There he is! ... Three words that always made me smile year after year, visit after visit and hunt after hunt. Most of the time I couldn’t see him; it was dark, well before daylight; only the dull red glow of his cigarette gave away his location. Whether I was early or late for our hunt, he was waiting; for all I knew, he had been there all night, standing, waiting behind that giant ATV; he loved that thing … but he loved hunting even more! Like I said, he may well have been waiting for me since the night before.
His wife, Donna, has always quite the host … and quite the hunter herself. I think she took exception to my sweet tooth one year. She has always kept a bowl of candy on the coffee table but one weekend I cleaned that poor bowl out! The following weekend … and from then on, if she knew I was coming over she only filled it with Whoppers. Donna knew they were NOT my favorite; nonetheless, I sucked it up and ate the Whoppers.
While Whoppers are a nagging problem, Donna doesn’t skimp on the meals when she has company. Many times, my wife and son would meet us for an after-hunt meal. When they have company, the kitchen is layered with dish after dish of home cooked heaven.
And, Lord you’ve missed something special if you’ve never shared a campsite with Jerry and Donna. Even better, our most memorable Thanksgiving celebration was during a camping trip with those two love birds. Jerry’s fried turkey is the best I’ve ever had!
The past seven years of our friendship, spiritual talks, jokes and hunts have been amazing; however, like hunts, life is unpredictable. Both of our families have been run through the ringer over the past couple years and even though we live close, visits have been few and far between; we’ve even missed each other in church on numerous occasions.
Fast-forward to summer, 2013. Jerry had been ill for a while. We spent some time talking on the phone but it’s not what either of us wanted. Trying to juggle everything that life throws at you it’s easy to lose sight of what is really important, no … what is MOST important!
Famed movie character, Ferris Bueller, of all people, once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss something.” I knew I needed to see my buddy. I needed to see his face, maybe make him crack a smile even though I knew he was gravely ill. Perhaps we could just talk for a bit, like old times, rehash some hunts and share a laugh at my expense.
I pulled into his drive like so many times before. Ahead I could see his RV trailer, pickup truck and that open carport where he had stood time after time, waiting on me. This time when I climbed out of my car there were no words. I said them to myself, “There he is,” as I headed across the porch to his front door.
I knocked on the door and waited. I was anxious and excited to see my buddy. All I could think about was that I finally made the time I needed to get over and see him like I had wanted to do the weekend before. There was no answer so I knocked again. I was certain they were home; Joe Bill’s truck was there and so was Jeremy’s. I waited anxiously for someone to come to the door. The only audible sound was my own breath as I waited for the familiar creek of Jerry’s door but it didn’t come. Instead, Joe Bill came around the corner of the house to greet me.
“Hi Joe Bill, I’m here to see Jerry.”
“Jerry Don went home to the Lord yesterday afternoon.”
His words fell out as gently as Jerry’s would have but rolled like thunder in stinging ears. My head reeled as I looked at Joe Bill in disbelief but I knew it was true. I had missed my one opportunity to let my buddy know I loved him … truly loved him. I wished I had forced the time I needed… that I wanted, to see Jerry, even if it was just one day earlier. I can’t get that back. My hope is that he heard me while I made the long drive back across the county to my home; I talked his ear off throughout the half-hour drive, mostly tearful apologies.
Throughout the day, more of the same mind-chatter, telling him I was sorry, that I would miss him, that I loved him and laughing to myself on occasion about some of the dumb things that happened to us in the woods… or worse, all the laughs he got at my expense.
While I mourned him today, and suffered the thought of my failure as a friend and brother-in-Christ, something I will always regret, I praised God for the life He gives, the friendship He purposed us in for each other, and the fact that I get to join Jerry on the big hunt someday. I have faith in that.
And, of the many blessings I counted today amidst selfish tears, was that Jerry had faith that we’d be on the big hunt together, too. Still, if I half a second-chance to tell him I loved him and appreciated our time together, I would revel it in. I would be the first one barging through the door instead of the first one to discover I was too late.
At 43, I still learn major lessons. This one was simple, DON’T WAIT. Family and friends should always trump meaningless-busyness. Even when it’s hard… really hard, we need to show up.
My hope is that you’ll read this and catch a glimpse of the man Jerry was, or even better, that the legacy he left as a loving husband, brother, father and grandfather, passionate outdoorsman, true friend and brother in Christ, resonates with everyone who knew him and everyone who reads about him here.
Jerry Don’s memory has taken up residence in a part of my soul reserved for select few, where he’ll remain until I hear those words again.”There he is!”
Please keep Donna Scruggs and the rest of the Scruggs family in your prayers. Visitation for Jerry is Saturday afternoon, from noon to 2 p.m. at Griffin-Roughton Funeral Home. A memorial service is scheduled to follow immediately after visitation. Finally, a meal is planned in Jerry’s honor at Jerry and Donna’s (and mine) home church, Grace Community Church on Beaton Street here in downtown Corsicana. Donna and the rest of the Scruggs may need more help. Please call 903-654-1663 for information on how you can make a difference in the lives of some wonderful people.