In memoriam: Gerald A. Wisener (1941-2020)

Gerald Wisener passed away on Friday, August 21 at age 78.  He was the youngest son of Albert Newton Wisener and Helen Louise Nushawg Wisener.  He was my uncle.

My mom was an only child, and Gary was my dad’s only sibling, so he’s the only uncle or aunt I had.  He never married and had no children, so my dad, brother and I are his closest family.

I wish I could say more about Gary, but the truth is, there aren’t many people who knew him very well, including my dad.  Gary was a loner for basically his entire adult life.  There is more to his story of isolation than that, but given how incredibly private he was in life, I don’t feel at liberty to share what he didn’t state while he was living.  Despite being one of three of his closest family members, I could probably fit every conversation we had with each other in the space of about four or five pages.

Gary was born and raised in rural Indiana.  The Wiseners go back over 200 years in Eastern Indiana and Western Ohio, but my grandparents ventured out not too many years after my dad graduated high school and moved with Gary and him to Florida in the late 1950s.  From there, Gary dabbled in odd jobs after high school and moved all over the country, eventually making most of his income by renovating houses and flipping them.  That I’m aware of, he lived at various points in Indiana, Florida, Texas, California, South Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, and West Virginia, where he passed.

Even though I was not close with Gary, he made a deep impression on my childhood, as many of my clearest memories of family vacations with my mom and dad revolve around trips we took to visit him in whatever remote location he found himself.  He had a large cockatoo that scared the pee out of me and was as loud as God, and he usually had several dogs.  I remember very well freezing my buns off staying with him in his – literal – shack on an old tobacco farm in North Carolina, and the creepy old house he had in Ohio.  I remember driving for so long I thought I would die to visit him in Wisconsin, then the adventure I had with my mom and dad when we went from there to Winnipeg, Canada – I don’t remember why we went there, other than I think I wanted to go to Canada since we were that far north already, and it remains the only time I’ve been both there, Fargo, and Minneapolis / St. Paul.

Gary was very close with my grandma, and I remember well our family tradition with her on Christmas Eve.  For my grandma, Christmas Eve basically was Christmas, so my family would gather with her every year during that night and, since Christmas Eve was also Gary’s birthday, we would always call him to wish him a happy birthday, passing the phone around to everyone.  I remember never having the faintest idea what I would say to him as an already socially awkward and reserved child, but he was always pleasant if not his usual aloof self.

Gary kept a distance from pretty much everyone through his own choice, and there is a certain streak in parts of the Wisener family that that holds true to.  Through all the family history research I’ve conducted, I haven’t been able to pinpoint the specific origins, but there is a strong precedent to withdraw from others found going back several generations in the family, as well as a fairly abnormal ability to hold grudges, of which Gary also unfortunately had some experience.

I’m a strong believer in the importance stories hold in human life, and, ultimately, what each of our lives is is in fact a story.  I keep that at the forefront of my mind in my own life so that it influences the choices I make, so that hopefully the story I leave behind when I’m gone will be one I’m happy for others to tell.  I don’t know Gary well enough to say whether he’d be happy with how his own story wound up, but I know his life hammered home many valuable lessons to me.  I, too, often feel the urge to withdraw myself from others, so I can relate at least a little to Gary in that regard.  But I respectfully disagree with that side of my family tradition, so to speak, as God’s call to us is to active community, as painful and uncomfortable as that can often be.

But in the end, for better and for worse, Gary led his life his way.  For him, that meant largely withdrawing from others and resulting in not very many people noting his passing.  I’m not sure if that is what he wanted or not, but it’s what he chose.  And I will always remember him.  I hope and pray that you are finally at peace, uncle.

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