- Young Kwak
- Someone send George Clooney this woman's phone number.
With kids, grandkids and great-grandkids regularly rolling through Sal Jackson's Spokane Valley home, it's not unusual for the lovable grandma to leave the door unlocked.
"I tell them, 'Leave the lights on, and leave the door open in case George Clooney wants to come in,'" Jackson says with a big smile, sitting in her sunny living room on a recent Saturday afternoon. "And then I'm thinkin' maybe I should say turn the lights out. In pitch black I'm not bad. When it's light, it's pretty frightening."
The 86-year-old says a night with the hunky actor is next on her bucket list, since she was recently able to check another big item off her list: stand-up comedy.
At the end of February, Jackson took to the Spokane Comedy Club for her first-ever open mic, and with more than 100 friends and family members in the audience supporting her, the venue let her burn the light as long as she wanted. A 15-minute video of Jackson's performance, posted by one of her grandchildren, quickly gained more than 14,000 views on Facebook, though the video has since been removed.
"They were cutting some people off Facebook with it because I dropped the F-bomb," Jackson says. "I forgot to read the old lady manual on what's acceptable language when you're 86."
From the start of Jackson's hilarious set, still preserved on YouTube, it's clear that, as she puts it, she's an "ornery old cuss."
"A few years ago a reporter said, 'At your age, do you exercise?'" Jackson says, looking out at the crowd, the stage's brick background behind her. "I says, 'Hell yes I exercise! Every morning when I wake up, I roll over in bed, I do a push up, and if there's no goddamn coffin lid I'm out the door!'"
With plenty of jokes about growing old and the ways her body has changed, Jackson has the crowd roaring with laughter. There's a bit about needing a semitruck if she's gonna haul ass, and another about using her old stripper pole to get out of bed in the morning.
"Living this long, you have to have a sense of humor," she says from her armchair at home. "You can either look at life and see the bad side or you can look and see the funny side."
Outside her house, she's currently flying a pirate flag. Jackson was the chair of the local Democratic Party for many years, and the flag is her protest against Donald Trump's presidency.
"I don't acknowledge him as president," Jackson says. "I'm in no man's land."
It's a friendly no man's land, though, as 700 community kids roll through the property each summer to take swim lessons from Jackson in the pool she built 50 years ago. She's been teaching even longer than that.
A few years ago, a woman stopped her at the store.
"She said, 'You know, you taught me, you taught my kids, you taught my grandkids, and in two years, I'm bringing you my great-grandson,'" Jackson says. "Isn't that something?"
Born in the Valley, Jackson remembers not having electricity or running water until she was 5 and recalls when Pines was a dirt road. Between her political work, teaching swimming, coaching baseball, teaching P.E. and serving as a guardian ad litem through the court system, she's become something of a community celebrity over the years.
Though her stand-up routine was a first, much of her life has been spent trying to make other people happy, especially children.
"I've had such a good wonderful life, honey. I've tried to cram everything I can cram into it, and I still do," Jackson says. "And it's mostly things I want to achieve helping people. That gives me really deep, deep, deep happiness."
When she and her late husband Ron first married, they lived in West Oakland, where she taught in a mostly black school. That's where she says she got her social conscience.
"I saw what it was like for kids not to have dreams, for kids not to have role models to inspire them," she says. "And it was rough, because the kids didn't trust. Rightfully so. But slowly, but surely, the kids got to trust me."
Jackson started an after-school intramural girls' basketball league and students wound up regularly hanging around her office.
"The kids and I ended up having a great rapport," she says. "Teachers were afraid to stay after school, but I've always been too stupid to be afraid."
Throughout their 57 years together, she and Ron would often play off each other as a comic duo, swapping roles as straight man and comedian, to the joy of their family and the many children whose lives they touched.
"I lost my husband to Parkinson's," Jackson says. "I adored him. He was a professional baseball player and he was so funny. ... It was great being married to him because we just both thought fast and both thought funny."
Though the comedy club has asked if she'd like to come back, Jackson says she's not sure if she can make any commitments — she's just happy to wake up every morning. She'd like to live to be 100, but realizes she's got no control over it.
"The kids are trying to feed me all this damn health food. I said, 'Hell, I'm 86 and still alive, I must eat healthy enough,'" Jackson says with a laugh. "God I hate health food. They cook healthy stuff now that I never even heard of. I said, 'If you can't put gravy on it, I don't want it.'"
Whether or not she makes it up onstage again, Jackson says she had a wonderful time, and she doesn't plan to stop cracking jokes.
"I guess I'm just a happy person," she says. "If your goal in life is to be kind to people and to make 'em happy, and you achieve that goal often, it just gives you a good, good feeling." ♦