This is a man who I know very little about, but there is no denying that he left a massive impact on my life. Without Jack, I cease to exist. He was the Grandfather I never met. The middle aged man that never grew old. The father who never got to see his son married. From what I do know about Jack Yelken, he seemed to be a reclusive man. He valued working hard, keeping his head down, and remaining humble. The greatest sin in his mind was getting “the big head.” You never thought of yourself as better than someone because of your accomplishments. You were only as good as the next man, regardless of what you did.
When my Dad was 21 years old, Jack died of a heart problem and I would only be able to hear stories of the man. Somehow, I always felt he was nearby. Growing up, I would visit my grandma and become awestruck by one of Jack’s prized possessions, His stereo system. The speakers took up the entire back wall of Grandma’s tiny basement and I could only imagine the sound that the system would produce. The one problem is that the speakers didn’t work. They had been neglected in the years after Jack’s passing, as my Grandma had no use for them and were lost to decay. With an extensive record collection and no outlet, the situation seemed to be a metaphor for a life left unlived.
This past summer, a new metaphor developed as my Dad looked at me and said, “I think I want to hear some of my dad’s old records play again.” Dad started buying parts throughout the year and having them delivered to grandma’s house. He consulted with many different companies about how to fix the old stereo. I had never seen him so dedicated to something so seemingly small before, so I knew this meant more to him than just hearing some music. By last June, my dad and I were ready for the moment of truth. We headed to my grandma’s house and knew that there were two ways this could play out...The records would either play, or they wouldn’t. The stakes were high. It seemed that Jack would either show up or he wouldn’t. Like he was waiting for us to take his music and carry it into the future.
We worked through the day, connecting wires and tinkering with the record player. Around 7 PM, it was time to see what would happen. My dad put a Beatle’s record on the player and I will never forget the sound that resonated through my grandma’s sleepy old house. The Stereo worked again. The song “Here, There, and Everywhere” by The Beatles roared and this will forever be ingrained in my memory. Chills overcame my body and I began to get emotional.
A man that I had never met lived on through his music. I believe that one of our greatest fears as humans is being forgotten. This day, Jack was not forgotten. I imagined my family in the future. What if a relative found something of mine that explained part of who I was? The sounds and words of my youth, uncovered from their slumber and my memory awoken. It was an image so powerful. Life is short. We have one shot to find the life that wants to live us.
It begs the question, what do you want to be remembered for? What music will you make and leave behind?
“We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;
World losers and world forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.”
– Arthur O’Shaughnessy