Jerry’s gift of a lifetime

I wish words were enough, but they somehow fall short most times in life. It is such a frustrating thing when you can’t fully express what your emotions are in a given moment. This is a true story, and I hope my feeble words can inspire you to not only look inward, but also share the love that this story holds.

This story begins many years ago when a man named Jerry fell in love with Corvettes. He owned several of them and began collecting them throughout the years. His wife, Kathy, jokingly told me one day she was jealous at times of those cars, as she laughed. Jerry was a kind-hearted and wonderful person. He never missed an opportunity to say hello or wave to us. You see, Jerry was my neighbor. We built our new home in 2001, and thus began our friendship with Jerry, Kathy and their children. They were what neighbors should be, and still are today.

Jerry was a great man. He had that knack with people that so few people seem to have these days. He had a quiet and gentle personality, but he sure did love to talk. Many days he would just stop by the end of the driveway to catch me mowing. He just wanted to talk about something that was on his mind. No matter if Jerry had just mowed his lawn a few days before, if he saw me mowing, yep, you guessed it, his mower would be fired up and he would wave as we were mowing.

In May of 2019, we arrived home from a son’s awards banquet. He was a senior and was nearing the end of his high school career. I received a call that night from Thomas, Jerry’s son. Thomas is also a car and Corvette enthusiast.

Jerry was battling cancer for the third time. His battle was taking a serious toll on his health this time and the outcome wasn’t looking to be a positive one. We could see that spark in Jerry’s eyes start to dim a little more each day.

Thomas said that he, Jerry, Kathy had discussed it and came to the decision to give my son a graduation gift. That gift was something that I would have never expected and to this day still can’t wrap my mind around. Thomas said, “Dad, Mom and I have decided that Dad isn’t going to be able to have the time or ability to restore the 1986 Corvette. We would like to give it to Ethan as a graduation gift. Yep. Wow, I was speechless. My son didn’t even know it yet as he wasn’t home from the banquet.

When our son arrived home, we gave him the news. The rest is in the string of pictures that we have amassed. We weren’t sure if we should let him accept such a priceless gift? It seemed like too much. Thomas said, “If you guys don’t think that you want to mess with the car it was fine, as it needed a lot of work.” Well, as you can guess, our son talked us into it. He loves Corvettes. Who doesn’t love that American classic car?

The love of an American classic and I don’t mean the Corvette — I mean the man. Jerry had once again turned on that twinkle in his eye and paid it forward. He knew my son was just the right person to turn this car over to.

That was on May 24, 2019, and we journeyed over to their house to haul the car home and receive the title. I would like to share what else was given to us that day. Jerry was starting to really struggle with his strength and stamina, but he mustered up enough strength to write us a note on an envelope. I would like to share what his shaky penmanship said.

It said: I got the title put over in my name. That is a big deal. No. 1, you have always been good neighbors. So think of this as a grad present. Jerry, Kathy and Thomas. I would love to see it put together. Second side of the envelope: No. 2, Words of advice on OLDER Vettes —If you have an original engine block — keep it! You don’t have to put it in the car, but keep it with the car. I think that the Red ‘86 had a rod tapping. I can offer more advice if you ever need it. I can’t do labor due to my health. Jerry

Boy, do I wish you could see his handwritten envelope to us. It is priceless and will forever remain with the car.

We have several regrets throughout this process, but here are two specific regrets: No. 1 — We didn’t get a picture with Jerry and the car. No. 2 — Jerry didn’t get to see one of the things he wrote on the envelope. The car put together.

He wrote those thoughts on May 24, 2019, and the Lord took him home on July 10, 2019. There is not a day that goes by that we don’t think about our friend. His memory exists in his family, their home, and a red car that sits in our garage. We miss our friend and neighbor.

We decided to make it our goal to get the car running within a year if we could. It was a lofty goal. You see, the engine was bad and the transmission was out of the car. After hours and hours of work, much help from many people and some great teaching moments for both my son and I, the lesson was in the memory of a man and a family that is as good as gold. We were handed a gift of love, and that gift was more than a 1986 Corvette. Last week, after many roadblocks, setbacks, research, and parts purchased, the Corvette was ready to fire up. The suspense was pretty thick that morning as my son climbed into the seat to turn that key for the first time.

May 4, 2020, just a few short days from one year from the gift of my son’s lifetime. The red corvette came to life. I would love to imagine that twinkle in Jerry’s eye as he waited with anticipation as my son turned that key and pressed on that pedal. We still have some bugs to work out, and some parts to replace, but Jerry’s wish to see it put together came true. Timing is an interesting thing. We always want things in our time. But sometimes, just sometimes, the wait is the journey. While we waited and worked, time was teaching us more things than we realized.

I hope that my son learned a lot by working on this car, but my true hope is that he never forgets the man that made it possible.

He was a great man with a wonderful family who are great neighbors and just good people. Throw in some American muscle and this one we will tell about for years.

Kathy, Amy, Jen, Thomas and family — thanks for sharing Jerry.

To Jerry!

Chad McConnaughey is the Highland County recorder.

Chad McConnaughey Contributing columnist McConnaughey Contributing columnist