The sentiment I expressed above about how hard Jerry tried is really Pam's. She was closer to him than anybody. She knew he wanted his father's approval and that he would never get it. She knew he wanted a stable life. She knew about the demons he fought. She knew he had faith in his character and integrity. Most of all, Pam knew of Jerry's disappointment that character and integrity weren't enough.
We heard nothing from or about Jerry for nearly eight years; then, a call from our mutual friend Bobby. Jerry had been living in the farmhouse of a friend in Bristol. Nobody had seen him for a while, but long disappearances were normal for Jerry.
The Bristol friend, however, thought to take a look. She was an RN and one of her friends was the county medical examiner. The two went to the farm to investigate. The nurse smelled something she thought might be a dead animal. The medical examiner said "that's not an animal."
They traced the odor to an abandoned shed, where an old refrigerator was sitting in a puddle of liquid. The refrigerator door didn't open easily, but when it did, they found Jerry. He had sealed himself in with construction glue, but forgot about the drain and that's what gave him away.
I think he would be embarrassed at that mistake. I'm certain he believed he would never be found or--if he were--that sufficient time would have passed and his remains would be in a condition not so horrifying. I know that the very last thing he wanted was for someone to be burdened with a mess he made.
The gathering of family and friends in Appamattox was sad, perhaps wistful, but not morbid. We were old enough and too well grounded for hysterics and insoluble grief. We drank beer and smoked to our memories of Jerry.
Jerry's father died the year before Jerry himself moved on; somebody commented that the two of them seemed to be getting along well prior to the senior Ludwig's demise. Thelma and one of Jerry's sisters, Kenna, were living in separate mobile homes in the pretty country near where General Lee surrendered at the end of the Civil War. Kenna said Jerry had been there about six weeks prior. Around her house I saw little patches to a window sill here and a piece of siding replaced there, some new shingles on the roof, neatly stacked materials for a chicken house, a cinderblock walkway that went to the shed where Jerry stayed when he was around. In the shed's doorlatch, I left a single red rose.