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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Requiem for an Honorable Man (Jerry H. Damon, 1933 - 2012)

Yesterday, I became aware of the death of my uncle, yet another Texas relative and one of those relatives of whom I have the earliest and most vital memories, in a strange way.  My cell rang at work when I could not answer it, from a number I didn't recognize - only later did I realize that I did faintly recognize the name of the town in Arkansas, and belatedly link it to one of my cousins, of whose father I had recently heard a story of medical crisis.  No message was left on my phone and it was only hours later that I reluctantly called it back, by which time I had anticipated the news - that my uncle, the cousin's father had died, of complications of Alzehimer's, two days before.

His name was Jerry Damon.  I don't normally name the people I discuss herein, for reasons of their privacy and mine, but in this case I have no criticisms of the man, no negative press, and if someone wants to use this information to ferret out details of my own life, so be it.  Jerry Damon was, above all, an honorable man, a man from a world and a time just recently passed, but which in the degeneration of our world, we won't see again - his type nor the world he lived in, grew up in, believed in.  He was a country doctor who married my aunt in a romantic dream and pursued that with her, as the world about them fell apart.  I remember my Uncle Jerry from the time of his medical residency, in San Antonio, I believe, and from my grandparents' home in Galveston.  All of the "facts" in this entry are subject to question; they come from the memory of a child and from the conflicting verbalized memories of others, my mother and aunt, mostly and especially the dates are questionable.

My mother and her sister were contrasts in personality - my mother, of German stock (Pennsylvania Dutch of Ohio) on both sides and raised largely by relatives in the north.  Her half sister Greta, Jerry's widow, is also of Adams descent, with that blood from the Isles, more like the mixture in my own veins. My mother was resolute, calm, and passionately resolved; my aunt is and was also very loving, but seen through my mother's eyes, flighty, erratic, somewhat frivolous.  The clashed as sisters will and their memories frequently disagreed, but they always loved each other.  Jerry was the love of Greta's life, there was no doubt of that.  She found, when young, her idealistic, darkly handsome doctor, an intelligent boy from a small town in Texas who had always wanted to pursue medicine.  He realized that dream, and as my childhood memories from those twice-a-year visits to Texas become more mature and more focused, bought a seven-acre property outside a small town called Lewisville, a distant (at that time) suburb of Dallas.  There they built their dream home which is only now going up for sale, and which I am told by my cousin Lori, Greta and Jerry were taken recently for one last visit, perhaps when Jerry had some coherency left.

I was an only child and was loved by my aunt and uncle.  When after quite a few years the Damons were unable to bear children, they adopted two girls, in sequence, then amazingly at around age 40, my aunt bore two of her own in quick sequence.  These parents and these four children grew up as Dallas surrounded them and their country town became part of an endless suburb, and pieces of the property were sold.  My uncle, constantly working, supporting this family which certainly had its eccentricities (to me and my mother, from our more orderly world, it was chaos!), numerous animals, and becoming enmeshed in my aunt's dreams and the vagaries of the modern world - was a rock pillar, an island of stability, purpose and calm, in a sea of what seemed madness to me.  We all drifted apart.

Prior to my visit to Texas in October to honor the death of the husband of my cousin from the other side of my family, my fathers side, I hadn't seen Greta since the funeral of my mother in 2003, when Lori came with her, and hadn't seen Jerry for years before.  I had last tried to reach him or my aunt earlier in 2011, when I had called the house in Lewisville - or Highland Village, now, I believe and got my male cousin, and was told that the parents had gone into assisted living.  Somewhat on a whim, in October, being in the area, I looked up and found them, and had a gracious visit.  My aunt, who was always a bit scattered, seemed more focused and calm than I had seen in her in many years, maybe ever, glad to be with her Jerry in what she knew were his last days.  I am also grateful that Jerry, at that time, though certainly reduced by his disease, mentally and physically, from the man that I remember, knew who he was, knew who I was, and was able to participate in our visit - a capacity that he lost later.  I was told last week that he had been taken to the hospital because he'd stopped eating. Apparently the other night, his body forgot how to breathe, and thankfully he was allowed to stop.

Jerry Damon and I had our disagreements over the years, few of them explicit.  He and Greta were Texas Republicans, my parents staunch Southern Democrats of the Depression and WWII era, and hilarity ensued.  Greta and looked about and wound up in the Episcopal church, taking my family with her and even my grandfather Adams, my mother's stepfather, another noble man who put up with that church for years, finally leaving in disgust when they began to ordain(if that's the world) gay priests.  In later years, I had stopped communicating with my aunt and uncle, partly over my frustration with their unwillingness to facilitate my communication with a family member who went through hard times in which I thought I might help.  So I always loved them but lost touch, and am grateful that I regained it at the end.

My aunt was hospitalized for medical treatment of her own yesterday morning, and it was unknown if she would be able to attend the funeral.  She and I said goodbye in October; we knew that we might not see each other again.  We were both grateful for the opportunity to know that.  I cannot attend the funeral under the circumstances, and understand that I'm not expected to.  My uncle was an honorable man, who lived for a time in one of the last times and places of an honorable world.  His type will not be able to live in its proper environment again.  I celebrate his release from a world that in the end, he could no longer understand.

I remember on one of my last visits to his home, probably in the '90's that my uncle and I, rarely alone, stood in the front yard of his home talking about the cancerous expansion of humanity and living space in the community that had grown up around him.  He shook his head.  "What I don't understand," he said, "is all these million-dollar homes.  I've done pretty well for myself and I can't afford a million-dollar home." You couldn't, Jerry, because you hadn't sold your soul for a McMansion, and instead you'd spent your love on a community and a family that will always cherish you, and can never live up to your legacy.  You were a Saturday night emergency room doctor who patched together the knife-fighter and brawlers, and a father who couldn't understand how children grew up in such a benighted world that was falling apart as you grew as you were planted, older but still true.  You will be missed, and you could never live again.

I normally wouldn't do this, but someone - at the funeral home? - wrote quite a good obituary for my uncle Jerry, and I quote it extensively, here.  The full story is to be found here.

Dr. Jerry H. Damon died January 23, 2012 from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease. He was born August 28, 1933 to James and Hildegarde Damon in Crawford, Texas. Jerry attended Crawford public schools and graduated in 1951 in a class of nine. Dr. Damon received his Bachelor of Arts in 1955 from North Texas State College in Denton, Texas and was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. He received his Doctorate of Medicine in 1960 from UT Southwestern Medical School in Galveston, Texas and was a member of the Phi Chi fraternity. Dr. Damon met his wife, Greta, on a blind date his 2nd night in Galveston. They were married June 7, 1958. He completed his medical internship at Brackenridge Hospital in Austin, Texas from 1960-1961. He completed his surgery residency at Robert Green Hospital in San Antonio, Texas from 1961 – 1964. Dr. Damon moved to Lewisville in 1964 with his wife Greta, a pregnant dog and $264. He went into practice as a General Surgeon and Family Practitioner with Dr. Harold Schlegel at the Medical- Surgical Clinic. His practice ranged from setting broken bones to delivering babies to removing appendixes. He was of the last generation of doctors to make house calls. Dr. Damon had a strong desire to serve his community. He was a member the Lewisville ISD School Board for 12 years. He served as Vice President for 7 years and President for 3 years. During his service LISD grew from 8,600 students to more than 18,000. He presented diplomas to many children that he had delivered. In 1988 he was voted Citizen of the Year by the Lewisville Chamber of Commerce. His life was one of great character, dignity and compassion. He was a man of his word. His greatest peace was found in nature to which he was extremely attuned. After retirement in 2005, he spent most of his time outdoors, in the woods and meadow at his home in Highland Village, gardening and landscaping and planting trees. He loved all animals and took in every stray that came his way. Though his reading material consisted mostly of medical books and journals, he had an affinity for poetry and could quote many poems from memory, two of his favorites being, "The Old Oaken Bucket" and "Annabel Lee". He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Greta Adams Damon and children

Jerry Damon was, to the extent his upbringing and education allowed him to be, in the world he inhabited and helped maintain, a man of tradition.  We will not see his like again.

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