I’m writing this in October—Christmas being only two months away. I’m struggling with the beginning of one more back-page column, not knowing the ending of it. Whatever is, is, as they say. Whatever will be, will be.
Therefore, in the words of one of my favorite creations, Jasper P. Theopolis Spunk, Kentucky Living, December 2003: “Try putting a little Christmas-card smile in your voice and a bit of twinkle in your eye the next time you see somebody walking down the street or road, as the case may be.”
Yet, it’s not always easy to smile when reality moves in darkening shadows.
For the last two days of September, I stood by the bedside of my friend, Jackie Larkins, and I remembered to smile, even though he couldn’t. I thought the smile and I wished for laughter. I’d wanted to take his hand in mine and squeeze ever so softly.
You see, since my Plum Lick beginnings in Kentucky Living almost 19 years ago, Jackie has been the faithful illustrator of this back-page monthly column, and he has made me smile many times. Other times, he’s moved me to tears, as in the letter when he wrote: “I hope you are all doing well. Good health to you and your dogs. Jackie.”
We shared a special bonding with dogs. There was Jake and Pumpkin, Penny and the dog named Cat. We shared our lives with them. We showered smiles upon these loyal creatures, and we would have been the poorer without them.
The last time I visited Jackie, he was in the Intensive Care Unit at the UK Chandler Medical Center. He was heavily sedated. The doctors did not want him to smile or laugh or even be awake, as they tried to figure out what had happened to cause his lung to hemorrhage and lose him so much blood. There would be surgery the next day.
Jackie’s mother sat by his side. She would not leave her son. Her strength was remarkable.
She remembered the times her talented, young illustrator of 49 years had looked at a blank page and asked: “Do you have any ideas?” He always remembered to be kind to his mother and his father.
Jackie’s life as a professional artist has included the last 20 years as the staff cartoonist for the Harrodsburg Herald. But his originals portraying homes and landscapes have been an essential sideline. His illustrations for The View From Plum Lick, I believe, have been a crowning touch for all his work. Just the right moment. Just the right feeling. Each month, he has read my column and created from the depths of his own being, a picture of his conception of my thought.
Each time I’ve gone to the post office to pick up my copy of Kentucky Living, I’ve looked first at the illustration and only then for any misspelled words slyly sleeping on the back page. An illustration is different, much different from a digitized picture. An illustration breathes with added meaning. It depicts mood as well as moment. A dimension on a higher level.
So, there is Jasper P. Theopolis Spunk in the December issue of Kentucky Living, 2003—elf’s arms are folded. The Christmas cap hangs down. Ears pointed, vibrant with life. Eyes bright. Smile—reflecting Jackie’s unassuming manner.
It was his interpretation upon the reading of Jasper’s words: “The mystery of life is in a puppy’s wagging tail and a kitten’s curious expression. The mystery of life is in one sip of coffee or a single taste of water.”
“The very best understanding of the miracle you call a mystery is the love you share with yourselves and all those who are lonely.”
Jasper and Jackie are alive today in Kentucky Living.
Time also has a way of making things better, thankfully so for Jackie, who is now recovering and surely all dressed up in Christmas cheer as he reads this.
Jackie and I talked on the phone in November. He told me he was ready to start illustrating my January column. We said we’d keep praying for one another.
We send smiles for all time to come.