No one could blame us for feeling sad at having to compose a memorial to someone a mere five months after acknowledging his 100th birthday.
Pardon us for not going there. The diminutive man with the twinkle in his eye whom we’re referencing wouldn’t want it that way.
Joe Keracher should be celebrated, not mourned, when his family and friends gather this afternoon at First Baptist Church of Gadsden for his funeral service.
Plenty of the latter will be on hand for his sendoff, because to meet and know Joe was to love him. As a friend said following his death on Monday, anyone who claimed to be Joe’s enemy needed to do some serious self-examination.
The celebration of Joe’s life also should include music, much music, because that was the primary component of his DNA. Yes, that’s a scientific impossibility; stop being so literal and allow us this flight into unreality, because it fits.
Just ask those who heard him play his prized vintage Selmer clarinet in all sorts of venues over the years, or those whose pianos and organs he tuned using a tuning fork and his ears.
Ask the musical peers who shared a stage with him at dances, parties and shows with acts like Gadsden’s Kings of Swing.
Ask the young musicians who shared stages and recorded CDs with him when he was in his 90s, playing with the precision and passion of someone half that age.
Ask those who were enthralled with his tales of having seen — and picked up pointers from — folks like Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and Artie Shaw in the 1930s when the Swing Era was in real time.
When we congratulated Joe on turning 100 last September, we called him one of Gadsden’s “gems.” We’re not going to review his biography, but he spent more than 70 years here and was as much a local as anyone whose birth certificate bears one of Etowah County’s municipalities.
Losing a gem from a setting is tough, and a little luster inevitably goes away when that happens.
Just remember, however, that Joe Keracher lived a century on this planet, and the verb “lived” should be emphasized. Along with making music, he was an avid fly fisherman, bowled in a league at age 99 and danced at his 100th birthday party.
Someone who often accompanied Joe in recent years, when asked for a comment about his passing, offered the title of a Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg song from the 1943 musical “Cabin in the Sky.” We imagine Joe played it a time or two, and it was the title of one of his CDs with The Liz Wood Project — “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe.”
That’s a perfect epitaph for one of this area’s most memorable characters.