The Gift (A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #28)


I was riding in a car to my grandma’s house with my father and sister when we stopped off at the dime store. It was Mother’s Day and my dad was buying flowers for my mom.

Can there be a better place in the world for a kid than a dime store? Comic books, candy bars, plastic toys, pink superballs, squirt guns, and a mynah bird in the back that said the store’s name over and over. “Ben Franklin… Ben Franklin… Ben Franklin…

It was like a paradise. You could not have invented a store more designed for me.

And then, as we slowed for the big curve that told me without looking that we were about to enter the neighboring town, my father asked if we remembered to bring our cards. Our Mother’s Day cards.

“Of course,” said Ellen, bored. Without looking up from her book she held up her construction-paper heart. Somehow it had lace around it. It looked perfect.


My cards never looked like that. Mine looked like someone dropped glue and glitter and construction paper and a magic marker into a blender.

Her cards looked like a machine made them. Mine looked like the product of a sneeze.

But in this case it was even worse, because I had no card. For Mother’s Day! Her day.

She had two kids. I was one. And I had forgotten to make her a card. I was about to let her down.

I started to cry. I could sign my name to Ellen’s card, but that’s what I always did, and lately I’d begun to suspect that people saw through it. Certainly Mom would know. She saw through everything.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” said my father. “What’s going on?”

I shook my head, unable to speak. My face had melted into tears. My mouth was stuck open.

“He forgot to make a card,” said Ellen, my interpreter in these moments. I hadn’t said a single word about the card. Somehow Ellen operated by big sister ESP.

“Oh the heck,” said my father. “Well, don’t worry. You can buy her one at the dime store.”

Buy her one! This was a treat! I could pick out something fancy, a perfect card. A card better than Ellen’s card.

I cheered up immediately. Vanilla cokes or cherry cokes (another dime store bonus), plus a perfect card, plus the flowers.

I was on my way. Continue reading

Life’s Unanswerable Questions

Just a quick reminder that we’re still taking suggestions for Life’s Unanswerable Questions, which we’ll be featuring on an upcoming episode of the Jacke Wilson Show. Tell me (either by email or by leaving a comment) what questions have long tormented you, and I’ll do my best to alleviate your curiosity…or at least join you in marveling at the mystery of it all!

Melancholy Christmas… what to do when it’s almost over

Dear Readers,

Oh, it’s been a good Christmas season here on the Jacke blog, although I’ve been struck by how much sadness, longing, and ache there is out there. Let’s call it the human, grown-up side of Christmas. The kids have their joy and excitement; the adults watch them bouncing around with their new presents and smile through sad eyes. That’s my Christmas, and it sounds like it’s a recognizable Christmas for a lot of you as well.

I didn’t want to spoil our reading of James Joyce’s “The Dead” for Christmas Eve. But now that THAT’S over, let’s go ahead and combine it with another masterpiece for Christmas night. John Huston’s film version of “The Dead,” available on youtube in its entirety.

And of course, there’s always a couple of episodes of The Jacke Wilson Show. We had the one about The Gift (Young Jacke’s attempts to buy a present for his mother) and the Christmas story for my boys (about their great grandfather’s Wisconsin boyhood).

The Jacke Wilson Show Episode 5 – The Gift

Or directly download the mp3 file: The Jacke Wilson Show Episode 5 – The Gift

The Jacke Wilson Show Episode 6 – A Boy Named Johnnie

Or directly download the mp3 file: The Jacke Wilson Show 1.6 – A Boy Named Johnnie

So tonight, when the chaos is over, and the house is cleaned up and the fire is still going and the chair is comfortable with maybe a glass of red wine still half full, enjoy this beautiful and quietly devastating film, or suffer along with me in the podcast episodes (there is some triumph in there too, and some smiles!).

And may you and yours have a very merry (and only slightly melancholy) holiday this year.

With love,


Christmas Is a Time to Read-Joyce: The Dead

Joyce's Dublin. Image Courtesy of
Joyce’s Dublin. Image Courtesy of

[Note: It’s here! Christmas Eve! And we’ve been running our own version of an advent calendar here on the Jacke Blog: reading one Dubliners story per day until today, when we reach “The Dead,” one of the most celebrated works in all literature. So cozy up to the fireplace, but on a little scratchy old opera, and enjoy this beautiful world masterpiece from James Joyce. Seasons greetings, everyone, and may you and your loved ones know much joy and grace during these holidays.]


LILY, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet. Hardly had she brought one gentleman into the little pantry behind the office on the ground floor and helped him off with his overcoat than the wheezy hall-door bell clanged again and she had to scamper along the bare hallway to let in another guest. It was well for her she had not to attend to the ladies also. But Miss Kate and Miss Julia had thought of that and had converted the bathroom upstairs into a ladies’ dressing-room. Miss Kate and Miss Julia were there, gossiping and laughing and fussing, walking after each other to the head of the stairs, peering down over the banisters and calling down to Lily to ask her who had come.

Continue reading

Christmas Is a Time to Read-Joyce: Grace

Joyce's Dublin. Image Courtesy of
Joyce’s Dublin. Image Courtesy of

[Note: We’re reading one of James Joyce’s Dubliners stories each day until we get to “The Dead” on Christmas Eve. You can read more about the project on the first day’s installment. If you’re arriving late, fear not: it’s not too late to join us!]


TWO GENTLEMEN who were in the lavatory at the time tried to lift him up: but he was quite helpless. He lay curled up at the foot of the stairs down which he had fallen. They succeeded in turning him over. His hat had rolled a few yards away and his clothes were smeared with the filth and ooze of the floor on which he had lain, face downwards. His eyes were closed and he breathed with a grunting noise. A thin stream of blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.

Continue reading

A Christmas Full of Longing and Ache

Friend of the blog georgetteann has a lovely post on Christmas music over at her site, A Walk on the Bright Side:

As my mind drifted away from the conversation at our table and focused on the music, I began to notice I knew almost every song in his repertoire by heart. Some songs were from my mother’s era—great emotional tunes of the 60’s and 70’s that she played over and over when we were growing up. Others were melodies from my high school and college days in the late 80’s and early 90’s. What I noticed was that I could remember exact moments associated with each and every one of them. I could recount people and places and events within the first few notes. As I drove home, I realized my life was like a soundtrack marked by a series of great moments tainted by plenty of unpleasant ones…and then the tears came…and then the words came.

Beautiful. She also reminds us of the devastating classic, “Please Come Home for Christmas” by Charles Brown.*

Lord, that’s devastating. I’ve worn out his album Cool Christmas BluesMy kids don’t get it at all, of course. In a way I’m grateful they don’t. They’ll understand it later, I suppose, as adults do. Until then it’s poppy, upbeat, sing-songy music. Songs in major keys.

We say Christmas is for kids, and I’m not going to argue. But Christmas for kids is Frosty and Rudolph and platters of sugar cookies. Adults have more refined palates. My tastes run to coffee and dark chocolate; my taste in music is for all the pining, longing, aching songs of Christmas. (Sinatra’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is the one that gets me.)

*I don’t know much about Charles Brown. Wikipedia says:

“Born in Texas City, Texas, Brown graduated from Central High School of Galveston, Texas in 1939 and Prairie View A&M College in 1942 with a degree in chemistry. He then became a chemistry teacher at George Washington Carver High School of Baytown, Texas, a mustard gas worker at the Pine Bluff Arsenal at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and an apprentice electrician at a shipyard in Richmond, California before settling in Los Angeles in 1943.”

Wow. What a life. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it. May you and your families have much joy. Both the unadulterated joy of a nine-year-old tearing into presents, and the melancholy, nostalgia-infused joy of an adult watching the scene and smiling through sad eyes.

This song always reminds me of my grandfather, who was so upset by his youngest brother’s death in World War II he could barely speak about war, or his brother, for the rest of his life. You can listen to my podcast episode about my grandfather as a young boy, a story that was a gift to my own boys, by following this link.

Christmas Is a Time to Read-Joyce: A Mother

Joyce's Dublin. Image Courtesy of
Joyce’s Dublin. Image Courtesy of

[Note: We’re reading one of James Joyce’s Dubliners stories each day until we get to “The Dead” on Christmas Eve. You can read more about the project on the first day’s installment. If you’re arriving late, fear not: it’s not too late to join us!]


MR HOLOHAN, assistant secretary of the Eire Abu Society, had been walking up and down Dublin for nearly a month, with his hands and pockets full of dirty pieces of paper, arranging about the series of concerts. He had a game leg and for this his friends called him Hoppy Holohan. He walked up and down constantly, stood by the hour at street corners arguing the point and made notes; but in the end it was Mrs. Kearney who arranged everything.

Miss Devlin had become Mrs. Kearney out of spite. She had been educated in a high-class convent, where she had learned French and music. As she was naturally pale and unbending in manner she made few friends at school. When she came to the age of marriage she was sent out to many houses where her playing and ivory manners were much admired. She sat amid the chilly circle of her accomplishments, waiting for some suitor to brave it and offer her a brilliant life. But the young men whom she met were ordinary and she gave them no encouragement, trying to console her romantic desires by eating a great deal of Turkish Delight in secret. However, when she drew near the limit and her friends began to loosen their tongues about her, she silenced them by marrying Mr. Kearney, who was a bootmaker on Ormond Quay.

Continue reading

It’s The Jacke Wilson Show! Episode 6 – A Boy Named Johnnie



Holiday episode! Jacke surrenders to some seasonal melancholy and shares a story of his Grampa Johnnie, a Hungarian-American boy growing up in early-twentieth-century Wisconsin, where the forests were thick, the rivers were deep and fast, and life was rougher around the edges.

Hope you enjoy the show!

You can stream the show here:

Or directly download the mp3 file: The Jacke Wilson Show 1.6 – A Boy Named Johnnie

You can also find previous episodes at our Podcast page.

And subscribe to the whole series at iTunes by following this link:


Let me know what you think! Thank you for listening! Continue reading

Christmas Is a Time to Read-Joyce: Ivy Day in the Committee Room

Joyce's Dublin. Image Courtesy of
Joyce’s Dublin. Image Courtesy of

[Note: We’re reading one of James Joyce’s Dubliners stories each day until we get to “The Dead” on Christmas Eve. You can read more about the project on the first day’s installment. If you’re arriving late, fear not: it’s not too late to join us!]


OLD JACK raked the cinders together with a piece of cardboard and spread them judiciously over the whitening dome of coals. When the dome was thinly covered his face lapsed into darkness but, as he set himself to fan the fire again, his crouching shadow ascended the opposite wall and his face slowly re-emerged into light. It was an old man’s face, very bony and hairy. The moist blue eyes blinked at the fire and the moist mouth fell open at times, munching once or twice mechanically when it closed. When the cinders had caught he laid the piece of cardboard against the wall, sighed and said:

Continue reading

Best Case Name Ever (A Jacke Wilson Objectino)

Another day, another Objectino.* This one straight from the courthouse…


Overheard at a legal proceeding:

LAWYER 1: What’s the best case name you ever cited in a brief? For me, I figure it’s gotta be Lone Star Ladies v. Schlotzsky’s Deli. Or here’s one for you: Fattman v. Bear. New Jersey case.

LAWYER 2: Fattman v. Bear? [chuckling] That’s pretty vivid.

LAWYER 1: No kidding. [shudders] Kind of makes me feel ill, just picturing it.

Continue reading