December, 2005 Archive

The Family

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

[click pictures for full size images]

Early Tuesday I got a ride with Keith, Sharon’s husband and Pat to attend the memorial in Vancouver. Kenneth’s first visit to Lund in many years came last summer to attend a memorial for the death of Mike, one of Pat’s sons, who had also worked at our camp. Soon thereafter Pat had lost another son. She bore the weight of these tragedies with great strength.

We arrived at the spare but stately old Vancouver frame house, the home of Willow, Ron and their children, with some time to spare. Ron had corresponded with me about the old pictures and journal excerpts they had read on this weblog, so I felt immediately drawn into the family. Ron and Willow disappeared, and I met Ron’s father Henry, his sister-in-law Rachel, her 15 month old son Dash, and her husband Cameron. She has a Ph.D. in English and he’s finishing one. For two and a half minutes we discussed her dissertation topic, the Semiotics of Multicultural Rhetoric.

In the midst of the hubbub, Sharon, whom I’d first met two days earlier, prepared me a grilled cheese sandwich with pickled green beans and a cup of coffee, and poured me a shot of her 25 year old prized Canadian Whiskey.

The Unitarian Church at 49th and Oak was packed with 250 people attending the memorial. We were greeted by a shrine outside and four kids handing out programs, two of them Kenneth’s adopted grandchildren, Sophia and Flynn.

The service began with a quotation from Mary Oliver:

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

The lay minister didn’t know Kenneth but was awed by the intensity and range of his legacy. The program included a harp introduction, recorded music, an operatic rendition of “Ave Maria,” and a beautiful piano and voice performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” by Ron.

There were three speeches, one by his professional mentor, one by a former lover, and one by his son-in-law. From these I learned that he worked with child protective services and in an alternative school for severely disturbed kids; that he founded and managed “After Hours,” a drop in center and hotline which became a Province-wide institution; that he organized teams and competed as a runner, a hurdler and a softball player in the Gay Olympics; that he was a textile designer; that he earned an M.A. from Pratt Institute of Art in New York; that he was a famous D.J.–“Poppalizard”– in young people’s clubs. Ron spoke of the way he remained as part of the family after Willow married: Poppa to the grandchildren, cook, party organizer, gardener and house painter. It struck me how many of these life accomplishments were there in germ during the time we knew him in his early twenties.

Following the three speeches and a candlelighting and quenching ceremony, Ron presented a DVD with musical accompaniment including a dozens of pictures and film clips of Kenneth from infancy to grandfatherhood.

At the huge reception afterward, I ran into Mara, Janet and Rhea, Lund people who now live elsewhere. I would have loved to stay for the roasts and tributes, but I had a plane to catch.

Winter Journey

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

The impulse that started this weblog gained strength over the past week and propelled me back to British Columbia for a rare Winter visit–only one other since leaving in 1979. Encouraged by welcomes from Rosemary who was organizing the Lund memorial and by Lou Stevenson, whom I hadnt met, but who told me that Kenneth had spoken fondly of his time with us to his later family, I flew from San Luis Obispo to Powell River on Friday. Peter and Margaret took me home to their beautiful cabin on the beach, and we stayed up late laughing at CBC political comedy on TV.

Next morning, Peter and I roamed the trails of our summer home at Knoll House, breakfasted at Nancy’s Bakery and explored the old Marx farm with permission of Ed and Maggie, who’ve owned and lived on the place for many years. During the time we lived there it was called the Bleiler farm, for the residents prior to us. Brambles and alders had grown in close to the house, you could hardly see the stream, and alot of stuff had been collected and strewn about. But the place was in working order; there were chickens, a horse, more light on the pasture since the logging after we left, and the pear, apple and cherry trees, ancient and decrepit in 1970, were still standing and producing.

I recognized the staircase to the loft in the abandoned shack Kenneth had decorated and inhabited during 1973, but the old gate with the heart-shaped hole–the entrance to our homestead that kept the goats out and welcomed the people–was gone.

We walked out of the woods and drove to Rosemary’s bright new home overlooking the water on Ralph Road, the location for the Lund memorial. Rosemary worked with Kenneth at the Lund School as instructional assistant. Also in attendance were Darrel, his partner for the last year, who had come up from Vancouver for the celebration; Vicky, whose cousin Joanne Kenneth had almost married while living on our farm; Debby whom Kenneth had married to allow her to emigrate to Canada as an eighteen year-old; Lou, who had met Kenneth in Vancouver and came to Powell River at his instigation; Sharon, who also came to the area as a result of Kenneth’s influence and whose two daughters were adopted by him in Vancouver; Pat, Rudy, Sherry, Steve and Juliet, who were friends with Kenneth when he lived in Lund during the seventies.

After enjoying the sunny vistas and the food and drink, we sat in a circle and shared old photos and stories of Kenneth: grateful stories of his generous involvements in families, of his inspiring creative community activity, of his way with children, and hilarious stories of his outrageous sexuality and gender-bending, his falling in and out of love, his tendency to appear and disappear without warning.

While this memorial took place another historic event was unfolding in Lund: a meeting of 75 people to try to halt the logging of old growth trees on the Malaspina Peninsula. Steve, Juliet and I attended the last hour, retired to the pub with two organizers, Eagle and Pam, and then went back to Malaspina Farm for dinner and conversation which mixed talk of Kenneth and the political future of this area. Next day, Sunday, Peter, Steve and I went cross country skiing for seven hours on the Elk Lake loop. I spent Monday recovering from that and reading and writing at the Behrs while they were at work.