(Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 43 seconds)
I first met Jerry 24 years ago when he was already old. At least I thought so. He was 69 at the time, wore a toupee, and drove a white stretch Cadillac with a navy blue cloth top and garish yellow gold accents. He was a type-A business executive still running the office every day and had little use for this brash 35-year-old whippersnapper half his age with all these new-fangled ideas about things.
When he walked into a room, he filled it with his presence. Woody Allen once groused, “There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?” He obviously has not met Jerry.
Leaston Gerald Crews was and is different. Sure he tends to speak in pragmatic explanations like all actuaries, but get him talking about the Florida Gators or his world travels—especially Italy—and his impossibly clear blue eyes will sparkle, and his mouth will turn up into the slightest trace of a knowing grin. His charisma takes over and before you know it he has you asking “how high?”
I have known him as father-in-law for five years. He is the only true father-in-law of my life. When he greets me with a warm bear hug, a wet kiss, and loving “Hello, son,” as he did yesterday and has done every day we’ve seen each other over the past four years (it took him about a year to see if I really loved his daughter), it is like being knighted by a King or blessed by a Pope. To be called his son is the highest of honors.
To my surprise and delight I’ve discovered we share a considerable amount of vices and similarities. We both appreciate beautiful women, whiskey, wine, an occasional cigar, bawdy tales, sex, romance, sports, art, reading, a love for animals, tomatoes, all things Italian, oysters and champagne, ethnic food and most importantly, squeezing every drop out of life.
He is incredibly adaptable. How many men do you know that relocate at age 92? He recently left his home state of Florida (where four generations of Crews have lived), bid tearful goodbyes to his considerable number of long-time friends, and moved to a new home in a new state with all new people, who communicate with an indiscernable Southern drawl, and cook an endless array of chicken and potatoes without spices and have no knowledge of the importance of leafy green salads.
There are forty-three people living at his Assisted Living Facility and only four men. Jerry is by far the oldest person living there and it is fair to say they have never had anyone like him. The staff and residents alike marvel at his big fancy words, his “northern” accent, and his bawdy but gentle sense of humor.
Yes, I said gentle. I’ve watched the type-A personality mellow considerably (like a fine wine) over the past few years. He is a gracious, thoughtful, considerate, and loving man in his latter years.
The finest gift Jerry has bestowed upon me is the lifetime of noble and pure love he has given to his daughter and my wife. It is a reciprocal gift of unspeakable proportions. His love provides the ability for her to give me true and unconditional love. Ironically, this man, who didn’t know what to think about me 24 years ago, has given me the greatest gift of my life as I now grow older. Freedom.
Unconditional love will do that, you know. Give you freedom. What goes around comes around, I suppose. Jerry has this extraordinary freedom to live life to its fullest, and has given it to his daughter, who now shares it with me.
I’m looking forward to sitting at a table today with Jerry and cooking a meal that is definitely NOT chicken, and has been aging in spices for over 24 hours. And sharing conversation (with a few big words thrown in) while sitting on our front porch at BeauChamp Farm on this balmy late summer day savoring several Maple Manhattans with Gina, his grandson Brian and wife Christy, and their children.
Perhaps we’ll catch a twinkle in those impossibly clear blue eyes, and his mouth will turn up into the slightest trace of a knowing grin. And if we’re lucky, after sipping at his glass, clearing his throat, and then sipping again, we’ll get a story about his growing up, about Italy or World War II, or his two favorite subjects—his daughter Gina and Beau, their champion thoroughbred. Because today it’s not the story that is most important, it’s the man who tells it.
Happy 93rd birthday to the best father-in-law in the entire universe.