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Anno Domini: Curtain Call: A Song for a Friend
September 03, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
This is another of those columns that I really don’t want to write. But I have no choice.

The blessing for birthdays in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer declares that all our times are in God’s hand. Through the vagaries and vicissitudes of this life, it’s something we all need to remember. Also, remember that all things are working together for our ultimate good, despite any particular situation we might be in at the time. That’s because God’s a lot smarter than the rest of us.

I will admit I’m not much of a singer, but I appreciate the Emmylou Harris song “Who Will Sing for Me.” It’s about one of those gray areas of life we all want to overlook until it hits us in the face. And, as I grow older, it happens more often. I especially remember the last line: “When I come to cross that silent sea, who will sing for me?”

That’s why I needed to share a few thoughts about Jason DeMaranville, a dear friend who was called from this world far too early. Oddly, I sometimes wonder what would have been his reaction had our roles been reversed.

I met Jason about 1978, the first time I returned from Arizona. I was still in radio then. A group of us were doing an original kids’ theater production (The Road to Toot-Your-Tuba) on the stage in Gering’s Legion Park, and the director had me in kabuki makeup. Jason did the design and I kept complaining about the makeup running. He just smiled and said “Try not to sweat.” And, I guess that’s when he became a friend.

We kept running into each other during the next few years as we were involved in a local community theater group. Jason’s role as Linus in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” was the first time I heard him sing. He brought his own pajamas for a costume change in his role as the ringmaster in “Carnival.”

Over the years, usually during the summer, we’d do things like a road trip to the Guernsey Dam for photos, back when film was the only way to take pictures. One time we heard a great singer named Glenn Yarborough and headed up to Chadron to catch a CSC performance of “Man of La Mancha.”

Other music groups were also on our schedule, from the Omaha Big Band to the 17th Avenue All-Stars. And we were both underwhelmed by an original Gering High School musical called “Agatha’s Dream.”

Another big occasion for me during the year was our annual Christmas visit. Jason would stop by for sherry and some stinky blue cheese and crackers while we watched a couple of movies. He actually introduced me to an obscure little film that would soon become a classic – “A Christmas Story.” He knew it was a classic before it ever was.

What I remember most are scorching summer afternoons and eclectic discussions over some fermented grain beverages. Although Renaissance man has become a hackneyed phrase, Jason was as close to that as anyone I’ve known. From music to coin and currency designs, and from local history to World War II and travel, he always offered bits of knowledge along the way. He admitted to always looking through his change, because every now and then, a real silver coin would show up. And, neither of us liked the terms of service with the new Windows 10 that basically gives Microsoft the right to rifle thorough your files at will.

Those wide variety of interests were part of what made Jason such a good teacher. He even tried some of my jokes on his class, only to get loud groans. For more than 30 years, he encouraged students in the Gering schools to think beyond their comfort zones. Many of those students later credited him as a catalyst in their decision to also become teachers. He loved teaching and he loved his students. Tyler Thompson, one of his students who returned to teach at Gering, got to the heart of the matter. If a man is measured by the number of lives he influences – Jason was a giant.

So, last Friday after work, as per our schedule, I stopped by our favorite watering hole for a last round in his honor. I just wish he could have been there.

Something happened that afternoon I’ll always remember and cherish. I was staring into a big mug of really good autumn ale, as both of us appreciate good craft brews. Just then, someone stepped up and placed another mug down on the other side of the table. “To remember Mr. D.” is all he said. I nodded. Then he was gone. I have no idea who he is – but I thank him for remembering.

Mr. D., as several decades of students called him, was a dear man. He’s now in a much better place – and I’ll miss him.

I’ve since recited the novena for the departed in the hope his memory may be eternal. It’s only because of that solid anchor of faith that I can even make any sense of this at all. The understanding will have to come later. Right now, all I can do is sit still and hurt.

Requiescat in pace, dear friend. I’ll see you soon.
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