Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Economist-Style Obituary for bink's Dad

The obituaries on the last page the Economist are the reason I spent 3,500 frequent flier miles on a subscription: 
they're condensed, insightful, and tend toward amused indulgence, like a fond parent. (Though not always. I remember when the paper summed up Slobodan Milošević as "a bad man.")

 The obituary editor, Ann Wroe, says she constructs them more like novels than nonfiction: the secret is to throw out chronology and focus on what mattered in a person's life.
 As bink's father was taking a long (but peaceful) time to die (lasting one week without water--the nurses kept asking bink if he was a stubborn man (he was))
it dawned on me that I could try writing an obituary like that for him. While I'd tried never to be in the same room with him, I'd admired his pluck for thirty years.
So, with bink's permission(she posted it on FB too) and her editorial help, here's my Economist-style obit of her dad,
 Garrell  "Jerry" Dean, who died on January 17, 2016, one month before his eighty-second birthday.

In his final years, when it was too cold or he was too ill to go out, Jerry liked to watch the History Channel in his subsidized senior high-rise. One evening he learned about Bloody Bill Anderson, the pro-Confederate brute who had terrorized Missouri, Jerry's home state, during the American Civil War. Some of Jerry’s people had been Andersons. He pestered his daughter to find out if they were descendants. 
He hoped they were.

As was often the case with Jerry, his ill-founded optimism brought a result, if not exactly the one he wanted. His daughter bowed to her father’s faith that she could find out anything on the Internet, though his online use was …less educational. 
The family was not related to Bloody Bill, she found, but there had been a brush with greatness. In 1832 a great-great-great-great uncle, William Berry, had bought a store on credit with the young Abraham Lincoln. While Lincoln had regaled customers with stories, Berry had dispensed––and drunk––the store’s whiskey.

The partners, Lincoln wrote, "did nothing but get deeper and deeper in debt… [and] the store winked out.” Berry bailed, and it took Lincoln fifteen years to pay off their debts, a fact Honest Abe later made political hay out of.

Soldiers in the American Revolution, slave owners, frontier preachers, “Indian killers,” as well as, possibly, an ancestor from the Peoria Indian tribe further filled out Jerry’s family tree. 

Jerry launched plenty of enterprises of his own that winked out. 
Smart but no scholar, he joined the navy as a teenager and upon his return, tall, slim, and handsome, he taught at an Arthur Murray Dance Studio, where he met the only woman he ever married. With her he had five children, one of whom died as a baby. 

Landscaping businesses came (and went), as well as Christmas tree lots he staffed with his children before his wife divorced him. He clerked in a hardware store, offered DJ services for weddings, and held numerous short-lived jobs due to his intolerance for being told what to do.

 Natively creative, at midlife Jerry learned to paint from TV instructor Bill Alexander and, always with an eye on the main chance, schemed to sell prints of the results. His animal paintings retained a naïve charm––a wolf peering between trees stays with this viewer––but the landscapes were little better than paint-by-number. 

Casinos were Jerry’s delight. Like his early American ancestors who crossed the Appalachians (governments be damned), geography posed no impediment. When he could no longer drive a car, he rode his electric scooter down the highway to a bus stop that would start him on a half-day’s journey, via two buses and a train, to his favorite gambling establishment. The Coon Rapids city council showed a video of this risky behavior to demonstrate successfully the need to install a sidewalk. 

As Jerry lay dying, those of his children who would still visit went through his photographs. He looked happiest posing for Polaroids with showgirls. The showgirls were paid, of course. While he fancied himself a Casanova, most women tried to keep a solid object between themselves and him. 

His daughter spoke regretfully of the loss of a baby photo of her that had won a Beautiful Baby contest. It had been among the contents of a storage locker Jerry couldn’t pay for during a time he was living in his car. Jerry had regretted the loss of a riding lawnmower more. 

Alcohol plagued the bloodline. Long before Twelve Step programs, one matriarch in the hills of Missouri, frustrated with her son coming home blind drunk again, sewed the unconscious young man in a sheet and beat him with a stick.
But the family was also long-lived and tough as mules. After a lifetime of drinking and smoking, Jerry developed throat cancer, the treatment of which damaged his ability to swallow. He survived for years largely on bourbon and popsicles.

After his death, his daughter called her father’s sister. Jerry had scorned his only sibling's life as boring, not like the “adventurous” life he’d bragged of leading. The likes of her—spending her retirement years attending Bible study groups and her grandchildrens’ activities––would never make the History Channel. 

“Well,” Jerry’s sister said to her niece, “he may not have been the brother and father we wish he’d been. But,” she summed up, “ he was the only brother and father we had.”

The daughter saved a few things to remember her father by:
A weather thermometer shaped like a horse’s head, from St. Joseph, Missouri, home of the Pony Express and the city where Jerry’s father had spent his working life in a slaughterhouse, stunning cattle with a mallet.  
A copy of a novel, Hannibal’s Elephants, withdrawn from a library in 1956, with a garishly illustrated cover. 
The traveling box of plastic, magnetic chessmen, one split metal edge covered with Scotch tape, that Jerry carried everywhere in hopes of a game. It was the one game he didn’t even need to bet on to enjoy.
Jerry and his dog Jip


Michael Leddy said...

“Well,” Jerry’s sister said to her niece, “he may not have been the brother and father we wish he’d been. But,” she summed up, “ he was the only brother and father we had.”

I think there's a lot of wisdom there. I’m sorry for your loss.

The Crow said...

I'm sorry Bink has lost her father. I like what her aunt said when notified Jerry had died; to the point, yet poignant.

Anonymous said...

My father and his brothers would have enjoyed him immensely.


Fresca said...

MICHEAL: Thank you.
bink really loved her aunt said that too--she'd said the same thing herself (that her father wasn't a good father, but he was the only father she had).

CROW: Thanks, it's a sadness to lose a parent, even if--or sometimes because--they weren't the parent you needed.

ZHOEN: I wondered if you'd recognize the type.
Of course, Jerry did not like men who were like himself...

Anonymous said...

Naw, they were the boring type, who would envy him and cheer him on. "Crazy!" In a good way. Same dreams, but they've been an appreciative audience. None of them could drink more water than a beer.


Krista said...

You are marvelous. As I wrote on Bink's wall, you're all in my heart.

ArtSparker said...

You are a wonderful friend, and damn, you sure can write.

ArtSparker said...

P.S. Agree about the wolf painting.

The Crow said...

Looked again at the wolf. Reminds me of the artist Rousseau's jungle paintings. Almost all the animals are askew.

Fresca said...

Thank you, all. I can't think about this anymore at the moment...