Monday, September 20, 2021

IN MEMORIAM: Jerry Touger

HALLIE EPHRON: When I was pregnant, my husband Jerry and I both gained 16 pounds. A year ago when he was diagnosed with cancer, my hair fell out -- not as much as his, but a good-sized patch in the back. Shocking to see floating in the bath water.

Since then, it’s been a journey, one I haven’t shared with many people. My daughters, of course. A few close relatives and friends. The Reds. But I’m sure many of you noticed how little I’ve been posting here, and how hard it’s been for me to talk about what I’m writing. Because I’m not.

I remember standing outside his hospital room that first night and thinking that I’d stepped through a portal: from before to after. He’d just been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. The same disease that killed my sister Nora. The disease that my sister Delia survived. Fifty/fifty. So I figured we had a fighting chance.

He died on August 6. His birthday. We’d been married for 52 years.

He was a sweet sweet man who adored being a father. Many of you have seen the cartoon drawings he made of our family that I’ve shared from time to time. Here’s an early one from 1975 when our first-born was six months old and was becoming a repeating character.



ONCE UPON A TIME
THERE WAS A MAN WHO HAD
A WIFE AND DAUGHTER,
AND HE LOVED THEM VERY
MUCH…

SO HE PUT KISSES ON THEM
[MWA… SPLAT… SPLAT]

AND WHEN THEY
FELL OFF…

HE PUT MORE KISSES ON THEM…
[MWA MWA… SPLAT… SPLAT]

AND STILL MORE KISSES…
[MWA MWA MWA MWA MWA... SPLAT SPLAT… SPLAT SPLAT]

…AND THEY LIVED SAPPILY
EVER AFTER
[MWA MWA MWA MWA MWA MWA MWA MWA… SPLAT SPLAT SPLAT SPLAT SPLAT SPLAT… WEIRD]


A few days ago I was sitting alone in my garden and a chickadee was perched a few feet away in the Japanese quince. It gave its 2-note call. Immediately following came a single note. Over and over it repeated that call followed by a single-note that at first I thought it was the chickadee, adding on. Then I realized the trailing single note was coming from a neighboring yard.

A birder, Jerry would have loved hearing that call and response, and then researching it as I did. I so wanted it to be a pair, the one calling out to the other from beyond our fenced-off garden. Turns out it’s more likely that chickadee was marking its turf and warning off other birds. Jerry would have laughed with me, and that bellicose chickadee would have turned up, fierce as can be, in one of his cartoons.

We buried Jerry in our town cemetery, a beautiful burial ground started in 1672. Jerry often walked there, spotting green herons and enormous turtles at its pond, counting flickers and, in spring, orioles flying among the trees.

Ours was a small gathering and my daughters and I shared memories. I wanted to read something, but we’re not religious and somehow most of the usual non-biblical poetry that turns up at funerals felt… off.

Then I thought about what a word person Jerry was. Few people could beat him at Scrabble, and he was a daily “genius” at Spelling Bee. Could do the NY Times crossword puzzle in under 15 minutes. He reveled in silly phrases like splotnik on the frimfram. And he loved reading to our kids and grands from books that celebrated language. One of his favorites was ROOTABAGA STORIES by Carl Sandburg. That’s where I found a passage that felt just right to read at his grave.




It’s from a chapter titled “How They Broke Away to Go to the Rootabaga Country,” and the three characters in it are named Gimme the Ax, Please Gimme, and Axe Me No Questions. Sharing it with you now:

“Do you wish a ticket to go away and come back or do you wish a ticket to go away and never come back?” the ticket agent asked wiping sleep out of his eyes.

“We wish a ticket to ride where the railroad tracks run off into the sky and never come back—send us far as the railroad rails go and then forty ways farther yet,” was the reply of Gimme the Ax.

“So far? So early? So soon?” asked the ticket agent wiping more sleep out his eyes. “Then I will give you a new ticket. It blew in. It is a long slick yellow leather slab ticket with a blue spanch across it.” Gimme the Ax thanked the ticket agent once, thanked the ticket agent twice, and then instead of thanking the ticket agent three times he opened the ragbag and took out all the spot cash money he got for selling everything, pigs, pastures, pepper pickers, pitchforks, and paid the spot cash money to the ticket agent.

Before he put it in his pocket he looked once, twice, three times at the long yellow leather slab ticket with a blue spanch across it. Then with Please Gimme and Ax Me No Questions he got on the railroad train, showed the conductor his ticket and they started to ride to where the railroad tracks run off into the blue sky and then forty ways farther yet. The train ran on and on. It came to the place where the railroad tracks run off into the blue sky. And it ran on and on chick chick-a-chick chick-a-chick chick-a-chick.

Sometimes the engineer hooted and tooted the whistle. Sometimes the fireman rang the bell. Sometimes the open-and-shut of the steam hog’s nose choked and spit pfisty-pfoost, pfisty-pfoost, pfisty-pfoost. But no matter what happened to the whistle and the bell and the steam hog, the train ran on and on to where the railroad tracks run off into the blue sky. And then it ran on and on more and more.


After I gave birth to our Molly, both Jerry and I lost the 16 pounds we’d gained during my pregnancy. I’ve grown back the hair I lost when he got sick. But it turned out my ticket was to go away and come back; Jerry’s was to go away and never come back. 

173 comments:

  1. What a lovely tribute, Hallie . . . I'm so sorry to hear of your loss; my heart goes out to you. Our deepest sympathies to you and your family.
    Our thoughts and prayers are with you . . . .

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  2. This is a beautiful tribute to a special person. I'm sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing this with us. Hugs!

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    1. Thank you, Dru - I know you've been having your own "journey."

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  3. Everything that you have shared with us about Jerry tells us what a loving, sweet, remarkable man he was. I am so sad for your loss. His memory will be a blessing forever. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Yes, it's a sad that grows out of a whole lot of happy.

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  4. Thank you for sharing that, Hallie, and for sharing your wonderful stories of Jerry. I can only imagine how hard going on without him must be.

    I was with my good friend Annie as we waited for the ambulance to take her husband Richard to the hospice center five years ago. He was a little out of it by then (they were both in their early eighties). From the other room I heard her say, "It's your time to get on the train, Richard, but it isn't my time yet. I'll meet you there." I still think it's one of the loveliest things I've ever heard, and it calmed him. (It was her turn to get on the train two years ago.) The ticket to "where the railroad tracks run off into the blue sky" indeed.

    Sending so much love, and many hugs when we ever are able to get together again.

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  5. Lovely tribute to Jerry.
    Thanks for sharing these stories with us, Hallie.\
    HUGS

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  6. Thank you, precious Hallie, for letting us know Jerry through you.
    It is a privilege.
    Much love.

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    1. Much love - and thanks for everything along the way.

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  7. My condolences to you and your family Hallie.

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  8. Love you Hallie! and loved funny, quirky Jerry too xoxo

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  9. Beautiful tribute for a beautiful person! Thanks for sharing, Hallie.

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  10. Thank you for sharing this with us Hallie.
    So sad and and so sorry for you.
    Sending love to you and to your family.

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  11. I am so very sorry for your loss, Hallie. I have enjoyed reading about Jerry over the years as he showed up in your posts here. I am sending you love...

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    1. Thanks, Amanda - and I have lots more to write as long as I don't short circuit my keyboard with tears.

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  12. I'm so sorry, Hallie. What an immensely loving and talented man. And what is it with beloved husbands and fathers dying on important birthdays.

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    1. My friend Deb's cherished husband died on Christmas day a few years ago. Both adult kids were home, they had opened stockings, then he went upstairs and died (it was expected, but nobody knew when).

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  13. That was lovely. I'm so sorry for your loss.

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  14. What a lovely tribute. I'm so sorry for your loss.

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  15. Oh Hallie, that is such a powerful post and so brave to write. Everything you've ever said or I've ever heard about Jerry has made me wish I'd known him and that he is exactly the kind of person the world needs more of. So, so sorry and sending all my love to you and your daughters.

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  16. Oh Hallie, that is such a powerful post and so brave to write. Everything you've ever said or I've ever heard about Jerry has made me wish I'd known him and that he is exactly the kind of person the world needs more of. So, so sorry and sending all my love to you and your daughters.

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  17. Such a beautiful tribute. I am so sorry for your loss, Hallie.

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    1. Thanks, Brenda xxx (Thought of you recently when I was on Peaks with my kids and grands... a good refuge during covid)

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  18. Hallie, my heart aches for you and your family. Your shared stories of Jerry and your life together always made me happy to hear--it was so wonderful that you found each other so early in life and had so much time--before those tickets--to spend together. Blessings and peace to you and your daughters and grandchildren.

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    1. You're so right. I was so lucky. And I was so hot to trot back then... I could have married many mr. wrongs.

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  19. The perfect eulogy Hallie, sending you love and our deep sadness for your loss. Words are not always enough. OX

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  20. Thank you Hallie for sharing. Those of us in the waiting room weep with you. May he find an exaltation of larks in the blue sky.

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    1. An exaltation of larks! I even wouldn't mind a murder of crows... Birds r us. ;-)

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  21. I am so sorry for your loss, Hallie. What a wonderful tribute. Hugs.

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  22. I have ordered a copy Rootabaga Stories. Seems like a must-have and I look forward to reading the stories to the children (and future children, goddess willing) in my life.

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    1. It's such a wonderful book - my favorite story for ME is the one about the little boy with freckles and secret ambitions. I used to have a quote from it on my office wall... before I got published.

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  23. I will never forget the way he looked at you—with such admiration and joy and respect and love.

    And I love how he loved your cooking. He was just so proud of everything you did and everything you are.

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    1. And then every once in a while he'd give me the stink eye and say, "Stop being so directive." (And people wondered why our marriage worked!)

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    2. What a nice way to put it! Lovely man.

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  24. What a lovely tribute to a lovely man. I am so, so sorry for your loss, Hallie.

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  25. A parliament of owls. I'm so sorry for your loss. Take care of you, your kids and grandkids.

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    1. He had a special soft spot for owls (we had a screech owl nesting in a tree in front of our neighbor's house and we'd go out at dusk to watch it emerge. Fortunately they didn't mind a gang of birdwatchers perched on their front stoop.)

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  26. It’s perfect. I’m glad you have so many wonderful memories. I think of Jerry often—I just recently saw the picture when he drew my ‘tattoo’ for Crimebake. When I think of him I picture the two of you dancing there.
    xoxo ❤️

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  27. Thank you for sharing this beautiful and heartbreaking piece with us. You are an amazing woman. Thinking of you with much love.

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  28. Oh Hallie, I am so very sorry for your loss! What a lovely memorial. I was not familiar with Rootabaga Stories, but the excerpt you quoted was perfect. I send you prayers for continued healing and peace.

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    1. It's full of equally wondrous passages that are nonsense on the surface and beneath that, not.

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  29. True love…what a rare and remarkable thing you and Jerry found in each other. Words are cold comfort, I know, but I’ll say them anyway. I am so sorry for your loss, Hallie, but so grateful that I got to know glimpses of Jerry through you. A sweet sweet man, indeed. XO

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  30. I so wish I could have known your Jerry! I'm sure he was a wonderful man and he has left you with so many memories. You might not think so right now but I think you are very lucky!

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  31. Hallie, your memorial of him here makes me feel I knew him. I loved watching you two dance at CB some years ago. You always looked so absorbed in having fun. Thank you for sharing so much when it has to have been so hard.

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  32. My deepest condolences to you and your family for your enormous loss. What a perfect tribute to an extraordinary man that left the world a better place. HUGz

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  33. What an extraordinary soulmate Jerry was, Hallie. And your reading so apt and touching.

    Heartfelt condolences to you, the girls, and their children, for your deep loss, my dear.

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  34. I’m so sorry for your loss, Hallie. Over the years of reading about him here, I felt like I knew him. I especially related to his love of birdwatching. You and your family are in my prayers.

    DebRo

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    1. I do still have the birds. He'll be with me when I go birding but I won't be able to linger nearly as long as he could, waiting for that elusive sounding call to show itself.

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  35. I’m so sorry to hear about Jerry, Hallie. I felt like I knew him from your posts about his wonderful cartoons, his crossword puzzle prowess and his collection of puzzles that you would work on during isolation. Sending hugs and prayers ~

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    1. Thank you, Celia - yup, he was a wonderful companion

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  36. I am so sorry for you loss, Hallie. No words can ever really explain how completely your life is upended when you lose your long-time love, and how hard the work of rebuilding is. Or how tempting it is to just sit in the rubble and give in to the knowledge that you no longer have the energy to build anything new at all. My metaphor, when Warren was dying, was that we were walking into a deep forest, and I knew that only I would come out the other side. The idea frightened me, but in the end he simply veered off to explore a different path, while I stayed on the same old road.

    I love the passage you chose to read for Jerry. I think it must have been perfect. Hugs to you, and congratulations for the 52 years of beloved companionship you shared.

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    1. "we were walking into a deep forest, and I knew that only I would come out the other side" - how lovely and painful, Gigi.

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    2. Celia: My metaphor, when Warren was dying, was that we were walking into a deep forest, and I knew that only I would come out the other side. -- that's lovely -- reminds me of the RObert Frost poem - two roads diverged in a yellow wood

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  37. Hallie, I'm incredibly sorry to hear about Jerry's death. Through the years, I enjoyed your sharing a bit of your life together--and especially his drawings. I'm glad you had those 52 years, but I know it's not enough.

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  38. Hallie, I'm so sorry. The fact that you were crazy about each other came through every time you mentioned Jerry online. Steve Anable

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  39. I'm sending you white light, birdsong, and timeless "Jerry" words to carry you through. Love & Hugs
    Rae

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  40. Hallie, what a beautiful tribute to Jerry. He was a kind and unassuming man, but when speaking of you and the family his sense of pride came through. That you both had something special was obvious. Annette and I send our sincere condolences.

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    1. I know you know what a 'good' marraige means. It's complicated and special.Companionship and more.

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  41. Oh Hallie. What a beautiful beautiful 52 years you had together. I am so sorry for the loss of Jerry, and sending my love to you and your daughters and grandchildren. What a beautiful man, what a beautiful marriage. Maybe in the next lifetime we can all do some birding together.

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  42. I had noticed your absence, Hallie, and now know why. 52 years is a long time. May you and all who were touched by Jerry remember every good, happy and loving thing about him, first, last and always.

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  43. Oh, Hallie. Wiping the -- well, not sleep -- from my eyes. And the image of the train tracks is so perfect.

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  44. What a beautiful tribute, Hallie. I love the chickadee story, and yes, I'm sure he would have laughed.

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  45. Beautifully crafted. I am honored to read your touching tribute.

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  46. Thanks for sharing such a personal tribute. The Rootabaga excerpt reminded me of the funeral for the 10 year old son of dear friends when WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS was read. It reduced me to tears and still touches a deep place in my heart. I'll always now remember your Rootabaga Stories.

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    1. Poetry for kids, the best kind, can often be read at more than one level. I love Shel Silverstein, too.

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  47. Words fail me, Hallie. I am so very sorry. I loved the cartoons you shared and those told me so much about Jerry. What a guy!

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    1. He really did express himself through his drawings. Though he was also an excellent word writer.

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  48. Just beautiful. For a beautiful man.

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  49. What a lovely tribute for a lovely man, Hallie. I wish I had known Jerry in person, but I feel blessed to have known him through you. Sending much love. xx

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  50. Dear Hallie, Your tribute is moving, and says much about the strength of your marriage, and your loving acceptance of the inevitable one-way we all face. Letting go of Tim never meant for an instant that I let go of the joy of our shared lives, and I know you feel the same.

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  51. What a wonderful tribute to an excellent man. I am so sorry, Hallie.

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  52. What a perfect passage of writing to have found for him. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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  53. The best kind of tribute. We cry and mourn the loss but smile too. Hugs to you, the girls and the grandkids.

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    1. I never realized you really could laugh and cry at the same time. Go figure.

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  54. You have our condolences, Hallie. Grateful that you had 52 years together. This is a wonderful tribute to a wonderful person. Thank you for sharing with us.

    Diana

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  55. Hallie, I'm so sorry. Thank you for sharing pictures, stories and Jerry's wonderful cartoons with us throughout the years. You made us all feel as though we knew him, and we could tell you had a great, loving marriage. I'm going to reread the Rootabaga stories later, and hold your family in my heart.

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  56. Oh, Hallie. Hugs. So many hugs.

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  57. My deepest sympathy, Hallie. I think Jerry would have liked your reading. What a lovey tribute for a wonderful man. Hugs.

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  58. Hallie, what a loving, and clearly deserved, tribute. I wish I had Jerry's knack with words and drawings, or the beautiful song of birds, but I can say from my heart that you and your family are in my prayers. --Missy

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  59. Lovely, lovely words.I'm lucky to be his sister-in-law, your sister and aunt to your divine daughters.A terrible loss. Beautiful remembering.

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    1. This must be my sister Delia - thanks sweetheart... xx

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  60. Words are hard to come by in the face of a loss this overwhelming, but you did it beautifully. Tears and smiles on the train tracks. Thank you for sharing.

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  61. Oh Hallie, that's the most wonderful piece to have read at Jerry's graveside. I didn't know him, but from your beautiful tribute here and previous mentions of your husband, it was the most perfect of all goodbyes. You've conveyed in posts of the past what a loving marriage you had and how close you and Jerry were to your daughters and grandchildren. I so wish you could have had many more years of this amazing man. I will always remember you sharing his awesome, quirky drawings with us here, and one of the good memories of 2020 was your telling us about the jigsaw puzzles you and Jerry found from his garage sale shopping. I do have to admit that I kept expecting to see the Ursula Andress one at some point. I'm glad you have the birds to bring you sweet moments of Jerry. I know that your girls and you will be there for one another, and your dear Jerry will continue to bring you joy in so many ways.

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  62. Beautiful, Hallie. Bill and I think of you and Jerry so often.

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  63. Hallie, I’m so sorry for your loss. Jerry was so sweet and funny. I remember in Italy how he could out eat us all—and that’s saying something because we all ate a ton. I loved chatting with him about birds, and especially about the octopus book. He had such a ranging intellect and he was such a nice man. You must be devastated, but you’ve been so brave. Love you.

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    1. Dear Sharon - I've been thinking of you as we made our way through this. Yes, Jerry was a major league foodie.

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  64. I read this post and now just thinking about it brings me to tears. I'm so very sorry for your loss, Hallie. This was an utterly beautiful and profound memorial of a wonderful person.

    Lisa (Brackmann)

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    1. For me the words had to come after the tears... now the come together.

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  66. Hallie, this is beautiful. I am so, so sorry for your loss.

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  67. What a beautiful tribute. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. Sending only good vibes your way. ❤️

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  68. Your tribute tells of a life filled with adventure, love and laughter. May your continued journey on the train be filled with the same! I’m sure you have many more stories to tell.

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    1. Hoping you're right, and I find the strength and stamina to tell them.

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    2. I have confidence you have strength to tell many new stories. Your audience awaits! In my experience sometimes intense concentration on a new task is the best medicines for current ills. I hope your muse strikes and a new story comes from within! I fully understand this is not easy and make take considerable time! These are only words, but know I hope you find peace and comfort in your life soon!

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  69. Sorry for your loss. My brother who died a few days before my birthday in 2017 also liked birds. He wasn't a real bird watcher but liked feeding them on his deck and taking photographs of them. My thoughts are with you.

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    1. There's room for all levels of "birders" - Jerry kept a life list. I can't remember what I've seen or not seen. I had to ask him.

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  70. Oh, Hallie. I'm so sorry for your loss. Sending virtual hugs.

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  71. Hallie, I’m crying. I can’t help it. That is so beautiful and I am not going to get that image of the train and the sky out of my head for a long, long time. I am so very sorry.

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    1. Thanks Jan - me, too - trust a poet to find that perfect imagery

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  72. We treasure our trove of birthday cards - and always will. Last time Jerry and I were "birding" Jerry spotted a porcupine in the tree - my first!

    Many years of wonderful memories ...

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  73. What a beautiful tribute to a lifetime making memories, sharing dreams, and being loved. Although the train has passed the boundary of coming back, may his memory be a blessing for those who remain.

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  74. I am so sorry for your loss. Jerry sounds like he was a wonderful person. And thank you for sharing your tribute.

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    1. He was a one-off and I was so lucky he found me.

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  75. Oh, Hallie...what a lovely tribute. Love and all the best to you and yours. <3

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  76. Thank you, Hallie, for the lovely description of Jerry. May your train of memories comfort you during your journey. Sympathies, and virtual hugs to you.

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    1. I like that image: train of memories. Thanks, Mary.

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  77. Thank you, Hallie. My sister is getting ready to go on this same train and leave me and the rest of her family behind. Standing on this platform and waving your beloved goodbye is hard to do. But thank you for sharing Jerry with us. I now feel like I know him, and feel a teensy tiny part of the grief you and your daughters all share. I'm sorry. But I'm sure you all were glad to keep him company as far as you could. Love and peace to you all.

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    1. Oh, Mary - I'm so sad for you. WIsh I had wonderful words of wisdom. Only cherish the time you have.

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  78. Thank you for sharing that. And I know you can still feel him. That's how you know you had something special. What a beautiful, funny, adorable bunch of memories to have.

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  79. A wonderful, touching, memorable tribute. You had a wonderful life together.

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    1. That we did - thanks, Triss (and thanks for your *other* note

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  80. What a lovely tribute--and perfect!

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  81. Hallie, what an amazing post. My heart goes out to you and your daughters, and I'm sending you virtual hugs, and the wish that your delightful memories will bring you comfort.

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  82. Hallie, Elaine and I were so sorry to hear of Jerry's passing. What a beautiful tribute to your loving husband. Jerry was a kindred spirit in his love of yard sales, and for an appreciation of the value of old things, whether books, furniture, or art. A connection with objects that have a history; sometimes known, and sometimes surmised. I often feel when I acquire a yard sale item (or perhaps some treasure from the trash) I give it new life... appreciation ... respect. Sometimes I can feel the history and emotions connected to objects. I was amazing that one of the old books Jerry enjoyed had a treasure of a story that spoke to you at this sad time. Quite beautiful and uplifting, thank you so much for sharing. May warm and loving memories of Jerry be a comfort to you and your family. Sending hugs.

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    1. Paul and Elaine Tarquinio ❤

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    2. Paul, Elaine -- thanks so much. I am having a very hard time parting with the gazillions of treasures he picked up at yard sales. Because, after all, each one connected with him for a reason.

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    3. After being the custodian for many of my treasures, it gives me great joy to pass them along where I know they'll be appreciated... Or they'll have an opportunity for a new adventure in someone else's hands. Elaine encourages these sentiments 🙂😁...💕

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  83. This is a beautiful tribute, Hallie. Sending love from afar.

    ~kc

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