Friday, January 2, 2009

For all the saints

St. Michael, Minnesota

I am the eldest of my mother and stepfather's five children.

As we have gathered over the past several days and shared stories and memories, I have felt envious of my three youngest siblings who had the opportunity, as our oldest sister and I did not, to live day-to-day for many years with our stepfather. I was living across the country when my mother and Kenny met and, beyond an occasional extended visit, I never lived here in Wright County.

On Tuesday, my youngest sister, an aunt, and I joined my mother at her house. On Wednesday, my carpenter sister returned from vacation to join us. My brother arrived from Denver on Thursday. With the arrival of our oldest sister today, all of us are together for the first time since the somewhat-expected-but-unbelievable happened.

Throughout the week, we have had an awareness that the news of Kenny's passing, at home and at night, was rippling out to the extended network of his friends and family of 84 years. This is similar to the way that news of a whirlwind courtship emanated from these environs during the spring of 1971.

In addition to brief phone calls, I relied on letters to keep me posted. First came a letter from my godmother, in March, 1971: "Your mother has met a man." Then, in a letter from mother, he had a name: Kenny. In a subsequent letter, she shared news of one of their first dates, on Apr. 10, the day before Easter, at the Monti Club in Monticello: "He seems to know a lot of people around there." [He hailed from a family of 12 children, each of them networked with hundreds of others in ways that only Facebook could hope to unravel.]

A letter from my youngest sister, age 10 at the time, told of Kenny's first date with just the three kids: "It was May 2nd, to be exact," she wrote. He introduced them to his farm and had them painting fences.

Mother and Kenny married in July.

As we sorted through pictures for the display boards this week, it was clear that, when it came to being the subject of photos, Kenny always took a good picture. He is smiling in nearly every one, just as he is now, lying in repose.

More than anyone else I know, Kenny took seriously the dictates of the Old and New Testaments to practice hospitality. His farm, and later his home in town, was the destination of a regular and unending stream of visitors, young and old, from all walks of life. All were welcome. Always.

All of us do our best to deal with what life throws at us. Like all of us, Kenny did not have – or was not able to give – everything that someone else might need in a given circumstance. Unlike some of us, however, Kenny always gave everything he had when it was needed.

ADDENDUM [01/04/09]: Kenny was buried yesterday at Crystal Lake Cemetery in Minneapolis. His death last Tuesday marked the end of both an era and an extraordinary number of departures from my circle during 2008. Last Monday, I received word that Jennifer, a friend since 1970, had died that morning in Australia. In October, two political friends of longstanding, Allan Spear and Gene Lourey, passed away, as did Sam, a friend and arts patron. Jim Dusso, a longtime arts advocate, departed in September. The mother of an artist friend died in an auto accident in August. My father's cousin took his leave, at 102, in July. The mother of my best high school friend died in April. In February, another political friend, David, and the father of another good friend passed away. Last January, I gathered with others to celebrate the life of a friend and former employer. On the same day that Kenny left us, the final court proceedings took place by which a sister and brother-in-law adopted J and R, my brother-in-law's nephews. Blessings on them all.

1 comment:

MichaelJ said...

Gary - thanks for sharing your blog. I feel several parallels to you in your post. My Dad remarried, unexpectedly in June 1971, after a short "courtship." Over this past year, Bonnie and I have been to far too many funerals of people close to us as well. I hope we'll get to see you and James in this new year. - Peace, Michael Flood