Ken had many and varied interests as he was growing up. Fishing was an early love of his and continued throughout his life. He used to tell me it was a “quiet” sport as you had to be patient and it gave you lots of time to just think. He learned to fish out at Camp with a little handmade pole, and from then on, that was his joy. His dad taught him about “Elmers.” That’s what we called them when they were too small and we had to throw them back in the water. Needless to say, we always caught a lot of “Elmers” and had to throw them back so they could be with their families.
Ken loved books all of his life. He learned to read very early, and we would go to the library to get books or to bookstores to buy them. He loved comic books when he was younger; “Archie” was one of his favorites. He collected all of the Hardy Boy series and later on enjoyed reading mysteries and science fiction. He also loved movies. A few of his favorites included "The Final Countdown" and "Ghandi" , as well as our traditional family movies each Christmas – "It's A Wonderful Life" and "White Christmas".
Music was another enjoyment for him. When he was about four years old, his sister had gotten a new trumpet. We were outside and suddenly heard some sounds coming from her room. He had gone into her room and picked up her trumpet and managed to get out a few notes. He was as startled as we all were! He started taking piano lessons when he was about seven, and although he didn’t like to practice, he still liked to play. He joined the school band when he was in grade school and resumed his trumpet playing that he had begun some years earlier with his sister’s trumpet. He played in the marching band and also the jazz band all the way through his school years, just as his dad and sister had done before him. He also enjoyed performing in uniform in parades and going on band trips. We gave him a guitar one year for Christmas, and he taught himself to play. He also had a good singing voice and performed in plays at school.
His grandmother (Mac’s mom) tried to get all of her grandchildren interested in stamp and coin collecting. She would send Ken stamps, and he did try to keep up with that for some years, as well as the coin collecting. However, he loved being outdoors so much just playing in the sunshine, going swimming, riding his bike – anything outdoors. He was tanned all year long and always smelled of Coast soap and warm sun.
We had a wonderful neighbor from Japan named Sally, who didn’t have children of her own and claimed ours. When Ken was about three, he started to help her with her garden, and she taught him how to grow tomatoes. She also showed him how to plant sunflower seeds, so they could feed the birds. The rest of his life, Ken always grew sunflowers for the birds and would have a small vegetable garden.
He was always interested in cooking. My dad owned a restaurant, and Ken was exposed to the restaurant business all his life. Ken was an excellent cook and wasn’t afraid to experiment with foods. One time I had told him how to make chicken using an Italian salad dressing. Later, he called and asked me what kind of salad dressing had I told him to use. When I told him, he laughed and said, “No wonder it didn’t taste like yours, Mom. I used Thousand Island, but it was good!”
Ken stopped by the house one day with an African Violet for me. It was so big and beautiful and deep lavender, my favorite color. He had been at the mall and they were having an African Violet show. He found one he liked – it had won a ribbon, and he talked to the owner and she agreed to sell it to him. He tried to talk her out of the ribbon also, but she wouldn’t part with that! I was just thrilled to pieces when he gave it to me!
He loved animals and had a lot of patience to work with them. While growing up, we had two family dogs, Ambra and Toshi, and his sister had a Persian cat named Misty. When he got his own apartment, eventually he acquired his own two cats, Luca and Smudge.
One sweet little memory that I have always cherished is the time that Ken was in the second grade. He came home from school and told me that they’d had the best beef stew at lunch that day. He had liked it so much that he’d asked the cook in the school cafeteria for the recipe to bring home to me! He proudly presented it to me, and I have it to this day. Sometime later, I was visiting the school and went down to thank the cook, and she was so tickled. She said that in all of her years cooking for the school, she had never had a child to ask for a recipe. She said she’d never forget that, and I hope she never did.
Ken was really funny and was always doing funny things that kept us on our toes. He made me laugh, even when I was so exasperated at times. Now I fondly remember the time when he threw his shoe out the car window when he was very young. We had just gotten him a brand new pair of shoes, and he wanted to wear them home. On the way home the back window was rolled down, and all of a sudden he said, “My shoe fell out the car window!” We were surprised, to say the least, at this unexpected turn of events, and of course we couldn’t find a place to turn the car around right there. It was a very busy Saturday afternoon, and the odds of his shoe still being intact were rather hopeless.
As I was pondering the possible loss of his shoe, he held up his sock and proudly announced, “But I’ve still got my sock!” We did find his shoe – and miracle of miracles, it was lying on the shoulder of the road completely untouched. Mac and I privately laughed over that for many years, but at the time it wasn’t that funny. Ken just did these things, but somehow it always worked out and gave us a good story to tell later!
Ken was very artistic even as a young child. If he was stuck indoors for any reason, he’d have a sketchbook and pencil in his hands and would be drawing or painting something. I remember the day when he was about six years old and came running into the house so excited to tell me what he’d decided to be when he was grown up. Of course, I wanted to encourage him and got very excited and asked him what it was. He said he wanted to be a painter. Well, that didn’t surprise me, and I was so tickled for him! I said, “Oh, honey, that’s wonderful! I’ll buy your first painting!” He looked at me like I had lost my mind and said, “Mom, I want to be a house painter!” Apparently, a neighbor was having his house painted, and Ken and his friends had been watching the ladders, paint, etc., and he thought that would be great fun!
When Ken was around seven years old, we had been planning to wallpaper the kitchen. However, Ken had other plans for the money. He had been wanting a tree house, but we didn’t have any trees close enough to the house or that Mac felt were strong enough to support a tree house. So Mac and Ken went outside, picked a spot and asked me if I could see them from the kitchen window. Since I was cooking at the time, I had no idea of what they were up to and hurriedly glanced out the window. I saw they were standing right off the patio and said, “Yes, I can see you just fine.” Little did I know they were measuring for the “tree house without a tree,” as it came to be called. Mac told Ken they would start on it right after supper the next night. The next morning, Ken was up early and outside. I could see him playing by the patio and could keep a watch on him. Before long, several of his friends came by, and they all had the string measured out and Ken had Mac’s little Boy Scout shovel and was digging away! I went out to see why he was digging up the yard like that, and he explained very patiently that he figured if he “got all the holes dug for the posts that would make the work go faster when Daddy got home!” He worked all day and did get those holes dug, a daunting task for anyone – especially a small boy. Needless to say, he got his “tree house without a tree” built in record time, complete with portholes covered with screen to keep the flies out and a ladder he could pull up. I got my wallpaper the next year – it was a fair exchange!
I’ve never known anyone who loved and lost wristwatches the way Ken did. Every Christmas, he’d get a new watch, and in a short time, it would be gone. We’d search everywhere and could never find it. His grandparents would buy him another one, and it would soon disappear also. After awhile, we just decided that was Ken, and although he tried very hard, he just couldn’t hold onto a watch for very long. As he became an adult, he did manage to keep his watches somewhat longer, but we always kidded about all those years when we’d be looking for his many watches. After he died, I put his wrist watch in Mac’s desk in the study. That watch chimed every half hour for nearly seven years. We couldn’t believe it, but it did. I don’t remember just when it quit, but one day I realized that I didn’t hear it anymore. I used to work in the study a lot, and I’d listen for those chimes. All those years he had lost so many watches, and now this one made sure I knew where it was all the time. I like to think it could have been my Angel letting me know he was near.
Christmas was Ken’s favorite holiday. He loved everything about it. He took over the tree decorating when he was very young. We’d gotten an artificial tree when he was about seven years old. We’d had a real tree up until that time, however it had shed and needles were all over the carpet. By the time the holidays were over, the tree was bare.
We dragged it out to the curb, and a friend told us to put peanut butter in containers and hang them on the empty limbs for the birds. No one told us to mix the peanut butter with honey, and after the first few attempts by the birds to try to eat our peanut butter, the containers were left alone. Mercifully, the trees were soon picked up and carted away. However, the children informed us that we had better be getting an artificial tree the next year because they didn’t want to clean up all the needles again the next year. We thought they would change their minds, so we didn’t buy one while they were on sale.
Then the following Christmas, they convinced us to go and look at the artificial trees. We bought one and brought it home. Ken and Mac put it together, and from then on, Ken was the only one who remembered how to do it each year. We made our own ornaments, and each year I would buy a new one for each of us to put on the tree. I liked the homemade ones the best. Every year Ken would decorate the tree and turn on the lights, and then he’d call for me to come and see it. I always thought it was the prettiest tree we’d ever had. He would laugh and say, “Mom, it’s the same tree each year,” but it always looked different and always was the prettiest tree each year. Even when Ken lived on his own, he would come over and do our tree for us. When we packed the Christmas things away in 1989, we didn’t know that would be our last Christmas with him. The next year we didn’t put up the tree. After that, we had a very tiny tree and I just put lace on it. This continued until five years ago, and we thought maybe we could try a larger tree that year. We had donated our tree with the lights, but not our ornaments, to an AIDS organization. We knew we couldn’t bear to put it up without Ken to help. Getting out the old ornaments was more emotional than I’d even thought it would be. It was so hard, and of course, each ornament had a memory attached. We’ve continued doing it though, and it doesn’t get any easier.
I’ve tried to touch on a very few of the things that made up the whole of Ken, but it’s hard to just write things down to form the image of a person. He was made up of so many things, and he enjoyed so much! He enjoyed life! He had a great sense of humor and was just fun to be around. Mac depended on him to put together or fix anything electronic. He was so affectionate with us, and was never embarrassed to be seen hugging or kissing us or saying he loved us. His death has left such a hugh void in our lives. He was not only my son, but my friend. I’m so lucky that he graced my life, and I am so privileged to be known as Ken’s Mom.
©2002 Lynn McCurdy
All photographs are copyrighted by Mac McCurdy,2002-2006.
All poems and writings are copyrighted by Lynn McCurdy, 2002-2006.
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