Writing Eulogies: ‘Infidelity’ Version

photo-9Jerry Price’s daughter, Heather, called recently with news about her dad, my only close friend from the Vietnam War. He had suffered a severe stroke, and then, as the days passed, his condition deteriorated. He died last Monday at a hospice in rural Missouri.

Heather asked if I would write a eulogy. I complied, of course, but it wasn’t read at the service. The Baptist minister refused because, in going over it, he came across the word “infidelity.” Heather read it the next day at the military burial, where it was probably more appropriate in tone. But judge for yourself.

FOR JERRY

Excuse me, not Jerry but Gerald. Actually, Gerald T.  He had a kind of formality to him, if you disregarded his informality. He had a way of saying profound things, and then laughing at himself.Well, then, Jerry. He was, certainly, one of the brightest people I ever met. I didn’t, of course, expect to meet bright people in the U.S. Army — it is, in fact, a court-martial offense to be brilliant. But he was brilliant.

We met one day at the battalion headquarters in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam.  When I asked him what his job was, he said that he was the civil affairs officer. I said, “That’s great. But tell me, what is a civil affairs officer?” He smiled, and said something like, “A civil affairs officer is someone who meets people for coffee in the morning, hangs around in the afternoon, writes long letters home about how difficult the duty is, and, at night at the officer’s club, orders one rum and Coke for each hand. All in the proud defense of his country.”

Jerry, then, became an instant friend and confidant. We talked of our wives, the children we would one day have, the various idiocies of military life. He also listened to my complaints about the number of papers I had to push, and the press releases I had to write about how beautifully the war was going. Near the end of our tours, we flew to Tokyo on R&R together. We had suits tailored for us. We went to the Ginza, and to bookstores and to nightclubs, where we thought seriously about the act of infidelity — but only thought about it, I am sad to report.

The years after the war was when Jerry really showed how different he was. The rest of us veterans moped about the lack of hospitality soldiers received when we got home. None of this ever bothered Jerry. He had a good time in the war, and a good time when he got back. “And, besides,” he said, “what is the difference between Vietnam and Jefferson County?“

Well, life didn’t quite work out the way we planned. We had kids all right — great kids — but we also endured some of life’s trying if ordinary obstacles: marital crises,  health issues, and living through the Jimmy Carter administration. Jerry, who loved the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and I didn’t agree on Carter but we tolerated our political differences. Because in the end, there were more important matters to discuss. He was the one person I could call whenever I failed at something, either professionally or domestically, because I knew he wouldn’t judge me, he wouldn’t tell me what I knew so well — that I had disappointed myself.

You all need such a friend. A person who calls you, maybe, after three months of no contact but picks up exactly where the conversation left off, as if he’d been in the room that whole time, knowing exactly what’s on your mind and in your heart.

I felt guilty in recent years that I haven’t taken the trouble to get on a plane and come to visit. He, after all, traveled to Connecticut a few times, and I hadn’t been to Barnhart or Imperial or even Festus for years. But we talked to each other, and I learned about what Pat was doing, and what Robert was up to, and about the birth of each grandchild. I knew about Heather’s progress because she and I have been in touch almost all of her life, and I have also gotten to know the miracle called Benjamin. Well, brilliance is in the blood, isn’t it? But so is kindness and caring, respect, laughter, and wisdom — all the things that shape the legacy of a man sometimes called Jerry.

I salute you, my friend, if a little late.

 

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8 Responses to Writing Eulogies: ‘Infidelity’ Version

  1. mary-ann tirone smith says:

    A eulogy that demonstrates how grateful we are when we find a friend who makes our lives worth living. Brilliant, Lary.

    I think your friend would love being the lead-off hitter in a collection of eulogies rejected by clergy because of any sort of sexual reference. I haven’t written one of those, but when I planned for the soloist to sing my father’s favorite song at his funeral, “My Blue Heaven,” the priest vetoed it because of a line in the lyrics: “Just Molly and me, and baby makes three…” The priest determined that a scandal would ensue from people assuming my father had a mistress named Molly.

    • larybloom says:

      Thanks, Mary-Ann. That’s a great idea. Any idea how to collect them?

      I go of course to a lot of funerals and memorial services these days. What struck me about the Missouri matter was that it couldn’t be inclusive. As Jerry’s daughter told me later, the church service was “all that Jesus stuff.” The very last thing that my friend would have wanted, as he was skeptical of everything.

  2. Bonnie says:

    So it seems like thinking seriously about “infidelity” and deciding against it is a greater impediment to a righteous eulogy than a “rum and Coke for each hand.” I’ll have to make a concerted effort to drink more and think less.
    I love the idea of a “rejected eulogies” anthology; something on the order of “When Bad Eulogies Happen to Good People.”
    Well done, Lary.

  3. Carolynn Pianta says:

    You did your buddy proud Lary, if only because your words were not obscured by all that Jesus stuff.
    I’ve written two eulogies which I read at the funerals. I had them laughing and crying, it was like doing five minutes of sad and celebrative stand-up. Writing the eulogies made me think of who would write mine. If I were to do it, it would be sort of pissy, my first line, she wasn’t finished yet, sounds more like an epitaph.
    When I woke up today I certainly didn’t think I’d be contemplating the merits of my own life let alone the ying and yang of the Carter administration. Appropriate I think because on this fine Sunday morning, it looks like rain.

  4. Heather says:

    Lary I can’t thank you enough for commemorating my dad. Again. Your friendship to him and to me has meant so much over the years. And funny thing about the Baptist…we said over and over that my Dad was somewhere between atheist and agnostic and to please turn down the Jesus because it wouldn’t be true to his memory. But Baptist refused to read the eulogy and went full hellfire at the end – and then charged $150. He couldn’t take a joke but did take cash or check.

  5. Dave says:

    Well done Larry. I think Jerry would have been proud and probably especially proud that you held your ground while still having your words shared.

    Sometimes people take themselves too serious and it sounds like that Baptist preacher is in that camp. It also sounds like you and Jerry shared a serious personal relationship in which (appropriately so), neither of you took yourselves too serious. Those are the best kinds of friendship and thanks for sharing a little of it with the rest of us.

    Thanks,
    Dave

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