My sister Margaret had only dated David Palmatier for a short while before they were married on May 3, 1974. My mom had panicked when they announced they were going to have their wedding outdoors in the Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine, Illinois, because she envisioned a hippy wedding with a bunch of unwashed kids in bare feet and cutoff jeans. She didn't need to worry, though, because it was a very nice affair. My sister wore a white prairie dress with a matching shawl and a big floppy white hat and this fabulous Mia Farrow haircut. It was very period.
The thing I remember most about this wedding, however, was that after it was over, and all the food was eaten and guests were starting to leave, I was overcome with an overwhelming feeling of sadness. And so I started to cry. Of course then people came over to console me because they thought I had been hurt or that I was feeling neglected or something. I was only 8 years old, and I didn't have the language at the time to describe what was going on, but what was happening was that I was suddenly realizing that my sister was married now, that she wouldn't live with me anymore, and that things would never be the same again. And it made me sad.
I still remember that day in early 1975 when I came home from school and my dad said "Thomas, get on the phone - David wants to talk to you." So I picked up the phone and David said "Hi Thomas. I wanted to tell you that you're going to be an uncle."
Wow. I didn't even know what to do with this information. It seemed so strange that I was going to be an uncle. Uncles were supposed to be old people who drove cars and wore mustaches. They certainly weren't 9 year old boys. But nonetheless, I became very excited, and it was pretty much all I could talk about for the next nine months.
I spent a lot of time with Marg & Dave during those days. I worked with them to prepare one of their bedrooms to become a nursery, painting the walls, pasting Winnie-the-Pooh decals, selecting toys, and I even helped them refurbish an old crib that had belonged to David when he was a baby.
And I remember their choosing names for their baby. It was a rather arduous process, as is normally the case, but eventually they came to their decisions and announced that if they had a girl, her name would be Kristin Kelly. And if it was a boy, they would call him Jacob Christopher.
On the morning of November 7, 1975, I got up for school and went out into the family room where my brother was sitting. When he saw me he said "guess what?!!! Marg had a baby boy early this morning and his name is Jacob!!! David called in the middle of the night with the news!!"
I was SOOOO EXCITED!!! I immediately threw on my clothes and ran downstairs. My parents weren't even home because they had gone to see my sister at the hospital, so I just grabbed my school books and ran outside across the yard to my friend Jenny's house (Jenny & I usually walked to school together.) I was about a half hour early, so I rang the doorbell and Jenny's older sister Beth answered. She normally couldn't stand me. But as soon as she opened the door, I just shouted "My sister had a baby boy and his name is Jacob and I'm an uncle!!!" Beth came outside and gave me a big hug saying "I can't believe you're an uncle!!!" And I knew this really was an event because BETH was hugging me!!!
And thus began my childhood with Jacob.
Jacob was part nephew to me but also very much part younger, pesky brother. We were just shy of 10 years apart, and we lived near enough that we saw each other every week. Jake was a child of boundless energy and unbridled enthusiasm. And I know this will come as a suprise (NOT!) to those of you who knew him, but Jake was also EXTREMELY stubborn. We did not always have an easy time, but there were plenty of laughs involved in our sometimes tumultuous relationship.
I babysat fulltime for Jake during the summer of 1977. One of my projects that summer was to make cassette tape recordings of some of my sister's record collection. These were the days before integrated stereo systems where you had tape decks wired to turntables. My system of making these tapes involved my putting a cassette into a tape recorder and shoving it up against the record player's speakers. Of course, this means that the tape player would pick up all the sounds coming from the room, not just from the record player. And so, up until about 10 years ago, I was the proud owner of a series of cassette recordings with Barry Manilow singing "Looks Like We Made It" and Jacob trying to sing along in the background along with my voice screaming "Jacob!! Be quiet!!!" I wish I still had them.
At one point, when I was a teenager, I got to my wits end with Jacob's antics and I wrote him a little song called "Jacob is Such a Dumb Brat." I used to play it for my friends on the piano and we would all laugh. One day Jake was really getting on my nerves so I decided to torment him a little by playing him the song. After I was through he said "that was great Uncle Thomas! Play it again!" Despite my teenage angst and all my bad behavior, Jacob didn't have a mean, vindictive bone in his body.
Jake & me as kids with Jake's father, David
A lot of us have been talking recently about how funny Jacob was. He had impeccable comedic timing, which actually started when he was a very small child with a penchant for toilet humor. One of our favorite family stories is the time Marg & Dave took him with to the DMV when they had to renew their drivers licenses. It was a Saturday and they were in one of those horrible government offices with about a thousand people in line and one bathroom to share. Jacob had to go to the bathroom, so David took him inside & sat him on the toilet, and then left the bathroom to wait for him outside. He had just walked about 5 feet away from the bathroom door to help Marg with something, when all of a sudden Jake walks out of the bathroom into this room with a thousand people, pants down around his ankles, and announces to the entire room "Dad, you have to come wipe me!!!!!"
Another time when I was about 14 we were out for dinner and they asked me to take Jake to the bathroom. I took him in and helped him with his business. When he was through I helped zip him up, but unfortunately caught a tiny piece of skin in the zipper. He yelped in pain, understandably. I checked him to make sure there was no real damage, and everything looked fine except that he was still whimpering. I was trying to console him when in walked an elderly gentleman, at which point Jake yelled at the top of his lungs "YOU HURT MY PENIS!!!!" I could have died.
He was funny his entire life. One time when I was living in California Jake came out to spend a week with me. I remember going out to dinner with him at Johnny Rockets on Melrose Avenue. We were sitting in the outdoor cafe section when he started telling me stories about his mother complaining about bad service in restaurants. He started doing this imitation of her in this silly nasally voice and I just lost it - he had me on the floor laughing. "I want that waitress to come back here and apologize!!!" he kept murmuring at intervals whenever I had my mouth full of food so that I would laugh and almost choke myself. He was really hysterical.
Even though he made fun of them, Jake was incredibly devoted to his parents and family. He was clearly one of the smartest people around, but he chose to go to a small local college instead of branching out to a big name school, where he surely would have been accepted and done well. When he graduated from college I begged him to move to Chicago or one of the coasts where he might find better opportunities, but I think I he really didn't want to go far from home at that point. He enjoyed every minute he spent with his parents. Well, almost every minute, with the exception of a few years when he was a teen. But he was a really fun kid, and his parents are really fun people, and he wanted to be with them. And I know he was equally devoted to his wife, Bridget.
Our good family friends Bob & Judy Ward recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune, which included a lovely tribute to Jacob. One of the things they said in this letter was that while it remains to be seen whether the world will be better off without Saddam Hussein, one thing is for sure: the world is not better off without Jacob. I couldn't agree more.
I can tell you that Jacob's death is the worst thing that has ever happened to our family. And so now, all these years later, I find that I've come full circle from that day in 1974 when I cried at my sister's wedding. Now I'm crying over my sister's son's death because I know that nothing will ever be the same for us after this.
I'll never forget the sound of my sister's voice when I talked to her on the phone the night that Jacob died. She couldn't talk except to say over & over "I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do." I don't know either. We all lost a piece of our hearts when we lost Jacob.
Maybe we can try to fill these holes in our hearts with some of the love, compassion, gentleness, kindness and forgiving spirit that Jacob embodied during his short stay on earth. And maybe we can all try to be just one-tenth the kind of person that Jacob was. It's true: the world is not better off without Jacob. But if we can try to do these things to honor his memory, we will know at least that the world is better off because Jacob was in it.
Jacob Christopher Palmatier 11/7/75 - 2/24/2005
Jacob was killed by a roadside bomb in Muqdadiya, Iraq, only two weeks after his arrival. He was 29.
Wood Fired Pizza
1 day ago