the white Explorer Sport Trac. This truck was brand new in 2004, but Jason made a mess of it- perpetually unorganized. The bed was full of tools and various plumbing necessities. The interior of the truck was caked with debris and dirt and old bags and cups that came from fast food restaurants. The point is that Jason had to search for everything he needed. He kept a couple of white buckets in the back full of materials that I suppose he used most often. You could say that his lack of organization was part of his charm. He didn’t even carry rags. Instead of wiping caulk on a rag, he wiped it habitually on his jeans. We removed our shoes before going into the duplex. I followed Jason around uselessly while he attached fixtures in the bathrooms. He laid his tools out on the floor, and I handed him what he asked for. Soon we headed to the other side of the duplex. They have porches on the front, but they are separated by a middle banister. I walked off the porch and around to the stairs to go in the other side, but Jason hopped over the dividing banister gracefully with a smile on his face and beat me to the door. After completing the job, we spent another hour searching for the truck keys that were somehow buried deep in a bucket of random plumbing paraphernalia.
When we became new parents. Jason had his own opinions about how Caleb should eat: we should make sure he is full so that he will sleep longer. We should put cereal in his bottle. I relied more on baby books, and we constantly clashed on who was using the right methods. But let me paint a picture to dispel the negativity: We went to church with Caleb, and everyone wanted to hold him. He was and is by the way, a healthy, loved baby. We were a charmed family. Jason was wearing a handsome mint green, long sleeved shirt that he bought right before we got married. He was probably wearing a pair of khaki slacks and his black shoes. Jason was always dressed well if he wasn’t at work. His style was tasteful and classy. His hair was dark brown, curly, and he styled it carefully with beeswax. He wore Georgio Armani cologne that I bought him for Christmas the year that my mom bought him a rectangle-faced Kenneth Cole watch which he loved to wear as well. His eyelashes were catchy because they were dark and long and curled at the ends, accenting very large brown eyes which actually did twinkle when he looked at me. He would sit with one leg crossed over the other, one arm slung casually around me or over the back of the pew. The other arm would hold Caleb close if he hadn’t been lovingly passed to a doting lady in the next pew. His upturned foot tapped with the music, and the louder and more vigorous the music became, the happier Jason got. He would bite his lower lip, and the dimples would show around his mouth, and he’d quit his jaunty composure on the pew. He’d roll his sleeves to the elbow and clap. I can see the light glinting off the ring on his finger. After the service, Jason never failed to go to the front and take up a guitar and strum some old praise and worship songs. He loved to sing.