Terry died Saturday at his home in Bridgewater, Virginia, about an hour out of Charlottesville. That I was even able to talk to him in his last months, and exchange some texts and e-mails, is a bit of a miracle, showing how life can be funny sometimes. He was the oldest of a very large spawn of my Uncle Jim and Aunt Joan. Jim was my mother’s baby brother, and very smart. And talented. He played trumpet in the MSU marching band, even going to the 1952 Rose Bowl, their first ever. I inherited that trumpet, but peaked as first chair in the Birmingham junior orchestra,7th grade. Jim pursued a PhD in economics at Ohio State, and in Columbus Joan began to have kids. He already had an entourage at his graduation ceremony.
Terry is far left in the cap. The kids eventually called themselves “rugrats” – and still do – but I don’t know when that started. Knowing Uncle Jim, I’m pretty sure it was he who coined the term. After all, he once dubbed his younger son Joe “Jo-Jo the Dog Faced boy”.
Uncle Jim went to DC and secured his dream job in the Department of the Interior. He sometimes would say he got that job because of the Masonic handshake he gave his interviewer (both he and his dad were 32nd degree Masons). Like his dad, he was never much to talk shop, but I do recall his description of sitting with some Saudi sheiks (over there) describing to them the benefits of a national park system. He never donned a uniform for his job, but Terry did, spending a career as a National Park ranger.
I never had a good handle on just how many kids Jim & Joan had. I know that when their last daughter was born deaf, they adopted one or 2 additional deaf children. If I never developed a strong individual relationship with Terry, it might be because visiting Arlington, where they lived, meant mingling with all the rugrats en masse in their basement abode. Kind of like a hive, and not an experience to which this only child was accustomed, however delightful.
My last encounter with any of the rugrats came in medical school. My Kraft Fellowship was sending me to a nutrition conference in DC in the Fall of ’78. A female classmate, Judy, was also coming. Jim said he’d put me up and put us in a trailer in his back yard. The Metro made it easy to go to and from the conference. Nothing happened between me and Judy (darn) and we headed back to Chicago.
I never made it back to Arlington. Jim became a gentleman farmer in King George upon his retirement, raising peaches prized at the local farmer’s market, among other things. Kathy and I visited him and Joan as she finished up her NASA chief scientist duties in 2002. It was clear Jim was one happy guy on the farm, where he’d spend 27 years. Joan got me on the phone with Linda, my favorite cousin (1) Joan died first, then Jim a few years after. The phone message from Terry in September 2019 telling me his dad had died was the last I heard his voice until last month.
Fast forward to this summer. I’d decided that all the albums of old pictures in boxes in our storage room belonged on shelves where someone might actually take a look at them. I saw an awful lot of wonderful old pictures, if but a fraction of what I had. Quite a few I pulled, scanned, and sent to the individual pictured. Such actions sometimes reopened relationships (2). That’s what happened with Terry. I found a picture of his clan (at the time) standing in front of our Grandma Slater’s garage, with me, my dear Aunt Dorie, Grandma, and dad. My dad’s he short guy far right . Joan is next to me in blue, and Aunt Dorie and Grandma next over. Only 7 rugrats, so they still had some time to go. Terry is in a yellow shirt in front of his dad.
Terry’s a little more than 4 years younger than me, so he’s still a pipsqueak, but the biggest pipsqueak of the rugrats! I had no contact info for Terry, so I plunged into Instant Checkmate to find a Terry Slater in Virginia who might match, and found a guy in his 60s who’d been a park ranger, so bingo?! I copied the handful of e-mail addresses and shot it off. Within a week I got a response. He was the guy and we were off and running. We talked a bit but he saved the bombshell for an e-mail. Also with an e-mail came a synopsis of his sibs and what they were doing now. Only 9? Who’s missing? But close to 3 years ago, Terry was hiking alone on the Appalachian Trail when he came down with severe abdominal pain. A stranger helped him the two hours to medical attention, which culminated in a diagnosis of gastric cancer. At the point we connected, he was feeling pretty good but knew his days were numbered. Having lost a dear friend to that diagnosis, I knew how rapidly it could turn (3). I realized I should get my butt in gear if I were to meet up with him one last time. Our phone conversations were warm and extended, and I figured as old guys we might be able to connect. Linda stepped in and kept me posted. She was delighted to know I might come down to visit, but by the time I set to make arrangements, Terry was going downhill. Last week, I booked a roundtrip to Charlottesville, got assurance from my cousin Rick, Terry’s next brother, that he’d pick me up and put me up. Saturday came the fateful call from Linda. I was in the grocery score. Terry had stopped eating and drinking, and was no longer communicative. I told Linda I had to think on travel plans. Later that afternoon came an all-family text: Terry had died. I told Linda and Rick that I figured interjecting a 40-year absent cousin might not be appropriate for this time of loss and mourning. I’ll catch them later this winter. Virginia is balmier than Michigan. All these rugrat reconnections were stirred up by Terry. So even though he’s gone, he left me the rest of his family. As I recall, they’re quite a bit of fun. Thanks, Terry. R.I.P., my cousin. God be with you.
- Ike B. to Linda. Word Press 10/28/22. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2022/10/28/to-linda/
- Ike B. connections. WordPress 6/20/22. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2022/06/21/connections/
- Ike B. missing Nathan. WordPress 5/11/20. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2020/05/11/missing-nathan/