Jack Scott, requiescat in pace.
The Top Ten Things I Liked About My Dad, Jack Scott... In No Particular Order
Remarks delivered by Wendell Scott in remembrance of his father, Leonard Waymon “Jack” Scott, Jr., on March 6, 2010
1. Jack Scott loved to eat tamales and he also loved to eat jalapenos. For Jack Scott the jalapeno represented a challenge to his manhood. He used to place a whole pepper in his mouth and chew. As youngsters my brothers and I would watch in awe as his face turned red and – remarkably – beads of sweat would form … on his nose.
2. Jack Scott loved trees. He knew a pin oak from a live oak from a post oak from a water oak. He and I shared almost nothing in common when it came to matters of taste, but we both agreed that an ancient spreading live oak was one of nature’s most beautiful creations. In 2006, after he and mom sold the farm, we walked around the yard of that rambling old house one last time. He touched each live oak like an old friend. It’s the only time I ever saw him cry.
3. Jack Scott was a great raconteur, which is a fancy word for storyteller. He kept his stories short and simple and packed them with a punch at the end. Facts were not important. He deleted, he exaggerated, he embellished. The rest of us in the family who knew what had really happened were annoyed by this and complained that he was getting it all wrong, but he didn’t care. The point of a story was not to inform but to entertain. And he never used fancy words – like raconteur.
4. Jack Scott had his ups and downs, but over the long haul he was very successful in all of his endeavors -- with one notable exception. He was a total failure at snow-skiing. At the age of 40 he put on his first pair of skis, tried to form a snow-plow, lost control, and came schussing backwards down the slope. He survived, but he took off his skis and never put them on again.
5. Jack Scott had charm. I heard this many times growing up but I confess I never saw this aspect of his character at the time. Then again I was a strong-willed son and he was a strong-willed father and “charm” was never going to cut it as a means of persuasion in our battles with each other. But charm he did have, I see that now, and it played a large part in his success. You all know that Jack Scott traveled the world on business. Beirut on Monday, Teheran on Wednesday, Milan on Thursday then back home to Munich. Or: Houston to London to Moscow and back to Houston. On one famous occasion he flew to Houston from Amsterdam on KLM, came home just long enough to swap his dirty shirts for fresh, then was back on the same plane to Amsterdam a few hours later. And yet Jack Scott never bothered to learn another language, not even the basics. He never bought a phrasebook or thumbed his way through a dictionary. If they want to talk to me, he used to say, let them speak English. It was an arrogant and ugly phrase, to be sure, but I think the truth of the matter was that he thought, like many Americans, that he just couldn’t do it. Speaking another language was like skiing. You whip out a phrasebook and try to put together a sentence in French, and the next thing you know you’re flying downhill bass-ackwards towards certain doom. But in the end it didn’t matter, because Jack Scott had charm, which is a way he had of reaching across to the other person in the room and finding something precious and unique which they both held in common. Jack Scott connected, whether he was in Paris, Texas or Paris, France, and he did it in spite of the language barrier.
6. Jack Scott loved his country. It never occurred to him not to. He believed in American exceptionalism -- that we are a special, selfcreated country of self-reliant people. And Jack Scott was an optimist. No matter how bad things might seem right now, tomorrow will be a better day. His confidence was unshakeable.
7. Jack Scott was a man who could hold his liquor. Although he preferred the scotches he was ecumenical in his taste and would drink whatever the other guy was having, whether vodka in Moscow or tequila in Mexico City. He liked to drink, he liked the sociability that came with drinking, but at home he was strictly an iced tea man.
8. Jack Scott placed great importance on the art of shaking hands. As boys we had to practice. Look ‘em in the eye and squeeze, he’d say; don’t be shy about it. Jack Scott had warm hands. Hours after he died they were still warm, long after his forehead and feet had begun to cool. It was as though his handshake was the strongest part of him, the last thing to go…. The strong handshake, the conviviality of liquor, the funny story with the strong punch line, the charm – is it any wonder that Jack Scott was such a success as a businessman?
9. For Jack Scott the handshake was also a way of doing business. You bargain with your customer, you have a drink, then you wrangle some more. In the end you shake on it and the deal is done. And once you shake hands there’s no going back. You stick to your word. That’s how business was done before the Age of Lawyers descended upon us like the Bubonic Plague. Jack Scott may have been a tough old S.O.B. at times, but at least he was an honest S.O.B.
10. In the same way that Jack Scott loved his country, he loved sports and he loved his teams -- the Astros, the Oilers and Texans, the Aggies. Back when we lived in the country we had two TVs, one at each end of the house, and an intercom speaker mounted in the wall of each room. He used to set each TV to a different game and then put the radio broadcast of a third on the intercom. Then he would walk back and forth from one end of the house to the other, like a pendulum swinging from set to set, taking in three games at once, never missing a foul, a touchdown, a hit, a run.
I am not a religious person. I never have been and I never will be. And just because I’m in church today don’t assume you can start with me now. But I do like to think that Jack Scott is in heaven, and I try to imagine what that heaven is like, and this is how I see it:
I think heaven, for Jack Scott, is a place where you can eat tamales and jalapenos. It’s a place where you can cool your tongue with a scotch on the rocks or perhaps a margarita.
I picture Jack Scott sitting at a table with his tamales and his drink and the beads of sweat on his nose. Perhaps there is an ancient live oak spreading cool shade over the patio outside. Overhead in Jack Scott’s heaven televisions hang from the clouds – one here in this corner, one there in that corner, and on every set a different game is being broadcast. Old friends come in – pipeliners, tree-growers, Rotarians, and yes, even Methodists, who – let us be honest about this – have been known to enjoy the occasional margarita. Jack Scott rises to greet them. He looks them in the eye, shakes their hand, and invites them to sit at his table. Perhaps he tells them a funny story about what happened to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates just the other day. Perhaps, in the interests of entertaining the new arrival, he embellishes the story – but that’s okay, because in heaven all lies are little and white. Jack Scott sits down with the new arrival. Jack Scott pours on the charm. There are three games going on, he says; let’s watch.
I think some of you have figured out by now where I’m going with all this. Tamales. Margaritas. Jalapenos. Suspended TV sets. Yes, your surmisals are correct. I think that for Jack Scott, heaven looks a lot like Rancho Grande. Many of you know it – the Mexican restaurant over here on 249. Just take Baker on down and hang a right at the intersection and you’re there. It was a favorite place of his and mine.
But of course Jack Scott is not in a restaurant on 249. There is a big difference between the Rancho Grande in heaven and the one on earth, because heaven – I would think – is a place where this old broken world is finally fixed and its imperfections are corrected. And this is how Jack Scott will know that he has arrived in heaven. The realization will come to him from the games being broadcast on the hanging TV sets:
In Jack Scott’s heaven, when Thanksgiving rolls ‘round, the Aggies always whup the Longhorns.
And it is in Jack Scott’s heaven – and apparently only in heaven – that his beloved Astros manage to win a World Series.
The next time you’re eating your Tex-Mex, whether in Rancho Grande or elsewhere, please take a minute to think about my Dad, Jack Scott, and all the things that you liked about him.
Thank all of you for coming today. With your presence you honor my father and comfort my mother and I am grateful to you for that.