Not to start the New Year out on a tough note, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t dedicate this space this week to someone very special to me. On Dec. 21, my best friend Kristin’s dad was killed in a car accident, something so random and unfair, quick yet violent, I’m still not sure it’s real.
Throughout my childhood, Ken was a second dad to my little brother Matthew and I. He was endlessly charismatic, warm, funny, hard working and so successful he was a mentor long before we knew the word.
Ken and my dad were best friends and were constantly working on projects together. We lived in a little municipality about 20 minutes outside of the city, just far enough for it to be considered “the country.” As such, Ken and my dad fully embraced the opportunity to be Bumpkins.
In November, they’d have 15 cords of birch logs delivered to our front yard, which they promptly cut up with their roaring chainsaws, Ken’s mustache and my dad’s beard flecked with frost, ice and woodchips. Our dads, they thought they were pretty slick cutting out the middleman by doing the work themselves and saving some coin, though I realize now Ken was largely there just to help out. While he and his wife Jocelyn enjoyed an occasional blaze in the fireplace in their living room, our house depended on the conflagration my dad would build in the basement. Still, it never stopped Ken from sawing away from dawn until dusk.
We only had septic tanks in Headingley, so for about 25 years, in another cost-saving scheme, Ken went to the Water Tower to haul water back to his abode. The Water Tower, about a 10-mile drive away, was also where my dad and Ken told us our pets went to “live” after they “ran away” and on the few occasions I went with Ken, I looked pretty fervently for my cat Kimberly.
One droughty summer, my dad and Ken decided our gravel roads had become too dusty so decided to oil them to make it safer for us kids riding our bikes. I don’t know how they rigged it on the back of Ken’s truck, where they got the oil, or what kind of impact this had on our environment, but Ken and my dad spent days painstakingly spritzing the road via a wand whose tip was not much bigger than a shower head, a project whose intensity I think even they underestimated.
But it wasn’t all work for them. Ken and Jocelyn, who is my mom’s best friend, had a cabin on Moose Lake and they’d invite us down often in the summer. The minute we arrived, it was all about waterskiing behind Ken’s brown and gold sparkle boat.
Around 6 a.m., we’d wake up to, “Krissy, get your suit on. The lake is like glass,” and we’d reluctantly pull on our one-pieces, which were still cold and wet from the day before. Once behind the driver’s seat, Ken was bound and determined to make us the best skiers we could be.
He himself could start skiing standing from shore, his left leg delicately poised in the ski boot on the top of the water until he said, “Hit it!” Trust me when I say, this is a lot harder than it sounds (your inclination is to face plant), but he made it every time, pulling off rooster tail after rooster tail around the lake, until finally releasing the rope and directing his ski so close to shore his hair didn’t even get wet.
I was a runty kid and skiing did not come naturally, but Ken taught me. It took around 20,000 tries, which involved me saying “Hit it,” him watching me wobble and fall, him turning the boat immediately around, him collecting the rope, then him tossing it to me, hoping that this time I’d catch it before it floated too far away. I’d say the total amount of hours he spent was about 37. Number of dollars spent on fuel? $829.
Think of that. I wasn’t even his kid. He had no stake in this game. But he patiently did it.
And that was Ken. He drove to D.C. with my dad after I finished grad school and moved my stuff back to Winnipeg. Before I moved to Kentucky three years later, he drove here to sneak my books and knickknacks (think of that: the same ones he’d hauled from D.C.) across the border and to help size up my then-boyfriend. After my dad’s heart attack, Ken was there to help us decide when to take him off life support. He was one of six people in the room and, aside my dad’s bad wife, the only one not related to him by blood. After my dad passed, he and my stepdad Peter drove my brother’s 1971 Nova to Edmonton so he’d have it, knowing how important it was to him. The charity of that man, the lengths to which he would go for a friend, it was incredible.
Every death is difficult for different reasons, and the randomness of this one has eaten away at me, even infuriated me. It’s such a damn terrible shame he didn’t get to live longer.
The only way I’ve been able to stand it is thinking that Ken didn’t suffer the indignity of a long illness. There was no pity, it was quick, he was strong until the end, he was given time to leave a legacy. It’s a weak “at least,” but if I don’t hold onto it, life seems very loosely tethered to something meaningful.
What I do know is that tomorrow at his funeral, he will be lovingly remembered. The church will be overflowing. The eulogy will be heartfelt and beautiful. People will have come from everywhere to celebrate his life. And what will hover over everyone is a lesson for how to life a life well. Maybe there is nothing more important than that.