Sunday, December 8, 2019

Reminiscing: My Uncle Jerry

This first week of December is usually one of my favorite weeks of the year. My birthday is the 7th, so I generally celebrate “Birth Week” all week long. This week, however, things were not as joyful as normal. Unfortunately, my mom was texting me the plight of my uncle Jerry. He’d been pretty sick for awhile, and things were rapidly moving in a direction that none of us wanted. Then the news came that Uncle Jerry passed on December 3rd.

I’m a person who is very into nostalgia. Thinking about my Uncle Jerry took me back to the days when I was just a kid and he and the family were visiting. Both of my mother’s brothers lived out of state. Jerry lived in Georgia. Randy lived in Texas. Their visits were rare, but when they came, it was always an event. Even rarer was when they were both in town at the same time. It did happen a couple of times, which was the greatest of fun times for me.

It was three years ago that Uncle Randy passed. Family members from both Texas and Georgia came to the funeral which was in Lyndonville. Back in the 1990s, Randy had moved from Texas back to New York and had settled down here. I think my mom was pretty happy to have one of her brothers nearby rather than across the country. For me, it was a new source of entertainment. Both my uncles were a ball of laughs. I had a lot of fun joking with them.

The earliest time that I can remember Uncle Jerry being “home” at grandma’s house was in July 1983. It was July 8, 1983, to be exact. How do I remember the date so clearly? We drove to Lyndonville to visit, and when we got there, everyone was glued to the television as demolition experts prepared to blast 25,000 tons from Terrapin Point at the edge of the Horseshoe Falls. That’s an easy fact to verify in the age of Google.

Since it was so close to his birthday, that may have been what he was in town for. It would have been his 42nd birthday, which, as readers of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy know, the meaning of life, universe, and everything. It is a milestone birthday for people. 

I think it was the summer just before I turned 13 that everyone came to town for a family reunion. And by everyone, it was a lot of people. It was the first time I can remember that both Randy and Jerry were in town at the same time. Randy came with his wife, and Jerry came with my Aunt Montoya, and my cousins, Angie and Scott. They were all staying at my grandmother’s house. As my family was driving up the road several days before the reunion, we could see a sign planted in the yard in front of the house. Obviously, handmade, my uncles had crafted a sign that simply said “No Vacancy.” The boarding house was full.

It was during that visit, again before the actual reunion began, that Jerry gave us kids one of the greatest summer events of our young lives. He brought a metal detector with him. He and his brother and sister led an archaeological crew of teens and pre-teens around grandma’s yard, looking for elusive treasures that had been dropped and forgotten from their time growing up. And maybe something more. We found some nails and coins, and a couple little trinkets. But then the big treasure was uncovered. And it was a doozy.

On the east side of the yard, between the house and the hedge, the metal detector binged. And it binged big. It was going to take more than a simple trowel to get to the bottom of this mystery. The hole started out small, but gradually grew bigger and bigger. At one point, one of the brothers said, “Don’t let mother come around the corner.” That worked for a little while, but when she finally walked over to the excavation, the hole was two feet around and probably just as deep.

When they finally got to the treasure at the bottom, there was a 14-inch roasting pan. Remember those black pans with white speckles? That’s what we found. We opened it and there was the skeleton of what looked like a cat. At about this time, grandma came around the corner of the house, saw the big pile of dirt, and exclaimed, “What in the hell…?” They reburied the long lost pet, but the grass didn’t grow back for many years. So, yes, there are curses when you disturb graves.

As to the identity of the buried pet, no one remembered burying anything over there. My grandparents had purchased the house back in at least 1950, and they did not bury any pets in that area of the yard. So, it had to predate them purchasing the house. Sometime between 1908, when it was built and 1950 when my grandparents bought it, some family lovingly buried their precious friend.

Uncle Jerry knew that I was big into history and had a special interest in the Civil War. He lived near Andersonville Prison in Georgia, and invited me to his house so we could visit the historical site. Unfortunately, I never made it down there. There was always something to come up preventing me from making the trip. It is one of my biggest regrets. I made too many excuses. But when you’re a young married couple, lots of things distract you from things. Then you become a young family, and those distractions multiply dramatically. 

Another thing about Uncle Jerry’s passing that has me feeling terrible has to do with old family photos. I got a lot of my grandmother’s photo albums. My cousin, Angie, has pretty much begged me to scan the photos and send them to her so she could do something with them with her dad. I failed miserably. Over the last few days, however, I have finished the scanning all the photos and put them on several flash drives to send down to Georgia. Finally. I am such a doofus. And they are on the way. They are going out in the mail Monday morning.

I’ve been going through the photos on the flash drive so I could find some to post with this article. Looking at some of the old pictures when my uncles and my mom were just kids reminded me of a time when the boys were in town and pulled out the slide projector and screen. They set up the living room as a mini-theater and we all sat around as my grandmother and her three children laughed and told the stories behind each one. Those were fun times. I loved listening to them talk about growing up, and some of the crazy things all kids do. Nothing really changes.

I guess Uncle Jerry will be buried sometime in early January. My mom told me he wanted to be buried at Andersonville National Cemetery. As an Air Force veteran for over thirty years, he would qualify for that honor. I will most definitely do everything in my power to make it down there his service.

I will miss the laughs, and the jokes. And the advice that I almost never asked for, seemed to shrug off, but always listened to. I hope that Jerry and Randy are back together, wreaking havoc in that harmless, but good, old boy fun way of theirs.

Jereld William Cooper. 3 July 1941 - 3 December 2019