His sister Joanne would later say that his clothes were dirty for the funeral after Johnny Cash dug their brother’s grave.
American icon Johnny Cash came from a large Southern family, and outside of this needs little introduction. Like many of their time and place, this large family was marked by tragedy. One in particular, however, would shape the legend’s life above all others.
Throughout the first 12 years of his life, Johnny Cash lived for his older brother, Jack. Just two years apart, the boys were immeasurably close. Jack would serve as both protector and hero to young Johnny, all the while wishing to become a preacher someday.
The only thing stronger than Jack’s deep interest in the bible was his devotion to his kin. Despite his young age, Johnny’s elder brother would work to support their family, as did many children in the South during the early 20th century. Yet this devotion would be his tragic undoing.
One normal Saturday of work turned horrific. As young Jack was cutting wood, he was pulled into a table saw as it was in use. The sawblade mangled Jack’s entire midsection. Jack somehow lived through the incident, unknowingly marking his fate by crawling across the floor littered with shards and scrapes in order to reach help. He would continue to fight for life for a week after the incident. Doctors, however, knew he stood no chance of long-term survival. His injuries were too severe.
Johnny Cash: Marked By Death
Jack, the focal point of Johnny Cash‘s boyhood years, would die when the future Man in Black was just 12-years-old. Jack’s death would mark Cash for the rest of his life, shaping him into the man he would become.
According to Biography.com, Cash “had been a gregarious boy, full of jokes” before Jack’s untimely death. “By all reports, he became more introspective afterwards and began to spend more time alone, writing stories and sketches. Jack’s deathbed words about seeing angels also affected him deeply on a spiritual level,” the site continues.
With his admiration for Jack never to cease, 12-year-old Johnny Cash would remain determined to help his brother any way he could – even after his passing. Biography cites that their sister, Joanne, recalls Johnny went to Jack’s gravesite early on the day he was to be buried. There, he took up a shovel and began to dig his big brother’s grave alongside present workers.
“At the service, his clothes were dirty from the effort, and he wore no shoes since his foot was swollen from stepping on a nail,” the institution further quotes of Joanne.
This devotion would remain throughout the life of Johnny Cash. Those who knew him would often hear The Man in Black refer to his brother in the form of “What would Jack do?” – an echo of both the Christian phrase and his own childhood devotion to a brother and hero gone far too soon.