Mr. Herr died today.
Even after knowing him for 40 years and spending more time at their house than I did anywhere but my own, I still think of him as Mr. Herr.
Thinking of him as Mr. Herr does not mean that our relationship was formal. It is what kids who grew up in the 1960s did. My younger siblings can say Sam and Fran (Mrs. Herr), but I cannot. Too late to teach this kid new tricks.
Family folklore says that after church one day I asked my mom if Ann Herr could come over. Mom said that she'd would need to meet Ann's parents and discuss it with them. The introductions were made made and permission was granted. Ann was no where to be found. She was so sure of how it would turn out that she was sitting in the backseat of our car, waiting to get the show on the road! She was right, it turned in to a lifelong friendship for both of our families.
I was always in awe of Mr. Herr. As a shy runny-nosed kid he made me feel really special. He could look at me at the dinner table and I'd start laughing so hard that tears would run down my face and I'd have to retreat to the other room to catch my breath. He could turn me upside down and I would scream and giggle knowing that I was in good, strong hands that would not let me fall.
I would follow my fearless best-friend Ann up the ladder to the haymow and Mr. Herr would have to come and rescue me. I remember sitting up in a corner, adamant that I was not coming down until Mr. Herr got there. He scooped me up and carried me down with a wink and a smile. He never made me feel bad and his teasing was always gentle and with love.
Mr. Herr was always interested in what was happening in my life, whether it was a ribbon at the county fair or my job. I think he was as excited about my promotion at Second Helpings as I was. He was nice to all of my boyfriends and had the grace not to mention them when they were gone.
I always knew in my heart that if something happened to my dad, Mr. Herr is the one I would have wanted to walk me down the aisle. That changed slightly when Ann got married. It turned out that Mr. Herr was a little nervous. As a bridesmaid I was sitting directly in front of him. He chattered the whole time. I don't think we'd ever exchanged as many words as we did during that ceremony. He reminded me of the haymow incident, of how Annie and I loved to read, how we'd been 5th grade cheerleaders and had slumber parties. When I came back from Communion I sat on my bouquet. That sent Mr. Herr in to another round of chattering, he wanted to know if I realized that I'd squished the flowers...um, yes and so does everyone else in the church now. He asked about the flowers again, I leaned back and told him I thought the marriage would still be valid that if the flowers were crushed.
I had the privilege of being at the Herr farm today, looking a photographs with three of the grandchildren (one is my godchild) while the Mrs. Herr and the kids were at the funeral home. One thing that really struck me was that if it was an indoor picture Mr. Herr was on the floor playing with a child and if it was an outdoor photograph he was standing in a field next to a piece of farm equipment. Not a bad way to live.
When Ann called me this morning to tell me that her father died in his sleep I felt like we were suddenly grownup. I called my family and did the only thing I could think of. I drove to Ann's with a vanilla coke and one of our favorite Nancy Drew books.
Rest in peace Mr. Herr, Independence Day will not be the same with out you.
Jerry lives right down the road from the Herr's. Mr. Wiley and Mr. Herr farmed together for years.
Mr. Herr watching the grandchildren on July 4, 2007