Chapter 3-A Fateful Day for Jacob
December 6, 1941 (four years earlier)--John Jacob Marclay was just about fed up with his short life. At just seventeen years old, he decided that was just the way things were in life. Every night, especially Friday and Saturday nights, his father drank. Most nights he would come home drunk. Because of the drinking his father could barely hold down odd jobs. Johnny, his father, was never mean or ill tempered. He just drank whenever he had a spare nickel. Whatever attempt to successfully farm or work for the railroad had faded years ago as he drank his paychecks dry.
Late last night had been quite challenging, and yet, it had been typical for most nights of the week anymore. Jacob had gone out to the road after hearing his father’s dilapidated pickup truck once again crash into something! He always crashed into something! Last week it was the mailbox, and the week before it was the picket fence. Three weeks ago it took four horses hitched up to the truck to get it out of the ravine where Jacob’s dad had “parked it” for the night!
Fortunately there was no property damage this time; only his father lying face down in a snow bank. He picked him up out of the vomit, and dragged him into the house like always. Unlike other times he did not clean his father up. He just put him in bed then went to bed himself. “You are disgusting dad,” he shouted at his incoherent father. “Why do you keep doing this?”
Jacob thought back to his mother, Ruthie Belle. She had died suddenly two years before. Family and friends made comments occasionally about her illness, but he somehow would always blame his father for her death. “There must have been something that you could have done to prevent her death?” Jacob would often lash out to his father. His father started drinking heavy after his mom died. Jacob worked his father’s small farm, opting to stay with his father rather than at his aunt and uncle’s place in town.
At the moment he wasn’t sure why. “Why should I have to put up with all this stuff?” Jacob angrily questioned out loud. He had always been known as “little Johnny” while growing up. His father’s name was Jonathan James Marclay. However, everyone just called him Johnny, and that is why Jacob got the “little” attached to his name which he despised. When his mom died, little Johnny decided that he should be called by his middle name, Jacob. It sounded more like an adult. His three younger sisters still called him Johnny, but the adults of the family gradually began to respect his wishes and called him Jacob. “It was like a rite of passage?” Jacob said.
Jacob’s sisters had long since been living with his mom’s sister in town. Jacob being on the farm out in the country had dropped out of school after sixth grade. Now at seventeen years old he was doing all he could to keep up the farm especially since his father started the heavy drinking and squandering away any farm income accumulated. When his father slept he hid any money his father had left from odd jobs putting it in a place his father could not find.
Today Jacob had a mission. He was taking some of that money stashed away to spend on himself, to see his sisters, and to find a job away from the farm. He lived ten miles from the big city. In Midland, Michigan investors had built a plant called Dow, a large chemical plant of some sort. Jacob read about it in the newspaper. Jacob believed that the factories were the wave of the future. “Who knows,” Jacob said out loud as he traveled in the battered farm truck, “maybe I’ll even get an education and maybe go to college to become a chemical engineer.” Jacob had no idea what a chemical engineer did for a living. He did know a train engineer because his father would pick up odd jobs at the depot when they needed hired help to unload the cars.
Deep down, however, Jacob felt he would never amount to anything great. He was a defeatist allowing his father’s drinking problem to affect his self-esteem. Jacob knew he had to take a different course and not allow his pessimism to rule. He had never finished enough schooling to go to high school; let alone college.
Once out of the house he started down the lane to turn towards town. It was starting to snow as he made his way down the rural gravel road. He veered around a big patch of ice caused by a creek overflowing its banks in the late season thunderstorm just before the weather turned cold once again the evening before. The heater, Jacob noticed, must have been damaged when his father landed in the ditch. It was freezing. Jacob pulled his coat over his torn jeans to block some of the cold coming in through the vent that was stuck in the open position. Speculating about his future, “I think I’ll buy a new Ford truck when I get that job,” Jacob said. “It would cost him about $1200 or so, and if I made $ .50 an hour I could have it paid off in…let’s see…” Just then he passed the road he was supposed to turn to get to the factory. “I better get the job first,” he thought as he turned around then traveled the rest of the way in silence getting nervous about his father finding out he had taken the truck without asking.
As he arrived at the main office of the chemical plant, an air of destiny seemed to overcome him as he walked into the massive plant. “Boy, will my sisters and father be surprised when I tell them I’ve got a job here,” Jacob said as he approached the front desk. His father would be just waking up from his drunken stupor. Jacob had milked the cows, and fed them and the pigs before leaving. However, he did not fix the breakfast like he usually did for his father. Instead he left his father a note telling him that he was going to the city for supplies and to see his sisters.
The poster located on the desk in big bold letters said, “ALL POSITIONS FILLED! NO ONE ELSE NEED APPLY!” Jacob was devastated. “My plans were for nothing.” Although disappointed he insisted on leaving his name and how he could be contacted just in case there was any work.
Arriving at his Aunt Florence and Uncle Ed’s home, he received the warm embraces of his sisters he hadn’t seen in over two months. His oldest sister was just finishing up her first semester of high school. Aunt Flo was his mom’s sister; a doting woman with a simplistic beauty that resembled his mother.
She ushered Jacob into the kitchen right away, saying how undernourished he was. This was her way of trying to fill the void left by the sudden passing of her sister. Jacob loved the attention! His aunt and uncle had no kids of their own, and they felt it an honor not just an obligation to care for her sister’s kids. “Just because you are living away from us is no reason for you to go hungry,” she chided Jacob each time he came to visit. “You have stayed away too long, young man,” said Aunt Flo. “Yes ma’am,” was all he uttered as he chowed down on a plate of hotcakes and bacon.
“How is your father doing?” she asked. Jacob turned, pointing a thumb out the window. “Look at the truck outside, and you will have your answer.” She nodded her head in understanding and sadness, knowing that her brother-in-law was drunk most of the time. “Well, get something to eat and then we’ll talk.” After a time Aunt Florence came to clear the table.
They talked about his trip to the factory, and how disappointed he was not getting the job. “These are tough times, Jacob,” his uncle Ed interjected. “Many grown men are trying to find jobs. If it wasn’t for some of the work programs by President Roosevelt we would really be in a stew for jobs,” he said. Jacob told them what the plant manager said. “Maybe in a year or two, but right now is not a good time.” Jacob looked directly into his aunt’s eyes.
Unexpectedly, tears began to stream down his face. Looking directly into his aunt’s eyes he said, “Aunt Flo, I don’t know how much more of my father’s drinking I can take? I don’t know what I am going to do with my life?” Florence and Ed didn’t know what to say. Florence interrupted the silence. “Stay here for the night Jacob, and we will figure it out. Why don’t you plan on going to church with us in the morning? Surely God has a destiny for you? He’ll tell you then.” The rest of the day Jacob helped his uncle with the chores.
Johnny awoke out of his drunken stupor, humiliated once again by his drinking binge. As he got up he yelled for Jacob. His head was throbbing; a headache as a result of his drinking. “Jacob? Jacob?” he said a little louder. The pounding in his head was so great he fell silent as he grabbed at his head he shouted again, “Jacob.” He wondered where Jacob had gone.
“Jacob never wandered away,” he grumbled. As he approached the window John noticed that the truck was gone. Finally seeing the note he dialed the operator and was connected to his sister-in-law. “Flo is Jacob there?” he asked. “Yes he is John!” she said with a much accented response. “I suppose you are just waking up from another one of your drunken episodes?” she angrily added. Sensing the heightened tension, he responded in anger, and then in tears.
The phone rang again late in the afternoon. Jacob heard his Aunt Flo pick up the phone and begin a heated discussion with the person on the other end. “Do you realize what you are doing to that boy, John?” Flo asked. “He has been trying to keep that farm together and keep a sense of family with you ever since Ruthie died.” She began a tirade of words that probably should have been said a long while back. Closing the conversation she told John, “Jacob came here in tears, John, because he didn’t get the job he wanted at the factory. John, you should have gone out and got that job yourself instead of Jacob feeling it was his obligation to do that.” With that Flo abruptly ended her lecture and said, “Jacob is spending the night here. Maybe its time you talked to someone, maybe the preacher, about your drinking?”
Johnny felt bad and not in any mood for a lecture. However, he knew deep down that Flo was right. He was guilty as charged. Ashamed, he hung up the phone, walked back to bed, and slept for another two hours. When he woke it was dark. He put more coal into the pot-bellied stove to stem the chill creeping through the house. The flicker of the light from the stove reminded him of the many nights his wife, Ruthie, had sat by that fire reading her Bible. Johnny walked over to the shelf picking up her Bible wiping off the dust collected on its cover. He began to read, and kept reading until late into the night.
When he laid down the Bible, well after midnight, Johnny was a changed man. During the course of the night he had determined to chart a new course for his life, and Johnny prayed that he would reflect a new life of grace realizing how wretched his life had been.
First thing in the morning, Sunday morning December 7, 1941, he called to let his sister-in-law know what had happened to him. “Flo,” Johnny said with a very strong voice as she answered the phone, “This is John. I...I am really sorry for how I have been. I read the Bible last night, and I am giving up the drinking. Tell Jacob and the girls that, okay? God showed me a new way last night!” Stunned, Flo said, “I will,” but in her mind she was skeptical of what was said. “But he hadn’t gone out drinking last night which was a start,” she thought.
Somewhat both elated and cynical she told the girls and Jacob what their father had told her. When they got home from church John was there at the house. He had hitched a ride and he was there waiting for them as they came through the gate. Jacob and the girls had never stopped loving their father, but they were a little standoffish. The girls hadn’t seen their father in over five months. However, something seemed changed! He had bathed for one thing and shaved. His demeanor seemed different. He was not drunk!
“Dad?” Jacob’s voice revealed his surprise. Not quite sure what to say they followed their aunt and uncle and their father into the house. Once inside they sat down in the parlor as John asked each of them for forgiveness and to tell what had happened to him the previous night while reading their mother’s Bible. Sitting down to a royal meal of fried chicken and dumplings, fitting for a day of new beginnings, they ate not knowing the events and evil that was even at that moment being unleashed. Jacob’s life and purpose were about to change forever.