Bidding farewell is never easy, but on Friday I said goodbye to Kenny.
While his age and spiraling health foretold the end, when it finally came I wasn't quite prepared for a feeling of such loss.
He was my friend.
Kenny had been part of my life for over 25 years, and the lives of several other neighbors for even longer.
Had he not been such an unassuming and eccentric character his passing might not have had the impact it has had on all of
us. He was one of a kind. Some might say that was a good thing, but I think not.
Kenny was a farmer, but he regarded his
career casually. While other farmers had their crops already in the ground, he was still thinking about plowing.
When and if he got around to it he drove his tractor so slowly that I could walk faster than he was driving. Usually
another neighbor came to his rescue and finished the job. His lovely milking shorthorn cows led an unusual life, for
here in northeastern Ohio there aren't many ‘free-range'cattle. I lost count of the times I ran the beasts off
the road and back to his barn.
Although this is an agricultural community, Kenny's farm was like none of the others.
Having been born there ninety years ago, many of his implements and equipment were those of his father's and thereafter never
quite kept up with the times. There was no $200,000 combine in Kenny's barn. An old Farmall and an Allis Chalmers
pulled an even older manure spreader. Tools that broke were usually left on the spot, never repaired, just replaced,
hence about fifty shovels and pitch forks in various stages of ruin littered the farm as did an assortment of other junk.
if broken and unusable items weren't bad enough, in better days Kenny and his pal W. were regulars at the weekly Country Auction.
They rarely purchased anything (except for the one-man sauna that was never hooked up or used), but they brought home whatever
buyers didn't take. I was the recipient of many such ‘gifts.' A sequined cowboy hat that left a Hansel and
Gretel trail of glittering decorations from his truck to my patio bench. Assorted broken glassware, chipped cups with
no saucers, photographs of strangers, an iron-rimmed wagon wheel ("...because I know you like old stuff."), dozens
of books, some of which were so moldy they went directly into the trash, but occasionally, something wonderful like the antique
porcelain dog that sits on my bookshelves.
It was never a surprise to find garbage bags of spelt bread, sometimes with loose
loaves scattered across the lawn, five gallon buckets of milk of questionable vintage, matzo meal with sell-by dates several
years past and an assortment of other combustibles. It was the thought that counted for Kenny was a kind and thoughtful
Over the years I returned the favors with pies, cookies, soups, etc. Stopping to deliver a just-baked
rhubarb pie I found him in the barnyard clad in his ubiquitous overalls and big goulashes. I sat the pie on a fence
post and we talked about the wonderful ‘tastes of spring.' Being a disciple of organic production and beneficial
herbs it didn't seem at all odd to him to bend over and pluck something green that was growing among the steaming piles of
cow manure and pop it into his mouth. "Chickweed, it's good for you," he explained and suggested that I should
try it. I declined.
It was a sad day when he was moved to a nursing home for he always wanted to end his days at the place where
his life had begun, but that was not to be. Visiting him at the facility was depressing. His quiet resignation
to that fate was heartbreaking, but I reluctantly went anyway.
On the last visit I found him lying supine in a different
room. His blue eyes were closed, but opened when I spoke his name. The left side of his face drooped in a shocking
manner and the skin on his hands with the oddly-elegant fingernails was pale and waxy. His appearance was stunning and
I knew the end was very near.
And so today Kenny joined his sister Ethel in the little cemetery next to one of
few remaining small country churches. A lot of us will miss our old friend -- especially me.
Readers of this blog have probably guessed that I'm a liberal, so todays
event was awkward, to say the least.
"And that will be...," said the lady at the thrift store checkout.
I opened my wallet only to find a single dollar bill.
"Oh dear, I don't have any money," I said while
producing a credit card instead. That's when the pushy old coot behind me blurted out, "You'd better see Donald
Trump about that."
The thrift shop is a faith-based operation, so rather than say where I'd really like to see Trump, I simply
remarked that I'd like to see him "on the moon." That's all it took. The coot moved in on me, intruding on
my personal space, not to mention my personal life.
There he was, inches from my face. His complexion was only slightly paler than
raspberry jello and he sported a shock of white hair and bushy eyebrows that shot from his forehead like sun visors.
I tried to ignore him, but he continued to "enlighten" me with "facts" clearly obtained from Fox News
or Rush Limbaugh or some other right-wing blow-hard. He was relentless. I finally turned to face the sputtering
intruder before wrapping up the transaction and said, "Not that it's any of your business, but I'm supporting...."
I'm stunned that there are people who actually feel entitled to force their politics and sometimes their religion on
others. They should know better. It's rude.
The disturbing mystery of Gladys' disappearance was solved
today when the dogs and I took a back country walk. There at the edge of the woods intersecting the field north of me
was a large pile of white plumage I knew to be my hen extraordinaire. The dogs sniffed the feathers as if paying their
respects. RIP Gladys. A hawk is the presumed culprit.
It's been a busy week since I decided to put a small garden
in Kenny's barnyard. Decades of loafing cattle have created a soil so black and rich that I'm certain whatever I plant
there will thrive. The yard was deceiving. Although vegetation thrived, the ‘soil' was only about 4-6"
deep under which lay cement.
Last year some of Kenny's salad bar offerings for the cows went to seed and lush
squash and tomatoes took hold without any human intervention. This year I've intervened.
Using tools dug
from the barn clutter I've been clearing the cement and using the collected soil to fill the ‘raised beds' of various
‘containers' like the giant tractor tire found mired in the weeds (FYI: Don't try to move a tractor tire without
help unless you know a good chiropractor.) I've also cleared a strip of land that will host some of the heritage green
beans given to me by Dr. Bill Best (Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center) who has devoted forty-plus years to collecting
and propagating bean and tomato seeds solely from Appalachia.
I grew some last year and the flavor was incomparable and
the plants were so prolific that there were far more than could be eaten or given away. Hence, the idea for my Sow Good
Garden. I plan to donate the harvest to the local food bank. Progress photos to come. Between the modest
garden here at home and the Sow Good garden I may have bitten off more than I can chew. Keep fingers crossed.