In Memoriam: Bob Kenas

December 1942-March 2022

Dear Bob

Deborah phoned me with word of your death a couple of weeks ago.  Since then, you’ve been more present to me than even during the intense emails we’ve exchanged since the reunion I attended at your home in 1996. I regretfully declined to join any more of them because of the difficulty I’ve always experienced relating to individuals within the framework of the group. With no one was that contradiction between social and individual relationships more pronounced than with you.

Back in Netherland Park your role as the classic alpha male made you seem larger than life and me to almost disappear as the tiny omega called “mousie.” And when the girl I’d been in love with since fourth grade started going with you the annihilation felt complete.

By the time we reconnected in 1996, I’d been able to build a sense of self that didn’t depend on size, looks and prowess in sports, and you expressed an interest in me I found intensely flattering. But after the first hour or so of that event, I remember the old pattern of male bonding with talk about sports, and I receded to conversations with the women about family and books. Nevertheless, largely at your initiative we started writing to one another, and you encouraged me to voice long suppressed painful memories which you responded to with understanding and compassion.

The gap of time between our new connection and our childhood acquaintance created a perspective from which to view the shape of our lives, particularly in light of what it meant to grow old and face the end.

In 2019 we traded thoughts about efforts to deal with that by creating legacies  of scanned and cataloged photographs. Your words captured my own sense of both the importance and the futility of the attempt:

I think you and I share the same views on all of what you’re focused on!

I’ve digitized enormous number of slides and prints… the kids growing up, their hs and college sports, travel pics from all over Europe and the Middle East, etc.

Digitized super 8 movie film to DVDs and made copies for the three kids. I’ve done what can be done. The originals remain fairly neatly boxed… patiently awaiting our demise and eventual pitching. I just can’t.

Also boxed for each of the kids piles of their own prints that weren’t digitized.  Here they sit.

When I go down to my basement and look around some of the old stuff sitting there that I feel ‘connected’ to, I struggle with why I just can’t seem to let go and pitch it… framed pics, yearbooks,  bday cards, drawings from …. etc.

Maybe one snowy day this winter….

The most sustained of our conversations came two years ago in response to the death of LCB, another girl from Riverdale Park we had both been involved with—I as her early adolescent suitor, you as her longtime admirer and friend.

Earlier,  you had tried to lure me to the 2006 event with the promise that she would be there, part of your endeavor to maintain connections among all the members of the old group. Though that didn’t work out, it led Leslie and me into an exchange of reflections about our pasts informed by her rediscovery of a stash of letters I’d written to her 40 years earlier.

Upon your sending word of her passing, I came across media accounts of scandal attached to her illustrious career and wrote to you to commiserate, but also, in true teenage fashion, to gossip. Next morning, as I opened my computer to write a guilty retraction, I saw your reply sent at 2:00 AM the night before, detailing the starts and stops of your lifelong friendship and explaining how both the press and many of her distinguished colleagues had maligned her for understandable but largely unwarranted reasons.

That exchange was followed by a long phone conversation—I still recall during it walking up and down the hill in my back yard.

And then just a year ago, our last communication, in response to another person reaching the end of the road, in which you observed:

Lots of deaths piling up… covid- related in some cases  to be sure… but my feeling is that a lot of folks in our ‘age group’ may be dying sooner than they would be if not for the collateral emotional damage and outlook that we’ve been faced with.   Maybe I’m way off base!?!?

What got you wasn’t covid or its collateral damage, though it was another cruel disease. But “dying sooner” at 80, I need to believe, doesn’t require an explanation or a cause. It’s living longer that’s out of the ordinary—both a blessing and a burden.

Our connection, Bob, has been a gift for me, providing a unique chance to contemplate the whole of our lives, beginning to end.  Thanks.

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