A photo taken and posted by a friend the evening of Gary’s memorial service. Solemn and serene, it’s as if the lake itself paused to wish our loved one a peaceful journey.
September 10, 2015
Live every moment. Laugh every day. Love beyond words.
To some, this is just a nice saying; a plaque on the wall. To Gary, it was a way of life. And, he lived it until his very last breath which he drew surrounded by loved ones on the morning of September 7, 2015.
Without a doubt, Gary touched many people with his life; from his family to his true love, Karen, to the many with whom he worked and played throughout his 63 years. Stories have always been plentiful, most especially over these last few days as he spoke and lived his final chapter on earth and as others have offered their memories to comfort and console one another. Stories of gratitude from the many that came to him for advice; for those who just needed a listening ear and shoulder to cry on; for those that just needed a bit of laughter to brighten their day. Stories of love; of how family—whether biological or extended—was so important to him; of how he had a knack and a heart for always showing up when and where he was needed; his unyielding thoughtfulness, and, of course, his warm and fuzzy, not-so-hidden romantic side.
A man of gentle soul just like his father, he was warm-hearted, wise, witty and welcoming. He was a friend in the truest sense of the word, never meeting a stranger and always making people smile. If he could make your day brighter, he was going to do it. One of the favorite stories told in the last hours of his life seemed to encapsulate much of who Gary was—fun and a lover of life. He had gone on a beach and fishing vacation to Florida with sister Pam and her husband, Jimmy. As they were leaving a particularly crowded restaurant, Pam and Jimmy noticed that they had lost Gary. They began looking around, finally spotting him standing in the middle of a nearby wedding reception…having his picture made with the bride! When we asked him about it, he just laughed and said: “Well, I was walking past and she grabbed me and asked if she knew me and if I wanted a picture with her. Who was I to ruin her special day?” We suspect that every time these strangers flip through the pages of their photo album, they get a chuckle over the relative that nobody can seem to remember.
A son. A brother. A marine. A college graduate. A parole officer and devoted employee of the state. An uncle. A friend. A lover of people, the lake and BB community; a lover of cars and traveling. And a man in love with life, his family and his fiancé. A man that still had many plans—so much more love to share and adventures to enjoy. And, while we will all miss him and miss being a part of his earthly plans, we can all take solace in knowing that he is on an adventure of eternal proportions right now, most likely speeding up and down heaven’s byways in the fastest, sleekest corvette available on his way to paradise’s version of Booger Bottom, where he will, undoubtedly, plant himself behind the bar and serve up plenty of laughter, joy and love to his dad, his grandmama and granddaddy, his Aunt Hazel and all the family and friends that have gone before. And, one day, we, too will all join him on his adventure. But, until that joyful day, he did leave some words for those of us left behind; words and feelings he shared from his heart in his last days and hours…
To Karen and Step Family: Dearest Karen, you are, hands-down the love of my life. I have had loves before you and each one owned a piece of my heart. But, you owned the whole thing. You are everything I ever dreamed of and your family has become my family; your children have become my children—or my step-adults, I guess I should say. It meant so much that they accepted me as a part of the family and I was always honored that they came to me for advice. I know you are proud of your kids, and you should be. You raised them right.
And, Abbey. Thank you for Abbey; for making me a Pop-Pop. In a time when my health tried to upstage everything else in my life, that sweet baby brought me so much joy and fullness of life.
Karen, you are my best friend and everything I ever wanted in a life partner. I’m just sorry that we didn’t have more time to enjoy all the plans that we made together; to travel and explore. There was nothing I enjoyed more than researching and planning every detail of our trips and seeing the delight on your face as we experienced adventures together. And, last, but far from the least, thank you for taking such good care of me and for sending me on my final journey with more love and joy than I could have ever imagined. I love you.
To Mom: I love you. I know I put you and dad through a lot when I was growing up, especially when I was a teenager and dropped out of school. But, thank you for standing by me and letting me find my own way back; for supporting me when I joined the Marines; when I came out and got my G.E.D., went to college and started my career. But, most of all, mom, thank you for being the strong woman that you are; for surviving the devastation of losing dad and raising Pam and Brenda, while taking care of Grandmama and Granddaddy. I hope you know how proud of you I have always been. Did you know that you are the reason I became a Red Coat at Crisp Regional? I was always so proud to tell everyone that you were the longest-serving volunteer in Houston County. They were always in awe of the fact that you had worked 15,000+ volunteer hours and my five-year service as a Red Coat was in your honor. Mama, I just want you to take good care of yourself and am thankful that Stan, Pam and Brenda will continue to look after you. I can assure you that I will be looking over you until we are together again. Thanks for being such a great mama and for also sending me to heaven with so much love and joy. I love you.
To My Siblings and Family: We have the same blood, the same DNA and I am proud to have been born into THIS family. But just to put to rest which one of is the best looking of the offspring—including Wade—I have to say it was me! Seriously, I want to thank each one of you for adding many special moments, lots of laughter and much love to my life. I don’t think any of us will ever forget that Christmas at Tybee Island. What a great time, even when mama decided to flash everyone on the beach. I’m not sure any of us have ever laughed so hard. I cherished our time together and only wish that we had spent even more. I tried to be there for each of you and I thank you for being there for me, until the very end. I always knew, no matter what, I could count on you. Please continue to get together every chance you get and please do NOT draw names at Christmas! Oh, and by the way, Wade, do you remember that time you visited when you were a little boy and we went fishing? It was NOT a six pack. I love you guys. All of you. Be good to yourselves and one another. And, Billie, I promise to be looking over you as you get married and start your new life with The Boy. Your dress is pretty, but, more importantly, your house is a steal. Good job, kid.
To My Friends and Extended Family: I have been blessed with many friends and extended family members over the years and could not have dreamed of a better place to call home. I want to give a special thank you to my neighbors and friends for making my life more beautiful and full and, above all, fun! Spending time with you all at Booger Bottom was one of the highlights of my life. The Bottom is not just some bar, it is a community center, the heartbeat of our neighborhood; a place where people from all walks of life gather—lawyers, judges, crop-dusters, politicians, teachers, salesmen, medical professionals and farmers, just to name a few. Social status and differences are left at the threshold and everyone is the same—friends and family. I can’t tell you how very much you all meant to me. I am so thankful to have met each and every one of my friends at Booger Bottom and beyond. Thank you for the good times, for the laughter, and the friendship.
To All of You: I know by now, you are probably getting hot sitting here outside. Though these are my thoughts, I had to get my sister Brenda to write them down and she gets a little long-winded sometimes. So, if you are enjoying the words, then you can thank me, but if you are ready to get up and go inside where it is air conditioned, blame her.
Seriously, I’d say that only about one percent of my life was not so great, but the remaining 99 percent was awesome, and I have all of you to thank for that. Thank you for the good times, for the laughter and for the love and the joy. They say you can’t take it with you, but they were wrong. I took it all!
Just keep on living, loving and laughing. I’ll see you all again…just around the bend.