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Jerry Beams, born to fly

Rarely in our lifetime does someone’s life make a profound impression on our hearts. Reader’s Digest has a regular feature about people aptly called “The Most Unforgettable Person I Ever Met.” In my life, that would be Jerry Beams of Elizabeth, who died suddenly on Feb. 8 at age 59.
A wise philosopher once said that a person’s real worth is determined by what he does when he has nothing to do. Jerry learned this lesson early in life.
After high school, he joined the United States Army and was sent to Vietnam where he was tragically pinned between two vehicles. The accident shattered his pelvis, and the doctors said he would lose his leg within five years. After a long recovery, and steadfastly refusing to let them amputate, Jerry was forever plagued with recurring bouts of painful, ulcerated sores on his leg. Refusing to do nothing, he opened Jerry’s Auto Shop in Elizabeth and lived next door with his wife, Wanda, son, Troy, and daughter, Tara.
Because he knew personal tragedy (those who have not tasted the most bitter of life’s bitters cannot appreciate the sweetness of life’s sweets) Jerry lived each moment to the fullest. People were important to him, and he wasted no time dwelling on his unfair lot in life. There was no finer place to him than Elizabeth, Ind., population 60.
One cold and blustery Sunday afternoon, I was stranded on a back road with several children in my station wagon. We randomly called Jerry’s Auto and soon an old pickup truck pulled up beside us. Out popped a rotund man in bib overalls, wearing a weather-worn brown leather derby hat with a bright red feather sticking straight up. He had long, coal-black, straggly hair, and huge hands with greasy nails indicating he was indeed a mechanic. He walked with a limp.
“You’re new in this area, aren’t you?” he said smiling and looked in amazement at the entourage of children and animals in our beat-up, old vehicle.
“Pop the hood,” he said, grinning.
After careful evaluation of the situation, he got us going again but could not fix the problem.
“Come here and I’ll show you what to do next time this happens. Carry a flashlight at night,” he said.
When I asked him what I owed him, he simply said, “No charge. Stop in sometime if you need help again.”
Thus began a long and fruitful friendship with our families. Our oldest son, Scott, was mentally challenged and also rotund. The highlight of his day was to go see “fat boy” at Jerry’s. They would hug, belly to belly, and gab, mostly about nothing. Just being around both of them was uplifting and humorous.
Since we had several farm implements to maintain, Jerry’s became a frequent stopping place. We usually traveled in groups (large families tend to do that), and Jerry always seemed delighted to see us. I also noticed he seemed happy to see everyone who stopped in. You might call his shop a “gathering place” for the locals. He’d stop whatever he was doing, smile, and greet people as if they were the most important people on earth.
“Come on over to the house,” he’d say. “Wanda’s home, and we’ll have coffee.”
It has been said the most important thing a parent can do is to love the other parent. A doting father, Jerry adored Wanda.
After he closed the shop, Jerry continued his small-town quest to be involved in the community in various ventures. He had just returned to Caesars Indiana as a part-time concierge. From overalls to tuxedo, he was equally comfortable with people from all walks of life.
“He could run with the big dogs,” said Troy, his son.
Jerry was volunteering at a local food pantry when his life was suddenly snuffed out, much too young. Why, God?
Archibald Rutledge tells this story: “When I was a boy in Carolina, I was cured forever of caging wild things. Not content with hearing mockingbirds sing from the cedars, I determined to cage a young one, and thus have a young musician all my own.
“On the second day in the cage, he saw his mother fly to him with food in her bill. This attention pleased me for surely the mother knew how to feed her child better than I did. The following morning the pathetic little captive was dead.
“When I recounted this experience to Arthur Wayne, the renowned ornithologist, he said, ‘A mother mockingbird, finding her young in a cage, will sometimes take it poison berries. She thinks it better for one she loves to die rather than live in captivity.’ ”
Jerry Beams could not have endured captivity. He was born to fly!