FEBRUARY 17, 1997

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Jack's lifestyle was a singular one

Jack Nelson

Jack was a first-class character. When he was barreling up and down the road on his small motorbike, his white beard flew wild in the breeze. He was a kindly fellow who enjoyed his lifestyle and long whiskers.
Photo by Oscar Roloff.

Oscar Roloff by Oscar Roloff
When I first met Jack, I was driving down the Woodinville-Duvall Road when a fellow with a long white beard flying in the breeze passed me like I was standing still, and he was on a small motor bike. Goodness, he could be picked up for speeding.
   I watched as he turned into a dirt driveway and stopped in front of a small white-painted house, his home. I pulled in and introduced myself. His name was Jack Nelson, and he was an independent cuss, he informed me, while grinning like a kid chomping on a big candy bar.
   Yes, I knew he was a character, and the kind I like to dig out of the woodwork. As I got to know him, I took a number of photos of him and wrote about him in newspapers. Boy, did he like that. Whenever I stopped by, I'd see him looking at my five or six features he'd nailed to his wall.
   Gradually, I gathered background on Jack. His grandparents came to Seattle in a covered wagon. They were individualists, too, as a sign notes, "The laws of the place: no smoking, be yourself, and have good manners."
   As he saw me looking at stuff he'd piled here and there, Jack countered with a smile, "I'm not bothered by housekeeping chores." When I saw nails in the wall to hold up his clothes, he shrugged, "No hangers necessary. Nails free. Hangers bend."
   He had one table and chair in the one-room house. His December electric bill was $9. He asked what mine was; I refused to answer. His only utility bill was electricity. His water was free and plentiful, and he didn't want anyone coming out to check how much he used. His well was hand-dug.
   "You must have low property taxes," I asked. "You bet," Jack countered and he didn't eat much, so his food bill was real low. Jack had no phone, no TV. When I saw a tiny radio, he said, "I don't turn it on much. Poor reception."
   His cooking range fit his style. Little used.
   "I went to the 8th grade; that's all, but I acquired a lot of education from much reading. My vocabulary is large," he said. At times I wondered what he was talking about. He'd jump from one subject to another and was gifted in each. Golly, he kept leaving me behind, and I've had 7 years of college, but must not know much.
   Jack grinned again and said, "People are going to have to eat lower on the pig." (I think he meant "hog.") He continued, "We are gobbling up our resources and need to get back on the right track. Man is needful for his soul and needful of society for his character. Unfortunately, the city lacks both, and that's why I'm out here."
   One day while I was out there, he was taking a bucket of water from his well. "Get yourself a bucket and take home some good water," Jack said.
   "I don't have any bucket. Don't carry one," I commented on my lack of a bucket.
   "Put one in your car, and next time I'll get you excellent water. What kind of water do you have?" he asked.
   "Well, I have a well, but the water is hard and has a lot of iron, so I have to have a water softener installed and an iron filter unit. Costs money," I said.
   "You people are dumb," Jack grinned. "My water is absolutely free of all that junk you have. I feel sorry for you."
   He's gone.
   Jack has since made the final journey of life. Quite a character.
   I'm running out of characters. Got to go out into the woods and dig for them. Most have since melted into society and quit their singular lifestyles. Conformity.