Jerry

On Saturday, August 23rd, members of the paternal side of my family gathered together at the Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Island, NE to bid farewell to Jerry Donahay. Many of us donned hunting gear and camo prints in honor of the man. He was a bit of the “outdoors-y” type, you see. But that’s besides the point. I’m writing this, because I need to. Bear with me. I’ve always been rather bad at eulogies.

Instead of telling you how he died–and forgive me for referencing a Tom Cruise movie–I will tell you how he lived. At least, my remembrances of the man.

Jerry was my cousin, older by two years, give or take a week or two. I cannot say we were close in the conventional sense, where we all hung out several times a week or thereabouts. Our families were separated by distance–such is life in the rural Midwest–but there was that tangible…thing there that’s really hard to explain in a couple of words, let alone a paragraph in a post on an obscure blog floating around the flotsam of cyberspace. “It’s a cousin things”, maybe. Though, I feel I’ve failed as a writer by defaulting to that. I digress.

I’ve come to praise Jerry, not bury him in my inane babblings, after all. Sorry, Bill. Now, where was I?

The second oldest of the overall gang of the Case Family Cousins (gads, I just realized that sounds like the name of a 1950s travelling gospel singing group), both Jerry and his brother Allan were the older brothers I never had. With Jerry, the feeling was mutual; this I knew by the way he teased and picked on me as children, as only an older brother worth his salt would do. You couldn’t have convinced me of it back then, but there was nothing mean spirited about it. He was the classic rough-n-tumble type. Me, not so much.

And like any “older brother worth their salt”, he inspired some healthy rivalry, usually inadvertently. Jerry was in the Boy Scouts, therefore I had to be in the Scouts. Jerry was riding his bike without training wheels (and laughing at mine), so gravel and sidewalk burns be darned, I was going on two wheels if it killed me. Sometimes it came that close. I did draw the line at going into the deep end with the others for a while, though. It was easier to resist an attempted dunking when you could feel the solid ground under your feet.

Over time, as is always the way, life went on. All of my memories of Jerry are always in context of with the rest of the cousins, really. Christmases, the odd summer gathering…he was always there. Late spring of 1990, I was there with everyone else when Jerry received his Eagle Scout badge, and then graduated High School the next day. He was always there for everyone in one form or another. I’m afraid I may have taken this for granted that it would always be that way.

As adults, he was a staple at the Case family reunions, whenever we could get the families together. He developed into the strong silent type, something I admired about the man, and I’m certain others did as well.

The last I ever saw of him was this year, on Memorial Day Weekend. He was spending some vacation time at our Uncle Pat and Aunt Joyce’s place in Dunlap, Iowa. Aunt Joyce invited me out to join them, and so I did. Jerry and I went out to lunch the day I arrived, just he and I, after he spent the morning helping out a bit with our cousin Rob. We just chatted as we took in the unique ambiance that only a burger n’ shake place in a small rural Midwest town can provide, talking about our jobs, how things were going with our respective lives, car restorations and all that general guy talk. I think this was one of the only times I have ever spent with Jerry one-on-one; as I mentioned earlier, it was always with the group that I knew him best.

Later that weekend, he and I both helped prepare and serve at the Volunteer Rescue pancake feed in Dunlap with our aunt and uncle, then spent a bit of time with the families of our cousins Rob and Julie, before I went back home to get back to my obligatory life. That was the last time I saw or spoke to him.

It’s the same old cliché, really: “Had I known this would be the last time” and all that. I remember the very last words I spoke to him in this life–“This is some good cake.” Hardly profound parting words.

Are there regrets? Always. Over four decades, though, the one thing I took away from this last couple of days with him this year, was the sense of mutual respect each of us had for each other. Far different individuals, yes, but still the older brother I never had.

And that last sentence was the one that hits me the hardest about writing this. Farewell, Jerry. There is definitely a hole in the world that wasn’t there before.

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