Me, Jake, and the American President.
“Take your decision, do it with a will, and see it through.”
I was ten years old when I was first told that. Like most people, I was influenced in life by certain figures. In times of difficulty, or indecision, or when faced with problems, I often turned to my people of influence for guidance and direction. Three people figured mainly in my life; an American President, an English Novelist, and Jake.
Jake was a gentle, fearsome, giant of a man. I first met him when I was ten, on a scorching July day, swimming in Kilmore Quay harbour. I had paused at his moored boat for a rest, and seeing no one aboard, I had climbed up on the stern deck, where I’d soon fallen asleep in the hot sun.
And that was where he found me, a short time later, when he came to work on his boat.
Jake was highly regarded in the community, not only as a as a fisherman, but even more as a seaman, and positively esteemed as a sailor and a member of the lifeboat crew. He was a quiet, softly spoken individual, except when angered.
In those days, trespassing on property of any kind, usually meant a clip on the ear and being dragged to your parents to explain yourself.
But Jake’s approach was different. He started to talk to me about the coiled ropes underneath the deck, tillers, rudders, masts and spars, jibs, mainsails, blocks, halyards, lanyards, beamwidths, waterlines, and the thousand and one other things related to small sailing vessels. For Jake’s boat had no engine, you either went with the power of the wind, or got the oars out and put your back into it.
Jake was also reputed to have seven bullets in his body, picked up on a beach in Normandy ten years prior to our meeting, and was rumoured to be living on borrowed time. I never asked about it, and he never offered information, except to say he was on the D-Day invasion, and that was that.
Tragically, the rumour about his borrowed time was true, and Our Jake succumbed to his terrible injuries three years later.
But in those three years, I spent much time with Jake, hauling lobster pots, laying long lines out around the Saltee Islands, and on the warm windy days in August, chasing the Mackerel up and down Ballyteigue Bay, between Kilmore and Duncannon.
For every day I was privileged to spend with him, he never, ever, let me leave his company without the admonition, “Whatever you do, Boy, take your decision, do it with a will, and see it through.” And so, I learned a lot about maintaining, repairing, running, and sailing, one of the fastest, over-canvassed, best made boats on the South East Coast.
A few years after Jake’s passing, in my late teens, and when my adulation for John F Kennedy, the American President, and Howard Spring, the English Novelist, was at its height, I realised that my admiration for both men was because, to my mind, they both fulfilled Jake’s criterion for life. JFK had shown his mettle in the Bay of Pigs incident, not to mention taking on Organised Crime with his brother Bobby. Howard Spring was a perfect role model for any aspiring writer, of any age. He had developed himself in life from very humble and disadvantaged origins, into a journalist, and then a novelist, of the highest calibre. It was Howard Spring who Churchill brought with him when he went to meet with Stalin and Roosevelt in the Second World War, for his powers of observation, and perspicacity.
Often, in times of difficulty or indecision, I have asked myself what Jake would do in the same circumstances. Whatever the answer, it has always been a help.
And even now, over 60 years on, when the apprehensions, the doubts, the anxieties, begin to creep in on some project or scheme I’m working on, I still hear it, “Take your decision, do it with a will, and see it through.”
And so, more often than not, I do.
I’m still here, still listening, still learning.
And Jake, where ever you are, my dear old friend, I hear you.