Neighbor’s lamp will continue to burn in hearts, as well

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 8, 2001

I stopped to stare at the lamp burning on the back porch of the Zerby house a couple of mornings ago.

It burned as though nothing had changed. My heart beat a little faster, though, as I realized the chair was empty.

No matter how early I have roused to walk the dog and pick up the newspaper, that light always has been on and my neighbor has been sitting in his chair on the porch already reading his paper.

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Al Zerby loved that chair. It suited him perfectly. From there he could watch the comings and goings up and down the driveways, see the postman deliver the mail and watch for children and grandchildren coming through the back door for a visit.

He didn’t get around as well in recent years as he once did, and he liked to spend time in that chair watching sports events on television.

An Ohio native, he especially loved to see teams from his home state play and win.

Several families share the block where we live, and our neat little compound is open, not fenced, joining at a central point in everyone’s back yard where several mailboxes stand.

At the mailboxes we frequently gather to talk, commiserate, laugh and catch up on family news.

That practice is sure to continue, as we all care about one another and like to stay connected.

But we will miss knowing that Al is watching all the carrying on from his back porch.

Al lost a battle with his failing heart a few days ago, but he left his family a legacy any man could envy.

The family began calling him &uot;J.R.&uot; some years ago, as they lovingly likened him to the famous Texan who ruled his family with an iron hand.

Al loved his family and devoted himself to them.

His grandchildren will long remember the extra efforts he made to nurture them.

Our dear friend Belle, his wife, frequently praised him for the many roles Al played in the family.

Man is measured in many ways.

I use the term man broadly, as in hu-man, a human being, a person, an individual. We might measure a man by his power, position, wealth or some extraordinary accomplishment.

That’s one way to separate some from others.

And surely the world must require people who aspire to those achievements, for there always have been such people to step forward to lead and rise above the rest of us.

However, sometimes the men most important in the lives of their families and friends are the ones who quietly keep watch.

They are the ones whose accomplishments must be measured thoughtfully by family and friends.

Al always will be a giant of a man in the hearts of his family and the friends who knew his silent strengths.

As I embraced one of the grandsons after the funeral and said to him, &uot;You have to step up now,&uot; I knew he understood.

Nor did I have to tell him that.

He was ready, prepared by the grandfather who was always there for him.

Al’s lamp will continue to burn. The neighbors will see it and take heart. And the family long will bask in the warmth and light of his love.

Joan Gandy is special projects director for The Democrat. She can be reached at 445-3549 or via e-mail at