Be careful with your friends

That’s careful with, not about, your friends. More on that later. Caution: this is long and probably only of real interest to friends from “back home.”

My friend from about the 7th grade and all through high school had a personality that some considered “odd” in ways.  From the hot West Texas summer just before the start of the 7th grade when my folks built that house toward the end of Dallas Street in Big Spring, Texas — and I discovered my friend just a block away up a street that was really an alley — until we both made good our escape from the clutches of high school and home, we were constant companions and “soldiers in arms” in many ways. Due to my shyness (unknown to most even today) I was thought by some to be “stuck up” and no doubt thought to be a bit odd of personality also, at least by some. We were, therefore, somewhat the “odd couple” long before Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon brought that on the scene.

Although not a “stud” in high school I blended across many groups, but my friend was marginalized by many. Not shunned, but significantly marginalized. Yet, underneath what sometimes manifested itself as a Napoleonic complex (my friend was vertically challenged), and in spite of his constant attempts to finally win the “War of Northern Aggression,” I saw a strength of character there that I did not then fully understand — nor adequately appreciate.  That strength would later manifest itself in another, significant way. Day by day, he was a friend upon whom you could count and he asked nothing in return.

Those of you who knew me back in the “olden days” (as daughter Melissa often referred to any time more than just a few years ago) also knew John “Jay” Raymond Hatch, Jr.  After high school we went our separate ways, me off to college and then winding up in the U.S. Navy; Jay starting a family with the birth of John-John and eventually ending up in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer, where his strength of character shone brightly.

After “the war” in about 1974 Jay found me in Austin where I was then practicing law. We were in touch there briefly and we talked only minutely about the Vietnam conflict. You see, while I was aboard an aircraft carrier 75 miles on in the Gulf of Tonkin with freshly made ice cream most nights, Jay was slogging through the muddy jungles of Vietnam and leading men into real battles. He wouldn’t say much in detail but I did learn that he had most of an entire platoon “shot out from under” him as he put it. He was troubled by his experience but not complaining.

The rest of Captain Hatch’s story is that he was decorated with a Purple Heart and

three Bronze Star Medals, plus the Army Commendation Medal. He never mentioned those commendations to me, nor to others around him over the years. As happened with many Vietnam vets who served in-country Jay was greatly affected by the experience and his new friends tell me he never really recovered from it. More later about his new friends.

He surfaced again in about 1983 or ’84 when he came to see me in Big Spring while he was starting a new venture in El Paso.  Fading away after that he called me in Marble Falls one day about 10 years later while he was living and working in Brady — just 80 miles up the road. As had been the case for several decades now, the contact was brief and I did not fully appreciate the emotional toil that life had taken on him.  Jay and his wife Carla wound up in Smithville eventually, a fact unknown to me until recently when John contacted me through Facebook.

Thus it was with mixed emotions and a hurt heart that today I attended a memorial service for Jay, who died on October 11, this past Monday.  The main sanctuary of the First  United Methodist Church of Smithville, Texas was packed.  A military honor guard presented the flag.  John-John (who chuckled when I made reference to that nickname) and his family were gathered with a huge cadre of Jay’s “new friends” — those gained after he moved there from Brady and who nurtured him during what would become his final, difficult years.  Several of us made brief remarks about our parts of Jay’s life (mine are below) and the service adjourned to “Charlie’s” — a typical Texas small town bar and pool hall — for a wake. Jay and I always talked about that, about having a wake when we were gone, and I suggested to prop me up in a burnt orange recliner with a scotch in my hand.

Jay was certainly present in spirit at his wake as friend after friend came up to tell me about Jay in their lives. In spite of repeated surgeries and increasing emotional wreckage they tell me he never complained, that he was always giving an ear and gentle counsel to them all. They knew him as an avid hunter, fisherman, golfer, philosopher and writer. Turns out that Jay and his deceased wife Carla had written a book – an audio book – Turtle Trap.  Gotta get a copy.

In chatting with folks around that smoke-filled bar, sitting on the edge of a pool table sipping a Shiner bock and munching on my share of 80 pounds of BBQ chicken, the picture became clear.  Jay had become a giant of a man in that diminutive vertical frame.

As I drove home I mulled over the afternoon. I was proud of my old friend and glad to hear of part of a life well-lived. And, yet, I was sad to have lost all of the years in between as happens so often with both friends and family. Time grabs us and the lives of our friends pass us by, and then they’re gone.

Thus I say be careful with your friends and relationships — time is not your friend, especially once you have almost six decades under your belt.

Here are my remarks, best I can recall what I said during the remembrance:

Jay and I grew up together– well, I say grew up but … (laughter) at least we got older. From about the 7th grade we just lived a block apart up an alley and traversed it often. There is a lot I could tell you since the statute of limitations has run — but not at church (more laughter from the crowd).

We learned things as young boys:  cars, Coors, girls, hunting rabbits, golf — took lessons at about age 10 from golf pro Shirley Robbins at the Big Spring Country Club. Jay was always a friend.

After high school we went our separate ways — he eventually to the Army and me to the Navy. We would have contact occasionally over the years, but not enough. So I tell you to be careful with your friends and don’t let time pass you by.

I’ll leave you with just one piece of advice, with something Jay told me every time we parted company: “Don’t take any wooden nickels.”  (big chuckles — turns out he was still fond of the phrase).

Obituary

Jay

John Raymond Hatch, Jr. “Jay” 1944 – 2010 Born in El Paso, Texas, on January 14, 1944. He would circle the globe, including a Tour of Duty in Viet Nam, before spending the remainder of his life in the Lone Star State, where he finally rested in Smithville, Texas on Monday, October 11, 2010. Jay Hatch, son of John Sr. and Mary Nell Link, graduated from Big Spring High School, spent three years in Viet Nam in the US Army achieving the rank of Captain. He earned three Bronze Stars, Purple Heart and an Army Commendation Medal. He married the love of his life, Carla Madison. He was an oilman like his father, but his true passion was golf, fishing and pool. Although he was a “mans man”, he would be the first to let you know, Carla was “The Boss”. After losing Carla, Jay was adopted by his Smithville family that included his friends at Charlie’s, La Caba?a Restaurant and Lost Pines Golf Club. They were a different kind of “Band of Brothers (and Sisters)” and they were his rock helping him weather many of his life’s storms. He is preceded in death by his father, mother and wife Carla and is survived by a sister, Ginger Dudley of Hugo, Oklahoma, brother Richard “Dick” Hatch and wife, Fran, of Kissimmee, Florida and son, John Hatch and wife Rebecca, of Buda, stepdaughter Kathy Carroll in Big Spring and stepson Cody Carroll of La Grange. He is also survived by several grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held at the Smithville First United Methodist Church on Friday, October 15 at 1:00 p.m., with wake following at Charlie’s. Jay will be interred at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Military Cemetery on Wednesday, October 20, at 2:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions can be made to the American Legion Post 180, P.O. Box 28, Smithville, Texas 78957.

There is a guest book to sign at that link.