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Our admiral7x9
The mysteries of training a bonsai. The intricacies of square-foot gardening. How to keep an orchid or a poinsettia alive. Which tomatoes have the best flavor. Ask my father-in-law about any of these things and he could recite precise details, chapter and verse. He sort of specialized in living things—but not just the green variety.

As the grandson of a grocer and the son of a clothing merchant, Jerry lived a classic American life. He was a World War II veteran who returned from the war and became a physician—the height of achievement in a family that lived through the Great Depression.

His mother’s siblings had no children of their own, so Jerry grew up surrounded by several adoring aunts and uncles. To say that his star shone very brightly in that crowd is an understatement. Spoofing his dad’s rock-star status with all those relatives, my brother-in-law — known for his tongue-in-cheek humor and zany nicknames — gave Jerry’s portrait a name: “The Admiral.” Keep in mind, Jerry was an ensign in the Navy at the time the portrait was made.

It became an inside joke after the same son and his new wife moved into the family homestead, where the portrait still hung over the fireplace mantel. Pointing to my father-in-law’s 24” x 28” portrait, the bride said, “That has to go.” At some point, my husband and I brought the portrait home, where it had on-again, off-again status over our fireplace—always on when my in-laws came to visit. Jerry liked to tease: was I trying to jockey for first position in the daughter-in-law race?

For the first few years after he retired from careers in private practice and hospital administration, he traveled a lot, doing consulting for medical associations and taking trips with family. Whether he was flying to a Navy reunion, schlepping in a camper to a bluegrass festival or aboard a luxurious cruise ship, Jerry loved meandering and exploring new places — or “kooking around,” as he called it. As an old Navy guy, he seemed at home near the ocean and took the whole family on annual beach vacations, even after all his children were grown.

His travels ended 8.5 years ago when he was diagnosed with health problems that gradually robbed him of most every pleasure in life. Despite the hand he was dealt, Jerry made something out of it. Rather than feeling sorry for himself, he learned everything he could about his illness. With a faithful wife who took exquisite care of him to the very end, he recognized his blessings and barely acknowledged what he’d lost.

Last Friday, our admiral returned to his original Owner, but here’s a slice of the legacy he left behind: Keep a brave face. Don’t complain. Act with dignity. Whatever hand you’re dealt, make the most of it. Be charming every chance you get. Our family bids him fair winds and following seas on his next journey. He deserves nothing but smooth sailing from here through all eternity.

In memory of Jerry L. Hammon, 1924-2013.

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.