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October Seventeenth

October 17th will always be the day that I lost my grandfather. From 3:45 p.m. on June 12th, 1987 until 4:45 a.m on October 17th, 2011 my grandfather and I were together on this earth. I was blessed to have him in my life for 24 years, 4 months, 4 days and 13 hours.

I was born in the town where he was the Fire Chief. Funny story is that there was a fire station in McAllen nearing completion in early June 1987. He told the contractor he didn’t want him to bring him the keys on a Friday. As soon as Grandpa received the keys he’d have to staff and open the station. What did the contractor do? Finish the station and hand him the keys on a Friday afternoon…it just happened to be the Friday I was born. June 12th, 1987. There is a fire station in McAllen with a dedication plaque showing it was opened the exact day I was born. I was born at McAllen Medical Center, the same hospital in which he’d take his last breath. He is buried next to his parents, paternal grandparents and great-grandmother in McAllen.

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My brother John, me, my sister Katie and Grandpa.
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Me in Grandpa’s dress uniform and my sister Katie looking on.
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Grandpa and me hanging out in a fire truck

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Grandpa was born in Corpus Christi, Texas on February 10th, 1942, the only son and oldest child of Everts Burl Derr and Lille Elizabeth Lang. The hospital he was born in and house that he came home to are both still standing. His dad would go on to serve in the Navy in World War II (Four of Grandpa’s uncles also served, the first to enlisted was at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. He was on the USS Nevada during the attack.). At some point the family moved to Pharr, Texas where many of the Derr’s already resided. Grandpa graduated from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School in 1960 and began his studies at Pan American University (later renamed University of Texas Pan Am). He met my grandmother and married her in 1963 and my dad, their only child together, was born in 1964 in Edinburg, Texas. Grandpa joined the fire service in 1965, quickly rose through the ranks and was promoted to chief in 1976, which he would remain until his retirement in 2000. During his tenure he would also teach at the state fire academy in College Station and the national fire academy in Virginia. He originally aspired to join the Air Force, but an accident, during which he lost his index finger, at his father’s cabinetry shop prevented that.

Grandpa at around age 18. Anyone who knows my brother John can see the striking resemblance.
Grandpa at around age 18. Anyone who knows my brother John can see the striking resemblance.

Some of my favorite memories from my childhood involved my grandfather. We would go to the Derr family reunions every year. We always saw him for Christmas. He’d visit pretty much anytime he was traveling for work. I remember he’d take us to museums, air shows (Grandpa really loved airplanes), all kinds of places. But some of the best memories came from just spending time with him. Whether at his home or ours. His home is the only house that was the same from the time I was born until the day he passed away. We moved a lot when I was a kid, my grandmother moved, but Grandpa always lived in the same house in McAllen. I still know his home phone number by heart. I will probably be able to find that house without the help of map for the rest of my life.

Me and Grandpa on one of his visits.
Me and Grandpa on one of his visits.

I loved him very much and miss him everyday still. There are many dates that have meaning for me. February 10th, February 21st, February 25th, February 26th, March 11th, March 18th, May 7th, June 6th, August 12th, September 11th, November 2nd, November 30th, December 29th…but October 17th…that will always be the day I stop and remember Grandpa and all of the good he brought into my life. October 17th, 2011 will always be the first day that only one of us remained physically on this earth, though he will always be here spiritually, at least I know he will until my final day.

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