Every once in a while you meet a person that leaves a larger than life imprint on you. For me, one of those persons was J.D. Weems, my wife's grandfather, a man I met only three brief moments in my life. I was twenty two or twenty three years old the first time, and had accomplished little of note besides having the wisdom to marry Jennifer Rebecca Weems, daughter of Richard. We had traveled to Lubbock with our three year old daughter Sarah so that J.D. and his wife, Betty could meet their great granddaughter.
Jenny tried to prepare me for meeting her grandfather, but even with the warning, I was overwhelmed. She had told me he had been a builder of unusual skill, adding the kinds of personal touches that make a house a home, touches of artistry that you don't find in the cookie cutter houses constructed today. J.D. Weems never cut corners, preferring quality over all that, as if his very name was carved on every stud and piece of sheet rock. He had expertise in a dozen areas, from metal working to the stock market, and everything he did was measured, precise, and exemplary.
When we first met, there was this massive sense of competence that came from J.D. Weems. I was taught from an early age to respect my elders with the title "sir", but JD was the kind of man that you could tell deserved that respect for more than being my "elder". I felt small and to be honest, just a little frightened by a man with whom I measured my own competence against and found myself wanting. This is not a feeling I have often experienced.
However, J.D. accepted me as more than the punk kid who married his granddaughter. He showed me his shop, letting me marvel at his workspace, his "current" projects. He showed me the fine workmanship of his home, from the custom-made wooden slat shutters in the kitchen to the intricate crown molding that came from a carpenter and not a pre-pressed MDF mold. He showed me his gun collection with pride, hoping that I would appreciate the detail of the etched artwork, or the custom checkerboard cut into the stock of a rifle. Perhaps I met some sort of basic standard because, God knows, I did appreciate it. I might not have recognized the value of his collection, but I did appreciate it.
We visited J.D. and Betty again when our daughter Sarah was older. It was a short visit and I had grown a bit. But I still felt intimidated by him. I had completed Police Academy and had grown in both knowledge and experience, but compared to J.D. I was still a babe in the woods. He treated me with the same patient respect he had the first time, with quiet, measured words, as if he were imparting something to me, some knowledge or thought that went beyond the spoken word.
The last time I saw J.D. his world was crumbling around him. Like me, he had married the love of his life at a young age, in fact, younger than I had been, and his wife's illness had finally taken a toll on the man I had known only for a little more than a decade. He had been defeated for the first time. There was nothing he could do for her. He couldn't build a ramp to give her access to her own home. He couldn't make her dinner. He couldn't take her to the doctor. All he could do was be there with her, holding her against pain and time, waiting for the end. All I could do was admire his tenacious fortitude and pray I never found myself in the same situation.
Despite our short contact, and perhaps unknowingly, J.D. gave me something. It was an ideal, an example to live up to, to strive for. It was the concept that no matter what I did in life, I needed to do it well, with honor and pride. He demonstrated that detail, from the etched artwork on the barrel of his prize .44 Ruger Revolver, to how you install a simple skylight, was what made the difference. He taught me that confidence comes not from being right, but from being considerate, of spending time on the details.
In some ways I envy the children of J.D. Weems. They had years to spend under his tutelage, to learn a plethora of skills from him, and to utilize those lessons. I had at most two weeks, spaced out over a decade. But even that short of time impacted me and made me a better person.
On that last trip my wife and I had taken our two youngest daughters, Rachel and Evie, to Lubbock, ostensibly to make sure Betty saw them, but we suspected then that it might be the only time J.D. got to see them too. And the world came full circle on May 26th, 2012 as J.D. Weems died on the morning of his great-granddaughter Evelyn Grace's third birthday.
There's a lot of things that I learned from J.D. that will need to be taught to my own children. I can only hope that I do it half as well as he did.
I was so lucky to have JD as a close friend, as many other have also. He was a great role model for me in my life. He will surely be missed by all, but is great he is now with Betty.