Remembering my Gene

Author’s Note: The following is a transcription of my remarks at the memorial of my husband Gene Alan McCormick.

We are here this evening to remember the life of Gene McCormick. After 40 years of marriage to him it is my joy and challenge to tell you about him, Looking back it is hard to pick out a few things to highlight about the man and our time together. Let me start with the basics and move from there.

Gene was the only child born to Philip McCormick of Baton Rouge and Clara Kantorski of Jersey City, Philip and Clara were in their early 40s when they married and were frankly not expecting a baby to show up. But suddenly in their mid-years they had the challenge of raising an active and slightly off-center red-headed boy. Today he would be described as hyper-active. His mother loved to tell the story about how just as she was buying a “child harness” in hopes it would help her keep track of him, he gave her the slip and was found wandering happily through the aisles of Sears & Roebuck.

Eventually Gene’s parents hit on a compromise. During the school months he would live with them in Baton Rouge but every summer they packed him off to stay with Aunt Grace and Uncle Adolph in Jersey City. So his childhood memories are a mix of a laid-back Deep South town and the fast paced life in and around New York City. From this mix of diverse cultures he formed a strong dislike of Louisiana and a deep affinity to the world where “a New York state of mind” ruled with smart quips, outrageous puns, and a prickly exterior protecting his soft inner core.

When he graduated from high school in 1970, the Vietnam War was at its height. Being in generally good health and not likely to go to college, Gene was faced with the prospect of the draft followed by years embroiled in a dangerous land war. So he decided to hide from the draft by volunteering for the Navy with a specialty in electronics missile fire control. His ship, the guided missile cruiser USS Halsey, was based in the Philippines. From there, as Gene described it to me, “We were deployed out at sea, safely lobbing missiles at targets far, far away.”

It was during his Navy years that Gene came face to face with God. He sinned in a way that clearly displayed to him what kind of a person he was at the core. Humbling himself he sought forgiveness and salvation from the only true source – Jesus Christ. He began attending Bible study and worship services run by his ship’s chaplain. Learning of the Christian life and the need to serve others, Gene decided to pick something he knew how to do. So he took on cleaning dishes after the congregation meetings. It was small but it was a start.

In 1976 the war was finally winding down and he could safely return to the States. Gene used his Navy electronics experience to get jobs working on computers that were more and more becoming a common feature in almost every business. Starting in New York City (where else?) he gathered more skills, and worked his way across country, first to Ohio, then Alaska, and finally south to the San Jose area where God had a surprise for him. Having reached the age of 29 with never a girlfriend in sight, his family and friends despaired of him ever marrying. That’s about the time I moved from the L.A. area, north to a job working on communications satellites. I was also beginning to suspect I might never marry when God intervened and, to the surprise of almost everyone, we fell in love and married.

So there we were, both only children, age 30, and having lived away from our families for the last 12 years. Did we have some adjustments to make? You’d better believe it.

I can illustrate this best by the Great Laundry Adjustment. As a bachelor, Gene’s basic laundry method was to have two piles of clothes on the floor, one clean and one dirty. This, by the way, was why he always looked slightly rumpled when I met him. When the dirty clothes pile got too tall it was time to do laundry.

The evening we got home from our honeymoon, after a long day of travel, Gene sat on the bed and took off his shoes and socks. Then he stood up, holding the socks and gazing around the bedroom for a likely spot. Remembering his newly-married status, he turned and looked at me and said, “I can’t just drop these on the floor anymore, can I?” I smiled and pointed at the laundry basket in the corner. No more pyramids of clean and dirty clothes on the floor.

How do I summarize the following 40 years? The limitations of my voice and your ability to sit still in a pew will constrain me to telling just a couple of memorable moments. Looking back I find that several of them revolved around the many times I travelled as part of my careers, first in aerospace and later in garden writing and speaking. I will begin with the Tale of the Battered Pan Lid.

One time when I got home, unloaded my luggage, and stepped into the kitchen I was greeted with an unexpected problem. The lid on my largest Revereware frying pan was badly dented as if it had been left out in a violent hailstorm. Picking it up and turning toward my now red-faced husband I asked for an explanation. He blurted out “It wouldn’t give me my dinner!”

Gene had decided one evening while I was gone to cook one of our favorite meals. It involved simmering pork chops in a sauce made from equal parts Italian dressing and mustard topped with a fine layer of sliced onions. So he pulled out my frying pan and began to cook. Everything went well, getting the pork chop ready, simmering it just enough for a tasty crust. Then he moved the covered pan off the heat while he gathered plate, silverware, and the rest of the meal.

One thing he hadn’t counted on was that Revereware was famous for its tight fitting lids. As he was preparing for dinner, the pan cooled and the air inside contracted. By the time he was ready for the pork chop, the lid was sealed down tight. No matter how he pulled, it remained in place. He even tried using a sharp knife to pry it open with no results. By now he was hungry and angry. He picked up the pan and began banging it upside down on the counter. After 8 or 9 direct hits, he finally broke the seal and the pork chop flew onto the floor. Fortunately for Gene, all the racket had scared our dog Ashwood so badly he had fled into the backyard. Gene was able to retrieve the chop under the 5-second rule and finally eat. I kept the sadly batered Revereware lid for many years as a great conversation piece.

And then there is the Legend of the Wild Women. This began quite innocently as a throwaway joke line during one of our long distance phone calls. I was talking when he said, “Just a minute.” After a brief pause when he pulled the receiver away from his mouth, I heard him call out, “Okay, all you wild women, quiet down. I’ve got the wife on the phone!” This became a standing joke between us that he took advantage of my absence with wild women of an unspecified nature.

A decade or two later, one of my flights out of DFW was delayed several times. When we finally pushed back from the gate, I got on the cell phone to tell him I was now on my way. Forgetting that everything I said could of course be heard by my seatmate who at the time was idly looking around the cabin, I said, “Well Gene you can get the wild women over now.’ My seatmate’s head snapped around in obvious shock. I quickly ended the call and hastily assured him that these were entirely fictitious creatures.

As the years passed, we had many other adventures, some wild and hilarious but others grim and difficult to endure. In short, we were a typical married couple of Christians saved by grace and working our way together through this world.

About 15 years ago, Gene developed diabetes. At first the damage from the disorder was mild and slow in coming but about two years ago things accelerated. The problems became more serious, interfering with the life he loved. For several years we went from one surgery to another in an attempt to combat neuropathy and poor circulation in hopes of keeping him on his feet. Then the disorder attacked his kidneys and eyes. By May of 2022 he had reached the point where he was dangerously unsteady on his feet and he could no longer read, work on his computer, or even watch TV. Adding insult to injury my chow hound of a husband lost almost all of his ability to taste food. In short, he had lost his favorite pleasures. Sadly I must tell you this was when he began retreating from life into listening to audio books and eating less and less.

When Gene weakened to the point where he could no longer stand on his own and had more and more falls, it became necessary for him to be treated at the hospital and then moved into a nursing home. This was not an easy transition for either of us. I felt as though I had failed as a wife. He was losing his ability to think clearly and did not understand why he couldn’t just go home and be cared for by me. But his physical – and now mental – problems were complex enough that he needed constant professional care I could not provide despite my best efforts.

The last two months were the toughest I’ve ever endured with Gene. It is hard standing by and watching your husband slowly die. Words cannot describe the constant sense of grief and stress. Without God’s grace and the support of my church and friends I don’t know how I would have managed. In the end, Gene’s passing from this life to be with the Lord was a relief for which I thank God. No longer is he blind, confined to bed, and confused about the world around him. He is safe in the arms of his Savior.

I’d like to end by quoting Gene’s philosophy about the aging process. He would say, “Old age is God’s way of making us glad to die and go to heaven and be with God.” And if you listen very carefully, you might just hear an “Amen!” from above.

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