This photo has some marks on it but it's of Jackie when he was young and I knew him best. We grew up in the same neighborhood a few blocks from each other. His family had about ten kids in it with one who died as a boy, and mine had seven with one who died as an infant. And eventually we became part of each other's clans through the marriage of his oldest sister and my third oldest brother, at the time a cop.
Jackie was a few years older than me and had a reputation as the toughest kid his age in our area, despite his diminutive size, or perhaps because of it. One of my clearest memories of him was when I was about ten or eleven and him thirteen or so. An older and much bigger kid was causing some trouble, threatening to pick up and throw a smaller kid. Jackie was there and smaller than either of them, but he stepped into what was only words at that point and said something like:
"You think you're a big strong guy?"
"Yeah, stronger than your little"...whatever....
"I bet I can pick up something you can't."
The big guy couldn't resist so he took Jackie on, and Jackie spit on the sidewalk where this was all happening and said, "Go ahead, let's see you pick that up."
The big guy became flustered and said something like "F*ck you, nobody can pick that up." And Jackie said something like "If I do, you leave this kid alone." The big guy agreed. Without hesitation Jackie wiped his shoe over the spit and turned it up so we all could see the spit on the sole. The big guy turned red with anger and frustration but left the other kid alone.
I saw him in fights a few times too and he always won. I never lost—because of my persistence guys would just get tired of beating me and call it a draw—but I very rarely won, Jackie always did.
We also worked together in my father's home repair business, where Jackie was always pulling pranks. One of the first times we worked together, I was probably fifteen and him seventeen. We were sent to a job cleaning the gutters on the roof of a big house in one of the wealthy parts of our town. We put a forty foot aluminum ladder up to the roof, and while Jackie held it, I scrambled up. Once I was up there, he laid the ladder on the ground and went off in the truck, leaving me to do the job alone and then lay up there smoking until he came back to pick me up.
He was also known for talking so fast (a trait our families shared in general but they way outdid us) some people thought he was speaking another language, or doing what was called back then double talk, a kind of jokey sped up mixed up jargon that some comedians did as their trademark talent. So when I asked him where he'd gone and why he'd left me up there on the roof for a couple of hours, he laughed and said something I never understood and gave up trying to.
Jackie Fennessy was a unique presence in my life and world growing up, and it was always a treat to see him when I did on occasion ever since. My condolences to his wife and daughter, and to his many siblings, and nephews and nieces and cousins and extended clan.