c.m. “bud” kinsey: a life remembered

the following are my reflections on my grandfather’s life–a man who shaped my life more than anyone else–offered as the eulogy at his memorial service on january 5, 2017.

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good afternoon, my name is ryan pemberton, and i’m “bud” kinsey’s grandson. on behalf of our entire family, thank you for joining us to celebrate and remember his life.

some of you here will know that i have a deep appreciation for the writing of english author c. s. lewis, perhaps most well known for his chronicles of narnia series. lewis begins one of the books in his beloved narnia series with this line: “there was a boy called eustace clarence scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

we’re gathered here today to remember a man named clell manardy kinsey, though he didn’t deserve it. which is at least partly why people called him “bud” most his life.

family members and bank tellers, waitresses and co-workers alike all called my grandfather, “bud,” and they meant it. they called him “bud” because, like eustace clarence scrubb, he deserved it.

 

i. bud’s life

clell manardy kinsey was born in st. george, south carolina on september 23rd, 1930, to weldon poozer kinsey and his wife, cornelia alice kinsey. no offense to any mothers in the room, but my grandfather would want you all to know that he grew up with the best mom in the whole world.

 

catching dinner

number 10 in a family of 12 children, my grandfather was born in the south in the dustbowl era: one of the most financially fraught periods in our nation’s modern history, which explains why I—and so many of our family members—grew up with grandpa’s well worn phrase: “i’d rather you have too much than not enough.”

my grandfather grew up learning how to catch dinner for his family: rabbits, fish. setting rabbit traps with grandpa was something my cousins and i grew up doing for fun; for my grandpa, as a young boy, it was a matter of having dinner or not.

he once told me a story about flipping a coin with his brothers at the start of the day to decide whether they’d go to school or go fishing. when the coin landed straight up and down in the sand, the choice was easy: fishing it was.

 

mechanics, engineering, and football

my grandfather earned only one “a” in school, and that in woodworking, which surprised me to learn as an adult, given that he was the one who most motivated my academic achievements.

where he excelled was working with his hands: my grandfather was a lay engineer and a skilled mechanic. he never met a pile of tarps and rope he didn’t like: creating the most intricate tarp system you ever saw over his back deck each winter.

in his last days, even when he could no longer speak, and could only barely move, i watched my grandfather slowly and patiently weave his hospital bed remote control through his bed’s metal bars, preventing the remote’s cord from getting caught when the bed was raised or lowered, and leaving the remote precisely at hand level.

he also excelled on the football field: though his mother initially refused to let my grandpa turn out for the team—worried that he’d get hurt—when she later heard just how good he was, she gave in.

 

military years

after high school, and in the wake of world war II, my grandfather enlisted in the u.s. army, trained at fort bliss in el paso, tx and fort lewis in washington state, and then served with an artillery unit for one term, before returning home.

after a couple years at home, my grandfather enlisted in the u.s. air force, attending training school for auto and engine mechanics, construction equipment repair, metallurgy, welding, and leadership. “be a leader, never a follower,” he used to say.

my grandfather served our nation for decades, domestically and abroad, working as a mechanic and later as a site superintendent in his final years of service.

 

marriage & kids

along the way, he met a striking young woman named phillis at a swimming hole near richland, washington, who he married in late september of 1952. the couple had four children: laurie, michael, karen, and barb.

as a family, they traveled the world. my grandfather was stationed in salzburg, austria just after they were married, and 10 years before “the sound of music” was filmed there. their family later spent time in florida, washington state, okinawa, kansas, and wyoming, even while my grandfather was stationed elsewhere at times.

never one to talk much about his days in vietnam, his time there haunted his dreams for years to come.

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grateful for where i stand

my grandfather once told me a story about waking up one morning when he was serving with the red horse combat civil engineering unit. he and his friend mac decided to move tents that day, for no reason beyond a gut feeling.

that night a rocket hit the tent next to where they had been sleeping.

“there were holes all over ours,” he told me. “that was just another time i could have been gone. every night I pray to our God through the Lord Jesus Christ thanking Him for where i stand.”

he retired from the military in 1970 as a master sergeant.

 

value of a hard day’s work

my grandfather was one of the hardest working men i’ve ever met.

after serving in the military for more than two decades, he moved his family back to washington state, where he would work at arco’s cherry point refinery in ferndale as a welder, before finally retiring from there, too.

he taught me, and so many of my cousins, the value of putting in a good, long day’s worth of hard work, even though he was retired for as long as I can remember. he always stayed busy, always had projects going on around his house: repairing his pool, the deck, working in the yard, or tending to his garden.

one of my most lasting pictures I have of my grandfather is of him in a pair of sun-bleached swim trunks, smelling of coppertone sunscreen, working barefoot in his backyard.

 

serving others

Like a good writer, my grandfather showed, rather than told me, the importance of serving others. in his retirement years, i watched and even at times joined alongside him as he volunteered for a number of organizations: the local children’s museum, meals on wheels, and elsewhere.

 

a series of boxers

when his youngest was in high school, my grandfather and grandmother divorced. he later remarried, sharon, a mail deliverer with the u.s. postal service, who had several children of her own—debbi, katrina, and george—expanding his already large family, and giving even more people the opportunity to benefit from knowing him intimately.

my grandfather and sharon took in and loved a series of dogs—all boxers. clell, bucket, and fancy were a few of those fortunate enough to have my grandfather as their owner: waking when he awoke, staying up late listening to old country music together, singing and playing the harmonica, and napping when he laid down on the couch to “think,” as he used to call it.

 

II. to know bud

2439 moore st.

for several decades, my grandfather lived in the home at the southwest corner of moore and alabama street in bellingham: “2439 moore street,” as he taught me to recite as a young boy, in case I ever needed it.

with a lawn that was always immaculately kept and where for many years a tall, leafy willow tree stood to greet guests, my grandfather’s house was home to countless family barbeques, pool parties with friends, watching the fireworks over bellingham bay on the fourth of july, crab feeds, low country boils, and more.

my grandfather regularly could be found cooking in his den for family and whomever they wanted to bring along. when the food was ready, he’d get one of the children to ring the dinner bell and shout, “beans are ready!”, regardless of whether beans were actually being served.

 

loved a cigar

some of us remember the rich smell of pipe tobacco grandpa used to smoke from his recliner in the corner of his living room at the end of the day. but mostly it was cigars for grandpa.

that man loved a cigar.

in fact, it’s not easy to find a photo of him without one. and he loved to share, as you’ll likely notice in the slideshow later.

 

looked sharp

though he was never showy, my grandfather always took care with his appearance. he (not so secretly) dyed his hair on occasion in old age, and he made sure it was brushed before bed each night to the very end.

my grandfather was one of those rare types who was well dressed without being materialistic.

“let’s go to kmart and check out the latest fashions,” he’d say to me as a young boy. or fred meyer. or sears, while picking up a new bandsaw blade.

i never realized the humor in that until I wrote that line.

 

masterful storyteller

my grandfather was hands down one of the most creative people i have ever met. and he was a masterful storyteller.

if you never heard the one about finding his boxer, clell, cleverly disguised as a gambler at the nooksack casino, you’d better ask somebody.

 

a humor beyond quirky

but perhaps one of his greatest traits was his sense of humor. “quirky” doesn’t quite do it justice.

when the magic eye pictures were at the height of their popularity—those images you had to focus your eyes on just so in order to see a three-dimensional ship, eagle, or some other discovery—my grandfather installed a series of framed, fake magic eye images in his living room: tall, narrow pieces of felt with a bronze title underneath.

in the late 1990s, my grandfather, my cousin alvin and I took over sole ownership of the alphabet. let that sink in for a minute. there’s a faded, framed certificate, which we had made up at kinko’s, on his refrigerator to this day to prove the fact.

always one for a practical joke: memories of the fast cat, hitting a ping pong ball over the house, and more still bring a laugh to our family and friends.

but of all the jokes he made and played, so far as I can remember, my grandfather never made others feel bad, which is the best kind of humor.

 

nicknames 

he used to love to give nicknames: rip, mo, spider, doc whistler, broken ukulele, little hammer, and countless others that he created from scratch for those he loved.

like many things with my grandfather’s sense of humor, if you have to explain, don’t bother.

 

finding a keeper

the first time my now-wife jen stopped by my grandpa’s house without me, some fifteen years ago, she had my brother and sister with her.

as he often did when people dropped in, my grandpa asked if they’d like something to eat. when they said sure, he made them grilled cheese sandwiches with peanut butter.

jen finished hers and complimented the chef on his culinary creativity. later that day he phoned to tell me that i had found myself a keeper.

 

electric grin

my grandfather loved a good joke, and he had an electric grin that lit up his entire face and made you want to share any good joke you knew with him just to get a peek at it.

ask any waitress at denny’s in town or any teller at us bank; his was the smile against which all other smiles will be forever measured.

 

inventive euphemisms

bud kinsey never met a euphemism he didn’t like. and when one wasn’t readily available that suited his purposes, he’d invent one.

stamp, thinking, billy jar, and so many others served as code words for spotting an attractive woman, taking a nap, and the makeshift urinal he kept in his car for emergencies.

 

proudest achievement

but of all his efforts, it was bud kinsey’s family that he was most proud. you couldn’t make it far inside his home without coming face-to-face with framed certificates and newspaper clippings of his family’s accomplishments decorating his walls.

with four children of his own, and countless grandchildren and great grandchildren, someone was always stopping into 2439 moore street, just to say hello—and they would always be greeted the same way: with an open door, a smile, and, if they were young enough, an invitation to check out the “goody drawer.”

like my cousin bj recently wrote for my grandfather’s obituary, bud kinsey was a magical man who pulled candy from his twinkling ceiling.

it’s just what he did.

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not sensational; quietly exceptional

My grandfather was not a sensational man: he was not gregarious, he preferred not to be the center of attention.

but he was a quietly exceptional man, leaving an immeasurable impact on so many of our lives with his consistent, diligent, intentional, creative love.

not sensational, but quietly exceptional. that’s my grandfather.

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III. remember your stories

and he was always teaching me, he was always teaching all of us. he still is.

remember your stories, that’s what so much of grandpa’s life taught me. remember your stories, and tell them to one another.

write down your stories, grandpa says. It doesn’t have to be anything special, just tell me about your day. tell me about waking up. tell me about going to sleep.

tell me about seeing your children for the first time. tell me about seeing your children after a long day.

tell me about your life.

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remembering a moment for a lifetime

tell me about coring a watermelon and filling it with chocolate pudding. tell me about helping a bunch of young cousins remember a moment for a lifetime.

tell me about sitting in a circle on the kitchen’s linoleum floor, using a toothpick to punch a pin-sized hole in an egg, and taking turns sucking the yoke out.

“put some salt on it,” grandpa says.

tell me about smelling the salty bay air before the sun has risen, about sliding your fingers between a crab’s claws and shell and yanking until it’s insides become its outsides, and then staring in shock as its big pincher grabs the skin between your thumb and pointer finger.

“it’s making friends with you,” grandpa says.

tell me about your friends. tell me about the time you had your friends over for a pool party and your grandpa served everyone blue-dyed corn on the cob.

“why’s the corn blue,” your friends ask.

“because that’s just my grandpa,” you say with a shrug.

as I said, if you have to explain, don’t bother.

because he was trying his best to help you remember your life.

 

remember me

like our experiences and stories about grandpa—some of them are shared, and some of them are unique to each one of us—there’s a story about Jesus found only in luke’s gospel; it’s a story about remembering.

it comes from the very end of Jesus’ life.

luke tells us that when Jesus was executed as an enemy of the state, he was hung up on a cross between two convicted criminals, one on his left, the other on his right (luke 23).

we’re told that one of the criminals, in his pain and anger, began to ridicule Jesus.

“are you not the Messiah?” he asked, sarcastically. “save yourself, and us!” (23:39).

but the other criminal, in just as much pain, surprisingly sticks up for Jesus.

“do you not fear God?” he asks his fellow convict. “we have been condemned justly, but this man has done nothing wrong” (v.40-41).

and then he turns to Jesus with what is, perhaps, the most human request: “remember me,” he says.

“jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” (23:42).

“Remember me,” the thief on the cross with a whole lifetime behind him says, a lifetime he cannot change. cannot correct. cannot redeem.

and yet, he has the gall to say, “remember me.” my God, remember me.

it is, of course, the same thing grandpa was always telling us: remember. remember me. remember who you are.

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stay afloat

i was reading with the window open one spring afternoon when a cottonwood tree seedling, what grandpa used to call “cottonballs,” came floating through my window and landed on my book.

seated there, i heard my grandpa’s words: “when the cotton balls stop falling, that’s when you know we can open the pool.”

smells of coppertone sunscreen, working on projects around the house, napping on the couch (or “thinking,” as he put it), and so many other memories suddenly flood my thoughts.

“i’m going to teach you how to float on your back,” grandpa says to me from the deep end of the pool in his backyard one hot august day as a young boy. “so that way if you’re ever stranded or in trouble, you can keep yourself afloat until help comes.”

“you can keep afloat this way as long as you need to,” he told me.

but you’ve got to remember.

 

“when you remember me,” frederick buechner writes, “it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that i have left some mark of who i am on who you are.

“it means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us.”

“it means that if we meet again, you will know me.”

“it means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.”

 

“remember,” grandpa told us, so long and so often that we nearly tired of hearing it, each year when our stories would be due for the annual chili cook-off memory books.

“remember,” grandpa used to say, and keeps saying still in our minds and hearts.

remember your stories, he’d say.

“remember me,” i hear him saying now.

remember me until the tears fall like rain, rain that falls so hard on a tin roof that it sounds like bacon crackling and spitting on a skillet, as my grandpa used to imagine as a young boy just hoping there’d be breakfast to eat when he awoke.

remember me until the tears fall like a storm you think might never pass, remember me until you can barely breathe because your throat is so tight.

and then keep remembering.

and then, well then you’re free to do with your memories as you like, to keep them to yourself or to share them.

i must share mine. i am called to remember and to point. but you can keep yours if you like.

tell me about your day, or maybe tell yourself, if you’re likely to let it pass you by otherwise. but you must remember.

 

“i have thought sometimes that the Lord must hold the whole of our lives in memory, so to speak,” marilynne robinson writes. “of course He does.”

“remember me,” the strung up thief says at the end of his days. and Jesus says, “don’t worry, I will. today you will join me in paradise.” (luke 27:43).

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Lord Jesus, i thank you that you remember us and our loved ones when we are tempted to forget. i thank you that you remember us into eternity, into peace, that you remember us home.

thank you, Lord, for the gift of bud kinsey, a legendary man who we were gifted to know all these years, and who remains with us through our memories in his absence. be the comfort for our tears, I pray; be good to our father, grandfather, great grandfather, and friend; and help us to always remember.

in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.