My father-in-law Gary passed away on Friday July 9th, 2010. As my husband Todd and I prepared for his memorial service and eulogy, we realized that we didn't have a lot of information about his early childhood; everything we knew about Gary was based on the 37 years of Todd's life. But what about the 30 years before then? Sometimes we would ask Gary what it was like growing up in the 50's and 60's, but he was very reserved with his answers. I assumed his silence meant that he must have been a very shy boy, not too social, and perhaps carrying a troubled past. I didn't want to push for answers, so we let our conversations stay on the present.
Then this weekend, we began to fill in the gaps of Gary's early years. His older sisters Marilyn and Sue told me that they remember dressing Gary up like a girl and making him play Barbies with them. They said he was not a troublemaker and a good boy, even though for the first 5 years of his life, he was in a neighborhood with only girls!
But even more astonishing was that I met someone who described Gary as his soul mate, his best friend, and his idol during the teenage years. Those words in themselves blew me away! Roger Meinershagen is Gary's cousin, and they are only 3 months apart in age. Because Gary's sisters were 8 and 9 years older, Roger and Gary were like brothers growing up. Roger said that they would even try to fool their parents by wearing the same outfit with a mask to cover their faces, and their parents couldn't tell them apart. They had a similar build, same blue eyes and blond hair, and the same spirit.
Gary was so happy when they moved to (Mr.) Roger's neighborhood (I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself!) For 16 years, he and Roger were only a few blocks apart. They attended a small elementary school with two grades and one teacher in each room. When lining up and picking sides for various sports, he said Gary was one of the captain's first picks; everyone wanted Gary on their side.
Roger recalls that Gary was quite popular and very social; he was chosen King of Hearts for Valentine's Day in the 8th grade, and was a natural at ballroom dance lessons given in the school basement. Apparently Gary was never without a dance partner during those Friday night dances!
In high school, Gary and his friends formed a barbershop style quartet called "The Blue Notes." They even had matching baby blue monogrammed sweaters! The Blue Notes performed at school functions and contests throughout the city; Roger admits that he was basically a "groupie" of their quartet during that time. We never heard about The Blue Notes from Gary, but it does explain where Todd got his musical talent. Todd said his dad wanted him to become the next Kenny G or David Sanborn; Gary was always very supportive of his musical pursuits.
During college, Gary convinced Roger and their friend Brian Watson to take a trip to Europe to broaden their education. (That's what they all say, right?) They set sail in June of 1962 and spent 2 1/2 months abroad on only $5 a day. Roger jokes that he has a lot of good stories from that time but I'd have to pay him for the details!
I absolutely loved hearing just this small bit of Gary's life and I look forward to staying in touch with many of the Meinershagens that I met this weekend. I think one of the best ways we can honor Gary's memory is to make new memories with the people who knew and loved him from his past. We hope to make a trip to Colorado, Arizona, and Nebraska in the near future!
I also want to share one more incredible way we can honor Gary's memory. Remember that my daughter Ellie was born on Gary's birthday? Well, he died on another granddaughter's birthday- Abby Meinershagen, Todd's brother Matt's daughter. Gary could have passed the day before, the day after, but no- he died right on her birthday- July 9th. There are 365 days a year- what is the probability that his birth and death would be exactly the same days as two of his granddaughter's birthdays? We recognize that this is not chance or coincidence; it is from the hand of God. The Bible says that all of our days are numbered; how incredible that He chose these 2 specific days to be celebrated in our families forever! Though we grieve the loss of our father-in-law Gary, we are so grateful for this sign of His sovereignty, love, and grace. He has turned our mourning into dancing!