Thursday, July 2, 2009

In Memoriam: Jerry Dieterman, RIP

He was my uncle; he married my father's sister back in 1949. For a long time he was a successful businessman in Grand Rapids, Michigan; he died today after a short illness. He was 82.

But to me, he was always my Uncle Jerry. He wasn’t just an uncle. He was a friend; he always could make you laugh, even maybe when he didn’t feel good or things weren’t going exactly right. He always had a joke or something funny to say about something or someone. He always had words of wisdom, too; he always knew what was really important, and to him that was his faith and his family.

When you remember Jerry, what always comes back to you are snapshots—pictures of people or events that remain in your mind, memories of things in your past. I have a whole lot of snapshots of Uncle Jerry—some of my earliest memories are of him. I remember when I was really young, there was this picture on the wall at his house of a rather overweight clown with a big red nose on his face. People would point at it and say to me, “who’s that?” I would answer: “Uncle Jerry!” Jerry didn’t mind—he would laugh uproariously. He loved to laugh. He loved to see me laugh. Our two families would sit around the table on Sundays when we were together, eating our late afternoon Sunday meal, and Uncle Jerry would start joking about this or that, and I’d be laughing so hard, sometimes it was hard to eat. When you were around him, you felt better. That's a great quality to have.

He never failed to ask me how I was doing, how school was going or, later, when I got older, how my teaching was going. He always seemed to know what I was up to, no matter how long it had been since I’d seen him last. Of course, some of my fondest memories are of going with him to Ann Arbor to watch the University of Michigan play football. Jerry never attended Michigan; but he lived in that state all his life, and one time in 1945 he had a chance to go to a game. He loved it, and fell in love with Michigan football. And I’ll always be grateful that he was willing to have me go along to the games, too—lord knows there were plenty of other people he could have taken. But I think he knew that, by the time I’d reached my teen years, anyway, I’d come to love football and Michigan a lot, too; he realized that I'd become a real fan, that I wasn't just a kid anymore. I was grateful for that.

But going to those games for him, I’m convinced, wasn’t only about loving football and rooting for Michigan, although of course that was part of it. It was also about how much he loved being with his friends and family. I still remember one time, years ago, being at a game with him, a beautiful, sunny, warm day, and the game was almost over, with Michigan way ahead, and Uncle Jerry suddenly said, “There’s nothing I like more than being in this stadium with everybody on a sunny, Saturday afternoon…” And I know he meant that. To him it was about the game, but also about doing something he loved with people he cared about.

And that’s a great thing. I can’t wait to take my son to his first game. It will be a great experience. I’ll always remember when my Dad and Jerry took me to mine.

Maybe that too is why Jerry loved it when we’d all come over to the Dieterman house for Thanksgiving and other holidays—he loved his home, being around his family…and on Thanksgiving (for example) he’d get that, and football. Great stuff; and I will always remember sitting there with him on Thanksgiving Day, watching the Detroit Lions with him, seeing them lose more often than they won, for sure, but…in the end, what was important was that we were all together and enjoying ourselves, as an extended family. And I know he felt strongly about that, and that’s something I’ll always take away from having known him.

I really wish he could have met my son. But we can be sure of this much—my son will know who his uncle was. And I think, having known and been around Jerry for as long as I was, that a little bit of Uncle Jerry is in me; and therefore, some of Jerry will be in my son too, coming through me. At least, I’m sure going to try and make sure that’s the case.

My uncle was a great guy, and I'll miss him. So today I dedicate this blog to him, and to his memory, and to his values of faith, and family.