A very special man was born seventy three years ago last Monday. He worked as an aerospace engineer for Douglas Aircraft, Fairchild, and Parker Hannafin. I could point to the exact parts on the rocket Saturn V and the space shuttle Columbia that he worked on designing. I am so proud of him.
He married the queen of her high school senior prom, Gretchen Kintz, where they lived in South Bend, Indiana. The young couple packed up their belongings, down to classy ties and spiffy wrist length gloves, and moved to California. Soon they had a family: Bob, Jim, Steve, Jere, and Eileen. Their fourth and youngest son, Jere, is my dad.
My Papa, also named Jere, led a wonderful life of resplendent integrity. On a driving trip I recently took with his wife, my Nana, I asked her to tell me more about him. She described how brilliant and funny he was, and yet he never put anyone down. He and his best friend were political opposites--a Republican and a Democrat--and yet they they had hours of conversation and never once argued or had hard words. That’s a rare and priceless quality.
When he wanted to celebrate something, he didn’t splurge. Instead, his favorite treat was to buy himself a Payday bar. Even though I adore chocolate, I also love Paydays, for Papa’s sake.
His humor came from an amazing spectrum of knowledge, referencing books, movies, newspapers, history, music, and more. A conversation with him must have been a like a collage of all the above, held together by delightful wit. I wish I could have talked to him.
Papa valued family and relations so highly that my dad didn’t realize until he grew up himself that any of their relatives had any problems. His dad always spoke highly of every single one of them, and hardly said anything less than complimentary about anyone else. He loved people, and loved making them happy.
A few years ago, my family and I took a road trip to Washington, D.C. We saw plenty of things along the way, but the best treat of all came from a little town in Virginia. Nana and Papa had been dear friends with a couple named Don and Sue. Don had since passed on, but we got to have dinner with Sue, her grown children, and their children. Before we ate, Sue beckoned my dad and I over to a little table by a window. She handed us a blue paper bag full of paper. “These are all the letters your father wrote to Don,” she said. “I thought you’d like to read them.” We hadn’t expected anything of the kind, but she couldn’t have given us a better gift. There were so many letters, we spent hours in the car on the way home and around our dinner table while my dad read them aloud. Some made us laugh. Others solved long standing family mysteries. Sue had given us a treasure.
Running through each letter was a theme of constant optimism. Papa seemed to have made it his life goal to cheer Don and Sue, and give them something to laugh about. He told them about special concerts he and Nana had gone to see together, the hijinks of his kids, and sent newspaper clippings or comics he thought Don would enjoy. He was very newsy, and through page after page of beautifully handwritten words, I finally got to know a man I have long admired and missed.
When he was only fifty eight, Papa passed away from a horrendous tumor that gave him brain cancer. I was two years old. Before the tumor took him away from us entirely, it first stole parts of his brain. He could no longer come up with the words he needed to convey what he meant. Papa couldn’t remember how to talk, but we’ll never forget what he used to say. We still quote him all the time.
When someone asked him for something’s price, he’d answer:
“Oh, about a buck three eighty.”
When one of his kids complained that they wanted something, he’d remind them:
“Yup! And people in hell want ice water.”
When there was an unpleasant job to be done, he’d roll up his sleeves and say cheerily:
“It’s better than a poke in the eye with a hot stick!”
If you asked him what was for dinner, you wouldn’t get a more satisfactory answer than:
“Fried jambo leaves and hominy grits!”
He liked to remind himself that hard work and determination made everything easier:
“It’s no hill for a climber.”
My all time favorite was saved for occasions when someone told him that what he was attempting was impossible.
“You just hide and watch me.”
Although I remember plenty of stories about Papa, I don’t know if I remember knowing him. The closest is remembering the time, not long before he passed away, that he pulled me in a wagon from his house to the corner, one house down. That memory might just be because I’ve seen a picture. If I had a time machine, the first thing I’d do is go back and meet my Papa and talk to him. I miss knowing him. I miss him so much.
But even if I never meet him in this life, I will see him again.
I remember the night he died. My cousin Mckenna, who was three, and I were playing dress up. One hat, and one of Nana’s shoes each. We also sat together at the piano and pretended to play a duet. But I don’t remember Papa.
He passed away in what is now my room. All of his family was gathered around, except my dad, who had gone to the kitchen. A few months earlier, Papa had been asked to play one of the three wise men in a Christmas play. He couldn’t speak by that point, so he had no lines, but he had a kingly costume. Nana asked my dad if he’d seen pictures from the performance, and he hadn’t, so he left his dad briefly to see them. He found the pictures in the kitchen and looked at the smile on his dad’s face. Papa was wearing crown as part of his costume. At the moment my dad saw the crown, Papa passed away. My dad knew this was God’s way of telling him that his dad was now in heaven with him and had received the Crown of Life.
Papa, I love you and I miss you. If not for that tumor, you would still be here with us, alive and well. Thinking about you makes me sad, but writing about you is my way of remembering you and reminding myself that one day I’ll get to meet you. Right now, you’re living in eternal perfection with your Savior. And that makes me so glad.
Love, Carey. <3
“There will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears. And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears. Get over your hill and see what you’ll find there, with grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.”