Typically speaking words for my columns just come to me. Majority of the time I do little thinking, I just type.
This past week has been drastically different. So much so, that I actually stared at two and a half typed paragraphs for two hours trying to find the ‘right words.’
E-mails, text messages, Facebook testaments and private messages have filled my head with many thoughts on what I should write this week.
For those wondering what might prompt such testament from so many - the answer is simple: Jason Turnage.
Last Wednesday at the young age of 39 Oakdale resident and local businessman Jason Turnage passed away.
Jason (known fondly as Big J) was my friend and was deeply loved by an army of people. So to say this is not an easy topic to tackle is a gross understatement. Sure emotion is there, but what truly makes it difficult is the man I now must speak about within the limited space of a newspaper page.
In 2009 I wrote a piece about Jason and his then battle with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. He and his wife (my sweet friend) Rachel graciously allowed me to visit their home with my Reporter Hat on and share their story. The story “My Friend Jason,” was incredibly tough to write. So much so that I actually told the editor I did not know how I would get through it. Somehow I did and they approved, and yet here we are again.
In that piece I made mention of the word ‘friend’ and how some might define it. I mentioned things about Big J I did not know: his favorite color, favorite food, etc. Days later Big J sent me an e-mail. He highlighted each of the items I had listed answering what they were. The e-mail was concluded with, “There you go. Now you know and T you are most definitely a friend.”
That’s who Jason Turnage was. He was the person who made every person he met feel special. He had a smile which transcended all worries. His smile showed his soul, his heart.
As a friend, I am sure it is easy to think me bias and I own that freely. However, in the days since his passing - testimonies from people of all corners of his life have shared these same feelings. From fellow riders in his BMX circle, childhood friends, family members, community members and those closest to him the sentiments are all the same. Big J was the real deal.
He has been described by many as a person ‘I just connected with.’ A man who was ‘unassuming, with no air about him.’ Someone who ‘loved deeply and was an amazing father and husband.’
Big J could smile and laugh in the most awkward of situations. He just had a way of making people comfortable.
He was a man of few words but many thoughts. The saying goes: Still waters run deep, Jason Turnage was those still waters.
I’ve mentioned before that I am an optimist. Big J actually played a part in my growing optimism.
Following our 2009 visit, I was worried for my friend (and his family). Respectively speaking, he had a lot stacked against him and a big journey ahead. My fear was that by that December of that same year I would be attending his funeral. It scared me. It saddened me and it worried me.
So we would check in with one another via text and e-mail following my 2009 visit. Before I knew it he was speaking of training, juicing and returning to his first love - riding his bike and BMX racing. From that 2009 interview until late 2011 Jason did amazing things. The hurdles never went away, but Big J was a fighter. He was not giving up and neither was the team which surrounded him.
He fought for many reasons, but the number one reason he battled so hard was apparent to all who knew him. He battled for his family. His wife and their three amazing children were his constant focus. They were the reason he refused to be done.
The word ‘warrior’ became a title many (especially his loving wife) would use when speaking of his battle. But Big J did not just have a strong belief in himself, he (and Rachel) had an overwhelming faith in God.
During the four years of his battle with cancer, Big J and Rachel became researchers, nutrition and supplement specialists and in their own right pre-med students. Anyone who has ever battled a life changing illness knows that your vocabulary is altered. The knowledge you gain from all that you have experienced alters you. This team, Team Turnage, equipped themselves with all that they could to rise above the battle of cancer.
But now, “My Friend Jason” is at peace. He is resting. His pain has ended. But the mark he has left on the world, on this community will not go unnoticed or ever be forgotten.
His local business accomplishments include: co-founder of Oakies Board Shop with best-friend Jeff Sawyer in the mid-‘90s and co-owner of Apparel Graphics with his ‘brother’ Paul Riva. So to say one can ‘see’ Big J everywhere is not just figurative speech. He designed the original Oakies logo and his current company produces a number of things locally, including Jog-a-Thon T-shirts to Mustang apparel.
But Big J was not the guy who walked around town boasting of his accomplishments, his successes or even made excuses when noting failures.
Jason Turnage was a kind, quiet soul.
So, as I sit here looking at these words, feeling as if I have not even begun to do him justice in this piece… somehow I hear him.
It’s fine T, is what he would say. You got this. This is more than enough.
Yet, I know as a columnist… more importantly as a friend of Big J, our newspaper does not hold enough delegated space to share with the world the essence of Jason Turnage.
My prayer is that all who knew him find comfort in the peace he now has. The pain for Big J is finally gone. Our hearts are broken, but we are each better for having known the person lovingly known as Big J.
We are all now left with the challenge of how to live better because of what he taught us. This sentence in and of itself makes me giggle. Big J would never consider or even think of himself as a teacher, a role model of life lessons. He was too humble for such thoughts.
Yet I believe his life, his struggles and his triumphs were all in place to teach us valuable lessons.
Now, one week following the news of his passing I will forever be grateful that my path crossed with a buddy I will forever know and call on as “My Friend Jason.”
I’ll see you at home, buddy.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.