How was your weekend?
Mine was interesting, there was the going for papers, comics, and what-have-ya. Which was usual.
Then there was going to a funeral, which was not usual. Not at all.
I got to see my cousin Sam, who I hadn’t seen in a while, and his wife Kristy, and their son Skyler. Which was nice–and I found out that Sam gave his son his own middle name–Joseph–and not the one that someone in the Mall family has had for about 5 generations now–Edward.
Okay, on with the meat of this thing, and why I saw my cousin, and everyone else.
My great-uncle on my dad’s side (my dad’s mom’s brother) passed away last Friday. He was 84 and his name was Gerald. But everyone I know (including me) called him Jerry. So I’ll do that here, obviously.
Jerry Schafman was born on Valentine’s Day in 1932 (there’s a house in Somonauk, Illinois on the corner of Dekalb and Sycamore Streets–it’s light brown with an enclosed, wraparound porch–that’s the place).
Anyway, he was an Air Force vet who’d served in Korea, in the fifties, or so. He’d told me a story about eating some meat that he’d bought near the base, with some friends. The guy said it was chicken, or beef, or what-have-ya. But they didn’t believe him–and ate the sandwiches anyway. My great-uncle had said the guy was “native,” so I’m guessing that meant Korean.
After he had gotten back from Korea, he decided to work on the family farm. Based on what the pastor at the service told everyone, and what I know now, it was during the first year or so Uncle Jerry decided to do that.
Right before it happened.
In June or July of 1957, my great-uncle got dragged into a piece of machinery (the feed-cutter, I think it was), and as a result of hospitalization and other decisions that had to be made, both of his legs were amputated below the knee.
He was 25.
For some context on me, I wasn’t born for another 27 years, and my dad had just turned 5. Lots of years later, we used to look at old black and white pictures, and a couple of them showed Uncle Jerry with legs. Those were the rare ones.
My dad called my great-uncle (and his uncle) Uncle Pinkie. I thought that was because he was pink all the time (and he practically was), but I’d learned from Uncle Jerry’s childhood friend Delas (who actually became his brother-in-law, because Delas’ sister Leon Rae married Uncle Jerry’s older brother Lester), that Pinkie was a nickname that he and Uncle Jerry’s other friends gave him.
Which was cool–I didn’t know that. All I remember is going to the family farm outside Somonauk, going through the metal door in the backyard (with the jingling bell), and seeing Uncle Jerry pulled up to the table in his wheelchair, drinking coffee, or doing a puzzle, or what-have-ya. (That was usually right before he’d turn around, say “Hi Ty,” and then laugh).
There were times he called me “Ty-D-Bol,” just to be funny, and then tell me the only three ingredients in the stuff were gravel, something to make it smell good, and one other thing that I can’t remember right now.
And me seeing him without legs was normal–because that’s the way he always was. I didn’t think anything of it–although the first time I saw him, right before, I think my dad told me he didn’t have legs, so I wouldn’t be freaked out by it. But I was really young, I don’t remember how young, and it probably wouldn’t have mattered.
We also enjoyed playing pool on the table in the dining room, and cards in the kitchen, and chatting about things that probably didn’t make a lot of sense to anyone but us. I remember having aunts, uncles, and cousins pack the place, more than a few times.
Eventually the pool table left–maybe because someone gave it away, or the felt got messed up, but the card playing continued on.
Uncle Jerry was always fun to be around–even when he was being serious (like the time I learned to never shoot his wheelchair with a squirt-gun when he’d asked me not to–a light tap on the bottom with a spatula took care of that–and he earned my respect and admiration from then on, and never had to do anything like that again).
He was always making jokes, telling stories, or laughing–when he wasn’t watching old-time westerns, or painting (something I didn’t know too much about, until the service where they were displayed–very nice).
And having no legs didn’t stop him from doing things like driving cars, tractors, or combines (until he had a heart attack, and couldn’t farm anymore).
I also remember sitting in his wheelchair and trying to wheel myself around while he was watching TV (with permission, of course). I didn’t get very far–but I did realize he was about 500% tougher than he looked.
Which was why, after all those sweet visits, and card-playing outings, and conversations, going to the farm yesterday, and not seeing Uncle Jerry pulled up to the table, hurt.
I mean really bad.
Which is also why going to Union Congregationalist Church in town, and seeing him in a flag-draped casket hurt even more–much more than I thought it would.
Which is making it difficult to write this, but I know I have to.
At the service, I said goodbye twice–when we first got there, and right before they closed the casket.
And then I found out, along with everyone else, that Uncle Jerry wrote us all a letter (not individually–that would have been over 80 letters, with all the family and friends).
He said prayer was what he had that he could give us, and he did. He told us to have a great few years, and how? By reading the Bible, praying, and trying to do everything for the glory of the Almighty. He said no one made it doing it all, but to give it a shot.
(This was the letter I never knew about–my aunt found it, typed up, in Uncle Jerry’s things). What your views are on religion, I don’t know–my point here is that he tried to do something for his family and friends that he believed would stand the test of time, and have a good impact on us all.
The service closed with Moonlight Serenade by Glenn Miller–an older big band song that I like, but couldn’t remember the name of. And there’s some trumpet in it too–it’s an awesome song, and one of Uncle Jerry’s favorites.
After that, we went out to the cemetery to lower him in, they played taps, and gave my great-aunt Norma (who’s the last of the five siblings), a folded flag. (I was listening for the 21 guns to shoot, but I didn’t hear it, and don’t know why).
We went back to the church, ate, and everyone went home. Mom and I went to the farm with my aunt and uncle and talked with them, before we went back.
(There was some kind of mix-up with Uncle Jerry’s info or the burial plot, so we’d pulled up the wrong grave at first. But eventually they dug the one right next to Uncle Jerry’s mom, and his body’s there now).
So that’s been my weekend. Toward the end of things, my great-uncle was in a lot of pain because of a blood clot and things like that–and he had also had a pacemaker put in, before. It’s a comfort to me to know that he’s not suffering.
As far as writing fiction or copy or what-have-ya, stories are what life is about. You may not have an Uncle Jerry, with all these stories. But you have someone–even if YOU happen to be the someone. Dig into those stories for characters or subject lines or pieces of anything else you need. You’ll make an emotional connection more easily, and get a lot further.
Until next time,