Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Remembering Terry

It's a well-worn story by now that the first time I met Terry, my late brother-in-law, he was wearing nothing but a pair of briefs, squinting into the afternoon sunlight from the door of his room at the Red Roof Inn.

My sister and I had just woken him from a nap, a ritual of his that my whole family would soon become familiar with. He was utterly unabashed about his state of undress, glad to meet me, and was then as always a "hale fellow, well met," as the Brits say.

The Hathaways need in-laws to function, in my experience. They break the usual cycles of interaction, push boundaries, and complement us in necessary ways: Tom, I think, provides a measure of centered calm, while Suzanne provides its corollary with her intensity and candor. Angela's spirit radiates and somehow purifies everything.

Terry added a whole host of qualities, and his arrival in the family circle inspired a range of new traditions, from the "barfing-cow gravy" dispenser to the "Sleeper of the Year Award," given annually to the person who'd had the roughest year and most deserved a rest. Terry won so many years consecutively that eventually we gave him a Lifetime Achievement award in the form of a stuffed Eeyore toy. And while he complained about the long, lingering evenings around the dinner table, I don't think he ever realized that he was the reason for many of them: he was our favorite audience.

Terry's "sad-sack" persona was well known: his motorcycle buddy Scott tells a story about he and Terry meeting up once on a trip. They hadn't been very specific about when or where to meet, but Scott found Terry with no trouble whatsoever by, as he says, "looking for the biggest, blackest cloud in the sky." He knew Terry would be under it, and he was. I can attest from several vacations with him that rain did indeed seem to follow in his wake.

But Terry also embraced life with a mischevious zeal that was unmatched. As the photos here attest, he would wear any kind of hat for a laugh. With Terry, the simplest outing could become an event; a routine drive might lead to the rescue of a wayward tortoise or runaway horse, or the acquisition of a classic bike leaning against a barn on a remote side road. He was perpetually playing practical jokes; gifting people with motorcycles, scooters, and 4-wheelers; and generally encouraging folks to behave badly. This, more than anything, was the gift he brought to our family.

For myself, though, it's Terry's salt-of-the-earth nature that's his most lasting legacy. The spring before he died, I was visiting and told him that I was thinking about leaving academia. "You've already got your PhD; no one can take that away. But what you do for a living doesn't really matter." Those words meant the world to me at the time.

Terry died two years ago today, so he was gone by the time I got the job here in West Virginia and moved back east. But I credit him, to a large degree, for enabling me to see that no job is worth sacrificing your quality of life for. I'm still in academia, but in a place that feels much happier to me.

Terry's memorial service was attended by friends ranging from surgeons to mechanics, social workers to business executives. Their presence and their words made it clear that Terry was, above all else, a good friend. A professional friend.

Honestly: what else matters?


Pam said...

What a beautiful and loving tribute to Terry. I think he would be pleased and surprised at how far the ripples of his life had spread.

Christy said...

Sounds like he was a wonderful guy. Thanks for the window into a live well lived.

Larry said...

I still think about the barfing cow whenever I'm around gravy dispensers. Glad to know the back story.

Rose said...

So, I assume that means your gravy consumption has declined precipitously, Lar! There are those "ripples" Pam referred to, above... :^)