A Beautiful Life by Jeanette McCabe
John McCabe, Jr. crossed the threshold to Heaven on October 18, 2018 and returned to the loving embrace of his father and mother, Jack and Jean McCabe.
John was born in Mineola, NY on November 30, 1961 with permanent physical and intellectual challenges. He had one sister, me, who joined him in life little more than a year later.
John first lived in West Hempstead, NY. There he learned to walk and talk and blame me for flooding the tiny back yard by stepping on the side of the kiddie pool to create epic mud pits that were enjoyed right after our evening bath. Those days left memories of nightmarish giant sunflower plants, the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and little suits and dresses for the annual American Legion Christmas party. We chewed on Flintstones interlocking Styrofoam building boulders together, shared the same bedroom, and played endlessly with our kittens. I dressed John as a spider on Halloween with an intention to lower him from the second floor bannister with some yarn to frighten our grandmother – a plot thwarted by our mother. We cried when the Aurora Plastics company forced us to move because they were turning our house into a parking lot; a terrible betrayal by a toy company.
Our family moved to Massapequa and we were separated during the day because John attended a special school, the Rosemary Kennedy Center in Wantagh. Together we played Lite-Brite and Monopoly and recorded Star Trek with John’s little cassette recorder. John played ‘shoes’ while I melted my dawn doll on a lightbulb. We attended catechism, received our First Holy Communion and were confirmed at Maria Regina. We snuck across Parkside Blvd into the Massapequa Preserve when our parents weren’t looking, and learned to play baseball in the street with all the other kids living on New Hampshire Ave. John was punished when he crossed the heavy Jericho Turnpike traffic alone, and when he wandered over to the LIRR. He’d spin me on the tree tire swing until I was dizzy and we’d watch Creature Feature every Saturday afternoon. And one day, I watched as my father was pushed into the back of a police car after he rounded the neighborhood corner to confront the truck driver who accidentally hit John while he was riding his bicycle.
The family moved again to the seasonal home in Walton, NY in the late 70s. We took chilly morning swimming lessons together, earned swim tags for the deep end of the community pool, and played in the hay loft of the barn. We danced on top of the cedar chest in little performances for the family, played in the brook behind the house, and took frequent hikes up the mountain to explore the mysterious stone quarry with our cousins and special family friend who we laughed and lived with all summer long. John finished school and enjoyed working at ARC and bowling every Monday night. He adored Ric Flair and was thrilled to see the WWF when they came to Binghamton. He loved all his cousins deeply, dancing hard to every song at their weddings. He grieved the death of his friend when they were in a tragic auto accident together. He and his dog Tango set world records for napping under too many blankets.
John moved with me as my job took me away from NY. He continued to teach me new things about himself; he was always willing to taste new cuisine like sushi and hibachi, though the flames of the hibachi chef’s onion volcano made John howl like Frankenstein being threatened by villagers with torches. He appreciated a warm sunny day in the convertible. He showed unrestrained joy when we took him to see his idol, Jerry Seinfeld. He loved women; a world class flirt, they were all beautiful to him. He was so sensitive, deeply mourning the loss of Michael Jackson. He did a perfect impression of Renfield’s annoying laugh from the 1931 movie ‘Dracula.’ He was devilishly willing to participate in our ‘Vulcan neck pinch’ comedy routine even though he knew we would get smacked by our mother because his Vs came out as Fs. John could be a risk taker.
In my grief, I am now acutely aware of the totality of John’s life. He was a gentle soul and until I became an adult I never fully appreciated his quiet days when he would snap a stalk of Johnson grass and hold it behind his back like a tail, walking for hours around acres of fields like the cows he saw in the Walton pastures. He was funny, with a sense of humor more sophisticated than most understood. He was authentic; happy to meet and hug new people every day. He was athletic; an excellent Special Olympics swimmer and bowler. And John was loved by many: my coworkers who would join our table when he & my dad came over to Sidney for lunch. Our many friends who gifted him movie DVDs and music tapes and puzzle books and pens and magazines and cards with single dollar bills because it made him happy. He was loved by his neighbors who gave him rides to get his hair cut or to go out to eat or to see a movie because it was more fun riding with them than with his sister. He was loved by his Endicott friends who made sure he had wonderful holiday meals because his sister can’t cook. He was loved by the local businessman who was on the way to rescue John and our dad after a breakdown on a snowy NY road before I could hang up the phone to ask for help. I haven’t forgotten that the invoice for that day never arrived.
I miss his terrible singing, which didn’t stop him from belting out the wrong lyrics to every song on the car radio. I miss the look he gave me when he shook hands with the wrong hand, no matter how many times I corrected him. I miss telling my husband to go in to his room to tell him to stop giggling so loud so I could have some peace and quiet in the bath tub. I miss how he put his coat on wrong by slinging it up over his head, and I wish I could give him back the 15-year-old sneakers he desperately missed after I sneakily threw them out after a thousand final warnings. I wish I could look in the mirror and not see his eyes looking back at me.
Thank you to the village of friends and family and care providers in NY and Virginia who loved me and helped me love John every day of his life. Thank you, Lena, and Josie, and teams, who guarded John’s safety and happiness and health as if they were his sisters, too. Thank you to my husband, Bill Yenson, the ‘good cooker,’ who stayed at home to care for John for years because I couldn’t.
But mostly, thank you, John McCabe, for blessing me with a beautiful life.