Jerry, to his friends, was born on July 23, 1920 and died on August 4, 1969. If he were still alive today, he would be 100 years old. He was born in Wesley, Iowa at a time when it was common for young boys to wear knickers and knee socks and lace-up ankle-high boots.
He sported a bowl cut much like Moe of the Three Stooges. He looked a little like Alfred E. Neuman, the fictitious mascot of Mad Magazine. He had a wickedly impish grin and it was a rare treat to see it.
Later in life, he was a huge fan of the Three Stooges and slapstick humor in general. He’d sit in front of our small television set on Saturday mornings and laugh out loud at Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.
He served in World War II as a reconnaissance photographer. He would lie in the belly of an airplane and take photographs of the islands and any distinguishing features of the Pacific Ocean. My sister and I have maps printed on silk with indelible inks that were made from his photographs.
He worked for the government all of his life. He didn’t make a lot of money, but he seemed to be fulfilled by what he did. He was a quality control engineer overseeing government contracts with private sector companies that produced missiles and missile delivery systems. In the 1960s that was a big deal.
He was very smart. He taught himself calculus as it related to quality control. He was so good at it that he taught a night course at a local community college.
He was also bigoted. And not terribly tolerant of views outside of his own.
He was never wrong. Even when I could prove to him that he was wrong, he would never admit it.
He was a hard man and a stern father. I’m not sure he knew the meaning of the term “unconditional love.”
He had high standards. He applied them to himself and to others. I always felt that I never quite measured up.
He saw a lot of changes in his short lifetime. He thought of himself as a man of science and he delighted in every new thing that came along. He lived just long enough to see the first men to land on the moon. There wasn’t much that thrilled him, but that sure did.
He was an aficionado of stereo sound. He had a great system in which he took much pride. But he tended toward what some today might call elevator music. We had every album the Ray Coniff orchestra and singers put out. He wouldn’t let my sister and me listen to the Beatles. But he bought us every Monkees album that came out, sometimes the very day that it was released.
He continued to be a photography nut after his service. He had an 8mm movie camera and a light bar for it. He had several reflex cameras and knew how to get the most out of all of it. We had a slide projector, movie projector and a screen. We’d all sometimes sit for hours looking at times long past.
I still miss him. He’s been gone from my life for almost 51 years. He never saw me fall in love and get married. He never got to use a cell phone (he would have loved that) or a personal computer (probably would have loved that even more). I have no idea what he would make of today’s Internet. Shoot, it still amazes me from time to time.
Shortly before he died, in a lucid moment which were becoming fewer and fewer as his brain was invaded by the cancer, he told me that his only regret about dying was that he was leaving us to fend for ourselves. At the time, it made me cry. But today, I think he wasn’t giving us enough credit. It was hard for a while. I won’t say it wasn’t. But Mom, my sister and I did just fine.
The day he died, I thought the world had ended. I didn’t know who I was without my dad in my life. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be. But I got it figured out. Because as critical as he was of everything I did, he also constantly told me that I could do anything I set my mind to. I owe him a lot for that.
Despite how difficult it was to be a daughter of Jerrold George Walter Edward Aldrich, I loved him deeply and unreservedly.
So here’s to you, Dad, on the 100th anniversary of your birth. Thanks for all you taught me. Thanks for being my dad.