|Jeff Noordermeer lying in state at the Church of the Annunciation|
A Remembrance of Jeff Rudolf Noordermeer
March 4, 1933 to June 9th, 2009
By Susannah Adler
Uncle Jeff was a storyteller of legendary proportions, and there would be no one more suited, more perfect, to recount this most beautiful life than he. But on this sad morning of remembrance, I humbly and happily attempt.
Those who knew him called him “Uncle:” too youthful to be grandpa, too cool to be dad – a sweet-natured guardian, a wiseman, endlessly encouraging, profoundly thoughtful. This was the right title.
Though never a blood relative of mine, I gave no second thought to consider him family.
“He’s Uncle Jeff,” I would say to those who inquired.
And that was that.
He is part of my earliest memories, and part of some of my most lasting ones.
When my own father died nine years ago, he stepped in to fill the empty shoes. And they fit him well.
“Susie,” he would proclaim, placing one hand firmly on my arm, “You know, I will always be there, whatever you need. You know that. You can always come to us: Melly and me, we will be there.”
And though we gather here today because he is gone from us, I believe that, yes, he always will be.
We, forever mindful of the way Uncle Jeff lived his life, will follow his lead.
For never was there a better example of how to measure each day; he did so in heaping tablespoons. Nor was there someone more loving, more compassionate, more gregarious than Uncle Jeff. I am quite willing to bet that no, there never was.
When I was a little girl, I had to be at school at the crack of dawn. Uncle Jeff would drive me there. Like most children, waking up early for school was not a strong interest. A quick breakfast, then peering anxiously from my living room window each weekday morning, I would spy Melly and Jeff’s cherry red Honda Accord waiting heartily in my driveway, exhaust smoke dancing blithely from the tailpipe. If you can believe that a car has the capacity to smile, you would agree that this one surely did.
“Not again! He’s always on time!” I thought to myself.
Begrudgingly, backpack in tow, I made the somber descent down winding stairs to the waiting Uncle Jeff. His friendly “good morning,” shrill to the ears of a glum schoolgirl; but it took no longer than a grumpy moment for a smile to take over.
I was delivered each morning, safely and happily.
And at the end of every afternoon, he was there again to pick me up. Uncle Jeff would kindly ask how my day went, and whatever had happened previously, was met with sincere concern, with a father’s love.
“Oh, Susie,” he would say. “You’re a smart girl. I know that you can do anything you set your mind to. I know that, whatever you do, you’ll be successful, girl!”
Like a hot cup of coffee on a cold winter night, you couldn’t help but feel warm.
I will always cherish each and every one of those brief car rides.
There’s a picture of Uncle Jeff when he was a small boy. He is only six years-old or so, on the eve of World War II. He sits eagerly in a schoolroom, earnest; his blue eyes bright, curious; his ears poking out, listening; a little boy’s gap-toothed grin, expectant; his arms crossed in anticipation of something new, something that could be learned that day, his dirty-blonde hair proudly parted neatly to one side, only a few tousled bits gathering over his forehead.
“We should put this picture in the funeral brochure,” I urged Melly.
“No,” her reply. “Nobody would recognize him!” She laughed.
Sure, it’s unorthodox, but isn’t this the Uncle Jeff that comes to mind, the one whose passing a mere four nights ago has created a void that cannot be replenished? Because in the best way possible, Jeff never grew up. To me, this picture is quintessential Jeff. Even in his mid-seventies, he remained hopeful, energetic, youthful, inquisitive. Always a child at heart.
I carry this picture with me today.
I think of this wonderful face when I read Jeff’s unbelievable life stories, which I hope you get a chance to do too some day. They’re extraordinary.
Because Uncle Jeff was a man of many stories. You could be running late for an appointment, for work, inching towards the door; but Jeff could talk, and he kept going. You were staying for this story. And he had a philosophy and adages about life. I’ve listened to them so many times, I will recite some for you. “People are people,” he would say. “I don’t care if you’re black, white, red, purple, yellow or what. I love everybody all the same.” And he did.
And he loved animals, too. “Animals have feelings just like people,” he believed. And don’t they? When he was a child, Jeff would watch pesky rats play in the Rotterdam canals for hours on end. To others these rodents were vermin, but in Jeff’s eyes, they were magnificent. Before the war, his father gave him six baby ducks for five cents a piece. Jeff made a home for them in his living room. When World War II rained down on Holland, Jeff stole food to feed the rabbits in his family’s garden – even though he didn’t have enough food to nourish himself. But that was Jeff.
And Jeff was loved. Oh, he was and will forever be loved. Anyone who shared in his final breaths on one recent balmy June night, that, after a day of torrential storms, revealed to us a most dazzling pink-orange sun slowly disappearing over the horizon – knows that he was loved.
But like I said before, nobody can say it better than Jeff; so I leave you with his own words of infinite wisdom:
“For the misfortunate ones in this society, I always have time to listen, and if I can be of any help to brighten their day, it has always given me a lot of pleasure. If I would ever strike it rich, I would share my wealth with my friends and people I know who needed it more than I do. I never wanted to be very rich in life, just comfortable. I will never be rich because I have too much heart for other people. It gives me great pleasure to help people who are not as fortunate as I am, especially if I can help them to make life better for themselves… Somehow there is a reason for everything that is happening to us in life. The road we travel isn't always smooth, but we must also realize that the road is not always rocky [either]. There are happy moments ... but nothing in life will last forever.”