I wrote a column long ago about the importance of telling people thank you and I love you and you hold a special place in my heart before you can’t tell them anymore. Those moments of too late creep up on us, though, and there we stand behind the pulpit at a funeral recounting magical moments to people who weren’t there and might not really care anyway.
I should have told Jack Custer long ago thank you and I love you and you hold a special place in my heart. I hope it’s not too late.
Jack came to my rescue on one of the worst days of my life. New Year’s Day 1994. Pregnant. Crampy. Three months from my due date.
I went to my mom’s to relax in a nice hot bath. The next part sounds a little less charming.
There I sat, naked on the toilet, waiting for the tub to fill. Sorry for the visual. If you’re squeamish here’s fair warning: it gets worse.
Like I said, I’m naked on the toilet. Pregnant. Crampy. Three months from my due date. That’s when I felt it. It was not that normal feeling of just sitting on the toilet waiting for the tub to fill. There was something extra. A hot flash ran through my body. I looked down between my legs to see my biggest nightmare taking shape in real life.
I’d read the stories. I’d questioned it a million times: how on earth could a woman give birth on a toilet and not even know she was in labor?
But, there I sat, naked on the toilet, doing just that.
I screamed a blood-curling scream, and by the grace of God my mom, who was outside playing with Joseph, heard it. She came running. I told her the baby was coming. She called the ambulance.
In those few moments of heart-stopping fear, waiting for the ambulance to arrive, only one selfish thought crossed my mind over and over again: “Please don’t let Jack Custer be on call today. Please don’t let Jack Custer be on call today.”
The repetition of that frightful concept didn’t keep going through my mind because I thought in any way, shape, or form that Jack was incompetent. I trusted him completely. I had known him all my life, and he had an impeccable reputation as a member of the ambulance crew.
But along with the thought of delivering a baby three months prematurely – after already burying my first child who also came early – came the realization that whomever pulled up in that ambulance was going to see me naked, spread eagle on the bathroom floor, wearing nothing but the sweatshirt-material nightgown in which my mom had managed to cover me – the only thing shielding me from exposing parts of me that even I did not feel comfortable looking at.
“Please don’t let Jack Custer be on call today. Please don’t let Jack Custer be on call today.”
The tears fell down my cheeks as my vulnerability grew.
“The ambulance is here,” my mom said.
I held my breath.
Two technicians – Tim and Patria Hague – rounded the corner. I could handle Patria seeing the unmentionable. She had four children of her own.
I breathed a sigh of relief really … until I heard that all too familiar voice from around the corner. I knew that voice. I had heard it almost daily my entire life growing up. I heard it early Saturday mornings from behind a cigarette and a cup of coffee at the coffee shop (whichever one happened to be open at the time). I heard it at the bowling alley, at firemen’s balls, in the office of city hall. I knew that voice anywhere.
It was Jack.
Jack was on call that day.
And yes, Jack saw what I did not want him to see.
My rescue squad loaded me on a gurney, wheeled me out the door, and slid me into the back of that ambulance so quickly I barely had any time at all to be embarrassed.
Jack was the driver, and drive that ambulance he did. 50 miles. Pedal to the metal. Sirens screaming when anyone tried to get in his way.
I will never forget his professionalism, or the way he excelled in operating calmly yet still realizing the urgency of the situation.
He was a hero. He was my hero – along with Tim and Patria, of course – but I want Jack to know it especially during this time.
Jack couldn’t save my baby that day, but it wasn’t because he didn’t try.
And I desperately hope when it’s time for Jack to leave behind those of us here on earth who love him very much that my baby Lucas will be waiting to greet the man who did his darndest to save the day … not just that day, but many, many, many days.
Whether it was serving on the city council, taking pride in preserving the city’s infrastructure, knowing every pipe, drain, and leak in town like the back of his hand, helping to hang Christmas lights down Grand, or just simply filling the coffee shop with that infectious laugh of his, Jack made Cherokee a great place – no, the absolute best place – to live.
Thank God he was on call that day.