Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Uncle Jerry

Two weeks ago, I got a call from my mom that my Uncle Jerry was not doing well.  I also got a call from my cousin, Jim, about his dad and then texts and calls from his sister, my cousin, Sherrie.  Uncle Jerry was married to my mom's older sister, Lorene.  He's been the uncle who, in a way, was the glue to our family.  I loved this man so much and have so many happy memories from my childhood because of he and Aunt Lorene and my Aunt Maxine and Uncle Bill.

Sherrie and Jim both called to tell me that they were all going down to Florida, from Ohio, to visit Uncle Jerry in the hospital, to "cheer him up" and get him back on the golf course.  However, that evening when all four of his children and several grands arrived at the hospital, they found that things would not be getting better.  Uncle Jerry was dying.  He'd not told the family how bad things were until they arrived.  What a gift for them to gather by his side and be able to say goodbye.  Uncle Jerry lived five more days.  He passed away on the day after his 84th birthday.

Uncle Jerry's 83rd birthday

Uncle Jerry and two of his cute great-grands.


They family is having a "celebration of life" for him this weekend and I will be unable to attend.  I have commitments that I can not get away from.  So, I wrote some of my memories of Uncle Jerry and sent them to Sherrie to share with the family.  I want to record them here.  I have photos of Uncle Jerry when I was a child somewhere in my mother's albums.  So, I will only share a recent pic off of Facebook but I want to record these memories on my blog.

I’ve spent the last week thinking a lot about Uncle Jerry.  We prayed for him to pass quickly and as painlessly as possible and prayers were answered.  He didn’t have to suffer a long, painful exit from this earth life.  For that, I am grateful!

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve shared many “Uncle Jerry stories” with Doug and my girls, and even friends and family.  Uncle Jerry was always larger than life to me.  I loved his deep, hearty voice and laugh!  He was just so dang fun.  He always had some fun plan for the family… an adventure, a new experience, or something tried and true to do over and over again, that simply made us all feel more connected.

Growing up away from family was difficult for me as a child.  I always wanted that family connection.  I remember the very first time we met, we flew to Ohio the summer before I turned 11. (I was literally eleven before I met my Brown cousins for the first time.) It was our first plane trip and it was our first time meeting as cousins and aunts and uncles.  That trip was truly THE highlight of my childhood.  We slept in tents on Haven Drive and had BBQs every night.  I learned to play cards around that dining room table and basically, for the first time in my life, I felt like I “belonged”. 

My mom didn’t have a close relationship with my dad’s family and so it was always just Rick, Mom and myself. (When Mom divorced Dad, I lost the Bell part of who I was and this meant even more to "belong" to her family.  Today, as an adult, I have reconnected with the Bells, as well. BUT, THIS is why family means the world to me today, I'm certain.)  I remember be so so sooooooo thankful for that sense of “belonging” and I’ve said for all of my adult life that Uncle Jerry and Aunt Lorene were the “Glue” that pulled us all together.  How grateful I am for that!

So, here are a few of my favorite Uncle Jerry memories...

There was a lake near the Haven Drive Home and we went out to that little lake for picnics and swimming.  Mom wouldn’t EVER let me do anything like swim in a lake, so I was always thrilled when Uncle Jerry would take us to that lake. For some reason, when he was around, I got to do things that I never did otherwise.  (I think that Sarah has posted pix on that same lake a few times recently on FB.  Everytime I see the pix, I remember those good times! I’d love to know if it is the same lake, because it suuuuure looks like it!) (Sherrie said that it was, indeed, the lake of my youth.  Love it!)

We went snow-tubing down the hill at Cascade Park.  We had gone all day long, down that hill over and over again.  Mom came to pick us up and the very minute that she arrived, Rick crashed into someone else (I think it was Joe), busted his lip and came up the hill, covered in blood.  It never happened until she was there making us all nervous!  Uncle Jerry said to my mom, who was FREAKING OUT, “It’s just blood, Ruby.  He’ll be fine.”   And he was.

I remember when I got to go along on vacation with Uncle Jerry and Aunt Lorene and my cousins (three boys and one girl) to Canada.  We sat on the Canadian hillside of Niagara Falls and watched fireworks.  There were some “hippies” there, smoking pot and selling “Soup!  Soup!  American Soup!”, as they held up cans of Campbell’s soup.   Uncle Jerry laughed and laughed and pointed it out to us. (My mom would have sheltered us away from that.)

Then, when we continued on that trip, (and this is Doug’s favorite Uncle Jerry and Aunt Lorene story), at dinner time, I had set the table with pine bows and branches for a girl scout merit badge.  Then, I joined everyone at the campfire and pulled out my bottle of Bayer Aspirin.  Uncle Jerry said, “What is that?  Are you feeling bad?”  I said, “No, Mom says I have to take an aspirin every day.”  Aunt Lorene grabbed the aspirin bottle, “Gimme that!” and she tossed the bottle into the campfire.  “You don’t need aspirin!  There’s nothing wrong with you!”  I never took another one and it was the first time that I think I “rebelled” against my mother’s over-protectiveness.  Doug laughs every time he sees a bottle of aspirin!

It was also on that trip that Uncle Jerry patiently taught me to water-ski.  We went over and over and over again until I could finally get up and on top of the water. I never did get very far, but enough to know that I liked water-skiing!  I still have pix of that trip!  It was the best vacation ever!

I also remember the many times we caught fire-flies or lightning bugs, as we called them, and put them in jelly jars, then into the tents in the backyard for our lanterns at night.  I still feel bad that they were always dead in the jars the next morning.

I loved Uncle Jerry’s model train set in the basement.  It was so awesome and he let me choose the car and push the buttons to control it.  That was the most fascinating thing I’d ever seen.  I remember watching it for hours!

And that basement… with the bar and the lights. I remember so many games and fun on New Years Eve in that basement!  I can smell it in my mind!  It was a happy smell! I remember Uncle Jerry making “Shirley Temple” drinks for me everytime we would go over.  Funny thing… I have never been a drinker of alcohol, so if I were to go out on the town, I’d still order a Shirley Temple today!

He was such a great story teller!  I remember the weekend that we went to Grampa Mike’s cabin in the Pennsylvania woods.  Uncle Jerry told the greatest campfire stories and ghost stories.  That night, he told us about aliens in the woods.  After a night of strange sounds, coming from outside, the next morning, there was something green and fluorescent on the ground outside of the cabin.  We were all certain that it was the aliens!  Uncle Jerry NEVER told us the truth about it! (And I asked for YEARS!) He left us wondering. I realized years later, when I was an adult, that it was probably some sort of anti-freeze!  He also told us bear stories that weekend and I’ve never been through the woods (which is a regular activity married to Doug) that I don’t think about the bears in the woods!

When I was a sophomore, we moved to Ohio for a few months while Mom was married to Gene, her second husband.  I was ga-ga in love with a boy in Florida and I was given, literally, hours warning/notice that we were moving again. It was the day before Homecoming! I had to call him from a phone booth on the turnpike to say goodbye.  I was devastated.  Sixteen years old and having to leave my whole world.  But, I recall, sobbing as we drove up the Florida Turnpike and being so angry at the world.  When we arrived in Ohio, and the family was there to welcome us with open arms.  We stayed at your home for a few days while we got moved into our new home. Uncle Jerry teased and joked and hugged that hurt out of me a little bit. It still hurt that I had left my friends behind, but how grateful I was to have family there, as it lessened the pain of that big move immensely.  A few months later, I was told that we were going back to Florida and, while I was so excited to get back to my cute boyfriend, I was heartbroken at the thought of leaving my family again.  When I was with this awesome family, my world was complete!

I loved how Uncle Jerry said, “LorAAAANE!” instead of Lorene, as it was spelled.  I can hear his voice calling her name, everytime I think of them.  He loved Aunt Lorene and their relationship was one of fun and family, in my eyes.

One of my favorite memories of him, though, is when Doug and I were married.  They had just bought a new camping trailer.  I think that it was their first really super nice trailer, with shower, bathroom, the works.  When Doug and I drove through Ohio, on our honeymoon, I so wanted him to meet my awesome family.  Uncle Jerry and Aunt Lorene let us “Break in” the trailer, as the first guests or actually the first anyone to use it.  The plastic was still on the furniture in it.  We have always been so grateful for that few days that Doug got to get to know the family.

When Doug and I moved to Ohio, during the recession in 1980 to start a business, we loved the times that we could get together with family or just drop by to visit with Uncle Jerry and Aunt Lorene around the kitchen table.  He was genuinely interested in our kids and how they were doing, as well, as always making Doug feel like he’d been part of the family forever.  We loved that special time together.

Several years ago, Kelly needed her birth certificate, and she needed it quickly. I had called and emailed and tried by computer to get it and no one could do anything, any faster than 9-12 weeks.  I told Uncle Jerry and he went straight to the courthouse or wherever it was, got two copies, overnight mailed them and we had the package the very next day!  He was a lifesaver!  That was going above and beyond the call of duty of Uncle!

Uncle Jerry was what I imagined a “dad” would be like, so he was, in my mind, a surrogate “dad”.  I remember being, even a little jealous, that you guys had such a great dad!  My dad was fun when he was there, but he wasn’t there.  Uncle Jerry was always there for us all!


I love that he had faith in me and encouraged me to try things that I’d never had dared or “been allowed” to do on my own.  I love that my own older kids got a chance to know him when my step-dad, Bill, passed away.  Uncle Jerry kept them entertained while we waited out those last few days of Bill’s life at the hospital.  The kids still remember and speak of him!   I have always loved him dearly!  He will always hold a special place in my heart!  What a gift to have known and loved him!

He will be missed, but what a wonderful reunion, I KNOW, has just happened on the other side of the veil with Aunt Lorene and Grampa Mike their to greet him!  

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