Wednesday, June 20, 2007

RIP, Cousin Gerry!

So when my mom calls me in the middle of the day it's usually one of two things: the computer is broken and she needs tech support, or she ran in to someone who knew me back in the day and wants to tell me about it. Or, a third option, I've called or e-mailed her asking if she can watch the kids. It's almost never to tell me that someone has died, and on the few occasions that it was it's usually one of her neighbors and the death has been relatively expected.

So I was completely taken aback when she called me today to tell me that my cousin Gerry had died.

Sure, Gerry was 75 he'd lived a good, full life. But the problem was he wasn't done living it. Unlike my dad (Gerry's 1st cousin, making me his 1st cousin once removed, if I'm doing it right...) Gerry wasn't battling a mind-eating disease. Unlike my sister's college roommate who recently passed Gerry hadn't fought MS for 25 years. In fact, he was in such good shape for a 75-year-old that he was out riding his bike when it happened.

Mom was thin on the details when she called, having only received a voice mail from another cousin (we're big on the cousins in my family...Dad had 5 or 6 uncles and each of them had at least 2 kids) saying something to the effect of "Gerry died this morning in a bicycle crash." When I hear the term "fatal bicycle crash" I, being a good Seattelite, assume that there was a large, motorized vehicle involved. Not in this case. According to the story in the Appleton paper he was riding down a hill through a park when he had to slam on the brakes and inertia took over. If you've ever done this you know what happens after you slam on the brakes: bike stops, person continues. The usual result is scraped hands, skinned knees, bruises galore. In Gerry's case the end result was a broken neck and, a while later at the emergency room, a departure from this mortal coil.

I'm not going to be able to do Gerry justice, because while I knew him like I know all my cousins, I didn't really KNOW him. I know he was a scholar - he taught French for something like 39 years. I know he was one of the most literate people I've met - my sister Barb, who went to Lawrence University where Gerry taught, was for years afraid that her Christmas cards would come back covered in red ink. I know he could spin a yarn, mesmerizing his audience with his soft, warm voice and attention to detail in a way I never could. And I know that I'll miss him, and that my main regret today is that, when we went to his 75th birthday party last summer, I didn't bring the camcorder. I thought about it, then consciously decided to leave it in the motel room because "there won't be anything to film." Sure, nothing other than Gerry reciting the family history, explaining who we were and why we were in Ward, Colorado on a sunny August day. And now that memory will live on in my mind, but no where else.

Sleep peacefully, Gerry, and if you see Dad wherever you've gone tell him "hi".

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