When I first met Mr. McKay he was 99 years old. My mother had died and he was buying her home. Imagine moving your household and invalid wife into a new home at that age. When I first saw him, he was striding (without a cane) towards me from the car he had driven and was wearing a coat, tie and a sharp red sweater-vest. He was also wearing a dapper hat to keep his bald head warm. It was extremely cold, but that didn’t seem to bother him.
I was struck by Jack’s (he ask that I call him Jack) bright face and smile that seemed to match the surprising lightness in his step. He did not move fast, but seemed to glide steadily when he walked.
Jack’s early childhood was privileged. His father was a successful merchant and there were chauffeurs, butlers and a nanny employed. For some undisclosed reason, his parents experienced a horrible divorce and put the six children (three girls and three boys) up for adoption. Adoption?!?
There were 360 kids in the school/orphanage as a result of the 1918 flu epidemic. All the kids worked a half day on the farm and half day in school. Jack felt lucky that he had learned to read before going to the orphanage and explained, “I couldn’t leave books alone. I started reading Horacio Alger’s Bound to Rise, and others late at night by moonlight. Every success story he wrote was another door I could open later. I would sit in the afternoons looking out through 30 miles of surrounding blue haze to see the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. As I looked out I felt a lump in my chest because I had been denied a wonderful family life. Every kid at the orphanage was hoping for something. To get an education, or to get out of the orphanage to escape.”
Jack’s Hope is not something he understands nor wants to talk about. Actually most of my direct questions about Hope were deflected with remembrances of his youth or the 39 years of employment at a cast iron pipe manufacturer. But in his presence, one can’t help but sense the Hope he had while a child in that orphanage is still shining in his face. Just look at that face. Can you see it? Can you feel it?
Now go out and practice your smiles!