Robert M. Juser 2/8/1951-10/4/2017
The most important thing my Dad ever taught me was never trust an animal until it bites you. That animal will make the perfect pet, even if you have to grab it by the tail and pull it out of a tree. At my grandmother’s funeral, Aunt Linda asked me if I found it odd one of the photos on the board was my Dad holding a racoon. Until she asked me, I hadn’t found it odd. There are two pictures of that racoon on the board today. His name was Rascal.
When we sat down this week to start sorting pictures, so many were my Dad asleep with one or more cats draped across him. There were similar pictures of me. There was a picture of me with the garter snake I caught in the garden. There was a picture of the 6-foot milk snake he pulled out of a wall at the farm house.
There was usually one or more poor creature as an unwilling houseguest. Frogs, turtles, snakes, fish, birds, mice, and the occasional squirrel. If me or my Dad could get our hands on it, we were bringing it home. We wanted to see how it behaved and reacted. Above all, we wanted to try and be friends. Most small mammals will come to trust you enough to be handled, but reptiles and amphibians will generally continue to dislike you the same amount no matter what you do.
The worst thing my Dad ever taught me was that antagonizing an animal until it bit you was funny for all involved. Nothing cruel, just piss it off until it nails you, then leave it alone. Never play this game with snapping turtles, they will take your fingers off.
This was basically Matthew’s entire relationship with every animal he ever met in his entire life. He never had any interest in befriending, just the biting. What can I say? It was funny when animals bit Matthew. He deserved it. I was always rooting for the animal, and probably so was he. He didn’t want to hurt it, just piss it off.
Matthew and my Dad always understood each other. You open the machine, you take its guts out, you see if can reassemble it good enough to work again. Then you throw away the spare parts and start on the next machine. It was a long time before my Dad and I came to understand each other, maybe not even until Matt was sick.
That’s not to say we ever had a bad relationship. Even when I was at my most punk with long pink hair and biker jacket with skeleton on the back, we were still riding small airplanes and going on Boy Scout trips together. He got me my first job and continued driving me there even after he didn’t work there any longer. I always wanted what he and Matt had, but we had different interests. They were happy in the cold garage with the welder and the grease that never comes out of your clothes. I wrote stories and played Dungeons & Dragons with my weirdo friends.
Matthew’s passing brought a lot of re-evaluation and new perspectives. My Dad and I didn’t come together then, we realized we’d never been apart in the first place. Anna and I moved into Matt’s house on the hill, and me and my Dad embarked on all the projects we never worked on before. We assembled plumbing, installed counters and appliances, and we cobbled my car in the driveway. Every Saturday we would load our garbage in the van and take the dog to get biscuits at the dump. Sometimes the people at the dump didn’t see the dog in the van, so my Dad kept a pocket full of biscuits as well.
He had a way of making people feel special. That’s all any of us really want, is for another person to look us in the eye and hear what we have to say. If someone needed help, he was there to help. If he didn’t know how to fix the problem, he would figure out the best solution. Every person he met was important.
When I was little, my Dad repaired vending machines. His job was to drive around, visit places most people never got to see, and eat lunch there. I am a school photographer. I can tell you all the best pizza places between here and Rochester, the best wing places across the state, and little tiny breweries in towns with names you will never hear unless you are passing through to somewhere remote, a couple miles past Ray’s house. My Dad knew all the best places to eat, and not fancy places either. That wasn’t him. Little corner places with great sandwiches and wings. Sometimes there would be leftovers for Matt and I when he picked us up after work. He taught me no one will ever care about my lunch as much as I will, so I have to keep it high on my priority list. I live in New York City, where there is good food on every street corner.
It won’t be easy to have him gone, but all I feel now is relief. I would give anything to have back my Dad from two years ago, but this now, I’m glad it’s over. The terrible reality is that we’ve done this once already, and we knew what we were facing. Cancer doesn’t ravage a person, it rips apart the whole family.
The night before his first surgery, I went back to the hospital after everyone went home. He was talking mostly normal still, only losing a few words. His thoughts were still clear. We talked that night like we’ve never talked before, and we knew we’d never be able to talk like that again. We’ve done this before, and we knew that night was the real end. Everything after was a bonus. Today would be the easy part for both of us. This is the part where all the family and friends come together to tell stories and laugh. We’ve done this before.
Life goes on past the end. A few months ago I took him out to walk around at the farm house. He was not able to get out a single understandable sentence that day, but he still gave me perfect directions down those backroads as my GPS protested the entire time. We walked around the woods and relived all those big cookouts and parties. I didn’t get Uncle Dave’s message until later that he would come and let us inside, so we attempted a B&E instead. He checked all the places keys used to be hidden, including the bottom of the barbeque, but we were unsuccessful. After that, I took him to the cemetery in Neath to see his parents one more time.
I did my best to make the most of the bonus. We drove around and ate everywhere. We ate clams and spiedies. We ate pizza and burgers. It’s the only thing both of us knew really well, driving around and eating things. We were both really good at it. My Dad and I were able to say our goodbyes while we both still knew what was happening. Everything between then and now has been bonus, and we both knew this was going to be the easiest part. It’s the part where all the family and friends get together and tell stories and laugh.
Last week we had a scare, the nursing home said it was the end, but by 10am when I arrived my Dad was awake, and alert, and telling jokes. You couldn’t understand any of those jokes, he was too far gone, but he’d tell the punchline and laugh and laugh, and it was infectious. He made sure everyone was laughing to the bitter end, and we would be doing a disservice to him if we weren’t laughing as well. No one needs to be as long-winded as me, but I would like to pass the microphone. My Dad did a lot of crazy things, and so many people have come out to celebrate his life and all the ways he helped us. If you are worried they might be a little crude, then clearly you don’t know us at all. Thank you all for coming.