We celebrate the good life of my father, George Joseph Jerz

“Be straight like a board!”
My father is pressing me flat against the ceiling from my nose to my toes, and I’m squirming with laughter. His hands are so strong.
I remember him helping my little fingers spread Limburger cheese — we called it our “buddy cheese.”
My father worked as a teenager loading boxes into train cars. To fit in at college, he bought himself a dictionary, and read it from A to Z.
Accuracy and attention to detail were his superpowers.
In the Army, it was standard procedure to signal that the other guy should resend a long Morse code message. But my father always got it right the first time, so as the message repeated, he’d take a nap.
When his base newspaper won an award, the editor, Private Jerz, happened to be AWOL. They tracked him down so he could get his handshake and his promotion, and then after the ceremony, they promptly demoted him for being AWOL.
He asked his sister Nancy to introduce him to Katy, the girl next door, and they were married for just shy of 60 years.
On the six and a half wooded acres he bought on a gravel road, we kids would collect buckets of acorns in the fall, which he would dump by the wheelbarrow in a pile for the deer to feast upon.
“The point is to do it without being asked,” he would say, of any chore.
One evening when he went out on his rider mower with headlights glowing, wearing his cowboy hat in a drizzle, I could see him lingering at the top of a hill.
“What’s he doing?” I asked.
Mom said, “Surveying his domain.”
As a managing editor he would concentrate so intensely on his text that he could see the proofreading errors floating in 3D, above the page.
An old gymnastics injury meant that sitting at a desk and commuting through traffic caused him excruciating neck pain.
Tired as he was, in the evenings he would play catch in the yard or drive us to practice — soccer, football, softball, whatever.
When the pain got so bad he had to retire on disability, he methodically renovated every room in the house. The smell of sawdust or wood putty makes me think of him starting a new project.
After selling the house, he took up art, improving his skill with painstaking effort. (You can see some of his work in the narthex.)
He and my mother traveled to the Holy Land, to Ireland, to Rome.
They took up ballroom dancing, and in their 70s, they worked out a backflip routine. I kid you not — ask my mom.
I’ll leave you with two more strong memories.
First, when this lovely young woman, my daughter Carolyn, was about 4, she said to her grandfather, “This is my teddy bear.”
“I like it,” he says. “Can I keep it?”
From Carolyn, no answer.
“Can I have it when you’re done with it?”
“You’ll be dead by then.”
From my father, no answer.
“When I’m done with it, I’ll put it on your grave!”
Still no answer. Later: “I didn’t tell her I want to be cremated. We’d have to get a little urn for the bear!”
My second memory.
I am in bed, watching a Star Trek rerun at about 11:00 on a Sunday night.
My father has just made us root beer floats, and he is grinning.
In this memory, I am 52 years old. This was about two years ago.
Just a few minutes before that, my father had been recounting a Chicago Bears football game and he casually reached out his hand — his big, strong hand. Without pausing in his story, he let me help him to his feet, and came back later with the root beer floats, grinning.
As Hamlet says of his own late father, “He was a man, take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again.”
I thank you all, for being here to embrace, with your own hands, my mother and the rest of our family, as we celebrate the good life of my father, George Joseph Jerz.

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