Everyone has some form of role-model when they are growing up. Be it a sports hero, a parent, a relative, a teacher, a sibling, or even a comic book character, every child needs some strong leader in their life to follow in the footsteps of. Even now, if you were to use the word “hero”, no other name comes to mind so readily as that of my own personal childhood role model.
Now, that isn’t to say I had a monopoly on Jacob as a fan of his. Nearly half the kids in the neighbourhood we lived in unabashedly looked up to him, and the other half I suspected just wouldn’t admit it. It was hard not to. Even animals naturally took to him, and he always seemed to have a growing family of stray cats he adopted. He built little houses for them in the local junkyard and left them tidbits and plates of milk when the weather was bad.
Jacob was the kind of kid that took charge of situations as if it were second nature. Whenever the neighbourhood kids and I decided to play “ghost in the graveyard”, “cops and robbers”, or any other game using the entire neighbourhood as our playground, our parents would always ask the same question before giving their consent; “Is Jacob coming along?” And inevitably, the answer was yes.
It became a common sight in our subdivision to see him, in his usual muddied jeans and untucked polo shirt heading a battalion of rowdy kids of varying ages and grades as they all trooped off on some wild adventure, ever under the vigilant eye of the same Jacob Schwartz. When old Mrs. Wicket’s cat went missing, he headed the “search and rescue effort” until we found the old cat the next day, stuck in a barrel in an abandoned lot. When the rumour arose at school that the empty Marlowe’s house was haunted, he recruited the bravest of the brave to go “ghost hunting”, which entitled a sleepover in the dreaded abandoned estate. Sadly, I was too young to go at the time, but the tales spun by the few that went were adventure enough. Although when I asked Jacob himself about it later, he just smiled and gave me his famous slogan “It’s the adventurers that make the adventure”.
Now, as with all childhood heroes, they don’t last. Some are outgrown, some are destroyed, some are cherished quietly in the back of the mind, and some simply fade away with time. Uncharacteristically, for Jacob, it was the latter. One morning near the last days of summer, we went out to the abandoned worker’s shed that made up our clubhouse on the far side of the old junkyard, and Jacob wasn’t there. Any other day, he would have mysteriously got there well ahead of us and, with a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich in hand and a bright grin on his face, he would announce our next “operation”. However, even though we waited all day, he never showed. The only traces of his existence were the usual strays he looked after, prowling around the junkyard in search of mice. However, even they seemed to notice that something was missing in the scene, that a key piece of the puzzle that made up our Halcion days was gone. Eventually, we all had to go home for lunch, and we discovered that Jacob’s family had moved away early that morning, something about Jacob going to a high school in a different town.
Jacob had always been a grade or three ahead of the rest of us, but we assumed when he graduated middle school that spring, he would be going to the local high school, as the rest of us planned to do. Instead, we learned that his family had always been planning to move back to their home state, and had already sold the house a week ago. It was only then that I realized I had never actually been to Jacob’s house before.
What’s to say about the years that followed? We all grew up, with or without Jacob, and inevitably went our separate ways. Even when it was our turn to go to high school, among those of us that stayed friends, Jacob was never mentioned again, like Santa Claus or any other childhood figure that one day vanishes from our lives like the magic they were.
As for me? I never forgot about Jacob Schwartz, not for one day. Jacob always has been and always will be my hero and role model, and nothing can change that.