Thursday, April 2, 2009

James P. Kennedy

I am struggling with a very solid case of “non-writing.” Lately, I’m only getting around to taking care of essential tasks, with very little energy or brain power left for much else. But today is a day that deserves some special attention. I just hung up the phone with sister #1 who said “today is a day for memories.” Oh how right she is.

A year ago, my dad, went to Heaven. I find comfort knowing that Dad is freed from the body he left on earth – a body that lost mobility and felt so much physical pain. Now, he’s standing on two legs and looking down on us from Heaven. I tried to talk to Dad today, maybe searching for a sign that he’s watching and I’m doing the right things, maybe just waiting to hear his voice? I don’t really know what I was looking for, but right when I was about to give up, I got this amazing image of Dad with Jesus! I was so excited, am still, to realize THAT’s where Dad is now… walking with Jesus! It’s exactly how things should be. Dad lived a Christ-like life, modeling his actions on the life Jesus led. Love. Forgiveness. Compassion. Peace. Faith.

Please let me share some memories with you.

The first time I brought my Protestant, Republican, country club boyfriend (now my darling husband) home to meet the folks, I was anxious. We were raised devoutly Catholic, verrrry left-leaning Democrats, very involved in Democratic politics, by parents who regularly and willingly gave the shirts of their backs (and ours!) to help a stranger in need. Heck the one thing Mom and Dad always said of their four daughters’ futures: “We don’t care if she marries a black man, a Jew, a Mexican or a Baptist. Just don’t bring home a Republican!” Um, sorry about that Dad.

Once Dad met DB, I think he got over the Republican thing – maybe secretly hoping he might be able to convert DB’s thinking someday. However, they had an interesting talk about being Catholic, or not. Dad shared with DB a basic tenet of his own beliefs, that DB still remembers to this day. Dad, walking in Jesus’ footsteps, believed this: Hate the sin, love the sinner.


One summer, Dad and friends built a brick patio and rock wall around a large oak tree in the back yard. This was a major project and everyone got involved. I remember going on many brick-scavenger hunts with Mom to pick up “supplies.” Although I was too young to notice at the time, apparently there were (and still are!) a number of PBR pull tabs cemented into the rock wall.

The patio was awesome, and unfortunately no sooner was it completed, than EVERY bird in our small corner of the world decided to take up residence in the oak tree. They were so dang loud, and quite oblivious to the placement of their, ahem, droppings, that that patio became quite unusable!

After consulting with several experts, i.e., other PBR-drinking dads in the neighborhood, it was decided we must scare the birds away by shooting blanks into the tree. Problem was, Dad never owned a gun in his life, didn’t like them, didn’t believe in them, and I don’t think ever even pulled a trigger.

So several nights in a row, Mom herded us into the house, away from windows, to cover our ears while Dad’s friend fired up into the tree. The plan eventually worked, and we were once again able to enjoy the fruits of Dad’s labor. Dad never fired the gun, we never “witnessed” the shooting, no birds were shot, and all was well in the land of Oz.

Last year, I went back to the old house, now vacant, and stole a brick from the patio. Please don’t tell on me.


Living in a house with four daughters and a wife, Dad adapted well. If he was a sports fan, I never knew it, except for the annual Iowa-Iowa State wrestling match he’d watch on Iowa Public TV. Dad loved to cook, and spent special time with each of us in the kitchen. He also had an amazing vegetable garden each year, and one year let me have my own little strawberry patch. I remember him coming home from work, and standing out over that garden with the hose, watering it faithfully each night.

As much as Dad loved his girls, a highlight of each summer was when my cousins Hannibal and Aaron would come to stay with the grandparents. This was Dad’s chance to hang out with boys, do gross boy things, and make their annual trek to amusement park Adventureland. One of Dad’s favorite stories, one he was still telling last year, involves the boyish antics of cousin Aaron, now a grown man in his mid-30s.

On a ride called the “Silly Silo” people stand up against the wall inside a large cylinder. The cylinder spins around faster and faster, and eventually the floor drops away. On a diet of funnel cakes, popcorn and saltwater taffy, you can just imagine the impact on a 8-year-old’s stomach.

Exiting the ride, Dad asked the boys, “Well, how was it?’’

Aaron enthusiastically replied, “It was great Uncle Jim! I puked and it stuck to the inside of the walls while we spun around!”

Thanks Hannibal and Aaron for that little jolt of testosterone Dad so loved!


In addition to his five girls at home, Dad had another very large flock of female admirers. The state women’s prison is in our hometown, and Dad became a driving force to bring Jesus’s message of love, forgiveness and compassion to the women there. He helped implement a retreat program called Residents Encounter Christ (REC) to the prison, and spent countless hours making sure the women knew that, in spite of what brought them there, they were loved and valued and children of God. Dad became friend, confidant, and father-figure to so many. One highlight of a REC weekend was the special Saturday night meal, prepared and served by Dad and a team of other volunteers. He made sure each of them felt cherished by this experience. Although stricter prison regulations now mean that special meal is a no-go, there is a whole generation of women, some lifers and many on the “outside” who were touched by Dad and remember his love as a highpoint during a dark time in their lives.


After a long career as a small business owner, Dad had a late-in-life career working for the John Q. Hammonds company in their hotels. Late one night, a weary business travel checked into his room, ready for a soft pillow and a few hours of rest before an important presentation. Minutes later, the man frantically called the front desk, asking of there was an all-night Wal Mart or similar store where he could pick up some dress shoes… he’d forgotten to pack them, and sneakers with a business suit would not cut the mustard come morning. Dad, calm and reassuring, told the man he would get to work on finding a solution, and encouraged him to get some sleep. Dad got busy scouring the Yellow Pages for anything that might suffice, with no luck. As the sun started to peek on the horizon, still no shoes in sight, Dad rang the guest’s room, ready to admit defeat, when brilliance struck. When the guy anxiously answered, Dad asked what size he wore, and realizing a close-enough match, informed the guest that suitable shoes would be outside his hotel door in 30 minutes.

Dad got busy with the shoe polish and a cloth, and placed the shoes outside the room at precisely 7am. Then, his overnight-shift having ended, and ready for his own soft pillow, Dad headed out to the parking lot. In his stocking feet.

Thanks for listening to my memories for a while. I find that once I started writing, I have about a million more stories to share, so hopefully this blog won’t be so silent anymore.

But now, I have a to do list that contains a number of Very Important things. Call Mom. Call three sisters (one down, two to go). Things related to my job and career and clients I need to take care of. Get our 2008 tax info together. Return calls to two dear friends – one of whom invited me to a Broadway show on April 23! My list also contains this: “update iPod.” So please excuse me now while I attend to matters iPod-ish.

Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle. -- Abraham Lincoln