A tribute to Jack Whaley Long, as much yours as mine!
His name is James Nicholas Whaley Long. He has always been called either, “Jack” or “Jack Whaley,” depending largely on how we are feeling about Jack at the moment we’re calling his name. No one calls him by his given names of "James" or "Nicholas," though we do regularly use the "Whaley."
I am writing this article as a tribute to Jack. Many of you suspect, but may not fully fathom, how close this came to being Jack’s obituary.
I am not too good at titling pieces, something the newspaper staff at the Times-Voice will readily attest. I was going to entitle this tribute, My Friend Jack.
It would have been a woefully understated title for this, or really any piece, about Jack Whaley Long. Jack is far from mine. Jack is far from being just a “Long,” or just a “Beckman,” or just an any other surname which genetically contributed to his making, nurturing, or to the wonderfully bright, shining, friendly, and loving person who comes readily to mind when any of us think of him. Jack is far from being just a friend.
Jack Whaley belongs to all of us. Jack Whaley is community property. Jack has been thought of that way in every community in which he has ever lived.
Jack put the Jack in “Jack-son,” in more than a few people’s opinion. Jack is WAY MORE than a friend; and not just to me, but to everyone of you taking the time to read this article.
This is a tribute to Jack. This came perilously close to being Jack’s obituary.
So, what happened? This has been asked of his mother and me literary hundreds of times in the past 24-hours. The incident occurred over a week ago.
I don’t know. I don’t know of anyone who can tell us. I don’t know of anyone who claims to have seen the event.
What I have been told by someone who didn't see the incident either is Jack was riding his bicycle, something he absolutely loves to do, from a friend’s house on Railroad Street, down a steep driveway with limited visibility, straight into the oncoming path of a “Little Debbie’s” box truck. He was hurrying home as he received a stern text message from me telling him to come, straight away, because he had football practice that night.
Jack was hit by the truck. Jack was hit very, very hard by this truck.
It snapped the strongest bone in the human body completely in twain. Compound, displaced fracture of the left femur was the most glaring diagnosis.
We were lucky it didn’t break his neck. We were lucky it didn’t break his spinal cord. We were lucky it didn’t cause a brain injury.
Sure, he suffered a concussion the medical staff at the University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital, child trauma team, termed a “5” on a scale from “1” to “5.” Sure, he had a bruise on the back of his head.
Sure, that bicycle was smashed all to Hades. Sure, Jack suffered various cuts and abrasions, all over, some of which required the enlistment of a plastic surgeon who happened to be on call that night and willing to lend her services to stitch Jack back together.
The head orthopedic looked at me and said, “Mr. Long, Jack’s a lucky, lucky boy.” Like I have now said twice, this article could well have been an obituary as easily as it has turned out to be a tribute. As for luck, we are all, and I mean all of us, feeling right lucky today.
I looked at William at the hospital in Jackson, before Jack was airlifted to UK. My eyes bathed in tears.
I said, “Why didn’t I go get him with your truck after dropping you at practice?” William looked at me equally awash in emotion, with tears streaming down his face and said, “All I have ever done is be mean to him.”
William’s words, “…being mean to Jack” had struck a cord. Not a few days before the incident Jack was playing free safety for the Lumberjacks in a Saturday scrimmage and I made fun of his playing depth. I insinuated, to William in a text message, that Jack Whaley was revolutionizing the way free safety is played.
I was questioning his courage and willingness to hit. I was making fun of Jack Whaley, behind his back.
William and I both had a laugh at Jack’s expense. Jack Whaley found the text messages, searching through my phone when I left it beside Jack to enter a store to buy something or another, I don’t even recall what.
He didn’t say anything to me when I got back in the car. However, when I trailed him up to the apartment, lagging behind several minutes, I found Jack sitting on the couch, with his mother, chest heaving and tears flowing down his cheeks. He told me he had read the messages exchanged between his brother and me. Jack said, “You have really hurt my feelings.”
I lectured him about going through other people’s phones. I lectured him about invading someone’s privacy. I lied and told him I was talking about some other kid whose name I thought was “Jack.” He didn’t fall for any of it.
What if I was left to live with having hurt Jack’s feelings as callously and shamefully as I had done? What if my enduring memory of my relationship with Jack had been of being too hard on him, of making fun of him, of having a laugh at his expense with William, even where no one, outside of the two of us, was to ever see the correspondence? What if…
Thank you God for sparing me that. I don’t know if I would have been strong enough to carry on with that as my lasting memory of my relationship with my friend, Jack; with my son, Jack; with your friend, Jack; with our Jack.
Like I keep saying, this is a tribute to Jack Whaley. It could as easily been his obituary.
I got a call from Mike Holcomb at the hospital in Lexington. He was devastated about Jack. Jack is his friend too. He is all of our friends.
Mike said, “I can’t help but think what if this pandemic weren’t going along like it is. Jack would have been at practice with his brother, assisting us with fetching pads or retrieving balls, things like that, like Jack has done every afternoon, prior to this year’s mandated precautions? He wouldn’t have even been on Railroad street to be hit by anyone. What if…”
I said to Mike, what William had said to me, when I was the one What if-ing. “Coach, every situation in life results in What ifs. Everyone of them.”
The truth is, we don’t know what if. Maybe Jack would have been hit worse, and injured more, had he been down at the high school. Such analysis will drive one crazy.
Here’s the good news. Jack was operated on the night he was airlifted to UK Children's Hospital. The operation was successful.
They gave Jack a steel rod, a plate, and 8 screws. I told Jack it made him “bionic.”
Jack isn't old enough to understand the reference. Neither are many of you.
Jack tolerated the surgery well. This morning after he slept a bunch.
The medical staff thinks the broken femur is the worst of his injuries from the incident. They have told my wife and me we are, “very fortunate under the circumstances.” I would have to agree. Yes, we sure are. We all are.
Jack will get the hardware removed in a year. Jack may be able to resume most activities in 6-8 weeks. They think he will be able to walk on it in short order.
Jack will continue loving us instantaneously. Jack has never stopped loving us.
When we disappoint him, Jack loves us. When we make light of Jack or subject him to humor at his expense, Jack loves us.
Jack is my son. Jack is your son. He is just, Jack. Jack belongs equally to all of us.
My dad called me and said, “That Jack Whaley is a special guy, isn’t he?” “No sir," I said. "He’s way more than that. Jack Whaley is a work of art. Jack Whaley is beautiful.”
Here I am left, writing this to all of you, thanking God, and each of you who prayed for him, for this article being a tribute to Jack Whaley. Thank God it wasn't Jack’s obituary.