I’d just finished reading Jerry Rogers’ manuscript about his big brother lost in the kamikaze hit on the USS Franklin during World War II. I’m to blurb the book–one of those endorsements you read on the back covers–and I was struggling to find the right words to celebrate Jerry’s lasting brotherly love and talents as a historian in recovering Elden’s story from the family’s cache of letters.
And then I checked Facebook, always interested in my nephew’s and great-niece’s posts–the best way to stay in touch with this long-distance family. There is was. Dane, my nephew, had posted again a photo and original comments from October 12, 2011, the date of my brother’s–his father’s– death.
You can understand why I am teary eyed but joyous. There followed a family outpouring on Facebook–particularly from the great nieces whom he loved and lavished attention on, maybe most especially during his two year decline from cancer. These were tributes not just to the past but to his lasting memory and their desire to keep it alive.
This was the brother who–upon my adoption–echoed the familiar children’s hymn: “I don’t care if she’s red, yellow, black or white. . .I want her.” He could have sung on: “Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
I was nine years younger and for that reason Volunteers of America, the adoption agency, almost didn’t let my parents adopt me. Too many years between the siblings, they worried.
But those years translated into big brother fan and side-kick sis. Roy carried me around, babysat, and as soon as I could walk, let me string along. He put me in post holes; I waited knowing he would pick me up and out. He dodged my twirling batons when he teased me; he was always my champion, far more than I ever deserved. Years later when he was visiting Vega, he and I went to the farm taking my Weimaramar, Elsa, with us. Elsa shot off on the trail of a quail, and before we knew it it was dark and she was nowhere to be found. I was distraught and depressingly went with him back to town, knowing the draws and arroyos that connected our farm to the Canadian Breaks could disappear even a hunting dog. Next morning, although I was up early to go back out to look for Elsa, Roy had already left.. He came back with Elsa; he found her waiting by a tractor near where she took off.
He was that kind of guy, going the extra mile, loyal, loving. Roy was always a favorite with family and friends because he was light- hearted, looked for the best. The last time I saw Roy, shortly before his death, he came with his sons to the Houston airport to meet me–Roy, on oxygen, shuffling along, but bright with his “hello sis!.”
It’s no wonder that when my nephews took him to Moody Gardens in Houston, a request he had made as his cancer worsened, a butterfly landed on his nose. Dane captured this whimsical moment, so totally Roy. After all, this was the guy who had owned a cockatoo that rode on the handle bars of his bicycle as Roy peddled through Omaha, Nebraska streets where he once worked.
When Roy died he requested he be buried at sea. His service in the navy was important to him; the Coast Guard took his ashes out into the Gulf. Jerry Rogers and his family still mourn not only Elden’s death, but the inability to establish whether he was “buried” at sea or as an unknown soldier in Hawai’i. I’ve struggled too with the lack of closure. Roy’s address and phone still pop up on my cell phone. If I had known, I would have saved his voice there too.
But maybe we don’t really need monuments, gravestone, the like–just moments of remembrance, just a simple stopping to share Roy stories, to send him on ahead. As long as these are alive in the lives of his sons and granddaughters and other friends and family, perhaps this new generation of three great grandchildren he never knew will know: “that was my great granddad and he was such a neat man a butterfly came and sat on his nose.”