Family legend says Grandma’s oldest brother was the handsomest man in the logging town of Freshwater, California. Also the strongest. So when a traveling circus came to the little logging town in 1897 and offered $10 to any man who could win a wrestling match with a caged bear, well, it was pretty well ordained that Jerome would take a crack at the challenge.
The story is that Jerome won the contest, or at least managed to stay in the cage with the animal for the allotted time. Being a personable fellow, he bought drinks for the whole town with his winnings. Evidently $10 was a LOT of money back then, because three days later, still staggering from the booze, Jerome decided to use the last of his windfall to pay the town’s barber to pull a molar that had been giving him trouble for a while.
The barber, being one of Jerome’s drinking buddies, felt this was a wise use of Uncle’s remaining money and promptly sat him in the swivel chair and pulled the offending tooth. Jerome staggered home, lay down on his bed and never woke up.
I was eight when I first heard this story.
On my way to have a molar filled.
Even at that age it occurred to me that Jerome’s three day drunk or perhaps, just a child’s thought, the earlier fight with a four hundred pound wild animal might have had more to do with Uncle’s death than a drunken dentist. But, poking at family legend is more dangerous than wrestling a bear, so I kept my mouth shut.
Jerome is important to our family, not just as a cautionary tale about avoiding dentists, but because it is Jerome who, like a celestial greeter, welcomes our family to the great Walmart in the sky.
Great-grandpa Coltaldi was pronounced good-as-new after removal of his appendix Jerome paid him a visit and two hours later he was dead. Grandma sat up in her hospital bed after being virtually comatose for weeks, extended her hand, spoke Jerome’s name and passed on the next day.
Ten years back and I had the good fortune to be able to talk to my dad on the phone just minutes before he died. I knew he was dying, but didn’t know if he knew he was dying.
I wanted badly to ask him if he’d seen Jerome.
Instead, I told him I loved him.
And, really, isn’t that Jerome’s message?
That, no matter our bad choices in this world, despite drunken dentists or caged bears, love transcends time and space, love brings us back for those we love.