“…The Silver Tongued Devil and I.” Kris Kristofferson
This weekend, I learned of a friend’s unexpected passing.
Bryan Juckes – aka “Juckesy” – was a professional jockey who rode for my parents’ thoroughbred stable back in the day. I met him as a teen when he came out to the farm to “break” two year-olds one spring. I was the gawky teenager hanging around the barn, hoping to talk with the trainers and riders, and maybe even tag along with them on my pony.
Bryan was lanky, tough, good looking and hilarious. He wasn’t just the life of the party, he was the party. He loved hard, fought harder, and partied with the best of them. His skills as a rider were well documented but it was his zest for life and his Pied-Piper-like ability to lead everyone down a path of fun that drew us in.
The racetrack is an exciting and exhilarating place to be … but it’s also a rough place to spend your time, especially as a young girl. Juckesy nicknamed me “kid” and took on a brotherly approach, doing his best to steer me away from the harsh realities of the backstretch. Away from the fights, the drinking, the drugs and the divorces.
For a time, because of my love for horses and general proximity to the track, I seriously considered a career there. Taking me aside one day, he whispered, “Kid … I know you love it here but you are meant for more than what this rough life can offer you. Take your smarts and go.” And even though my parents had already said pretty much the same thing, it was his words I listened to.
We re-connected via Facebook about 8 months ago. We hadn’t seen each other in at least 25 years and I knew we probably never would; but he still called me “kid” and we had an easy rapport, as old friends do. He was just as full of crazy quips as ever and clearly enjoying himself; it made me happy to know he’d retired from racing and started a business.
And then, he passed away this weekend at the age of 53. And since I heard the news, I’ve found myself thinking about this rough & tumble character, someone who didn’t just march to his own drummer, he wrote his own tune. And it was unlike any tune I’d ever heard then or since! I have often thought about how, as we go along through life, we meet people who leave their mark on us and probably never even know it.
But, in spite of my sadness, I can’t help myself but smile when I think of him. This is a man who took his own chances and paid his own dues, and more than anything else, lived while he was alive.
I know it wasn’t always easy and I know there was heartache. But, when I think of Jucksey, I smile because what I remember most is the laughter, the incessant one-liners, the crazy stories and most of all … his ferocious love for life and all it offers us.
Jucksey you did it your way. You, more than anyone I’ve ever known, lived while you were here. And I have learned so much from you – about friendship, about taking chances, and how to just get out in the world and embrace it. I just wish I had told you so.
RIP sweet friend.