Crazy Man Kennedy
“Damn near killed myself” was the first thing George Kennedy said to my father as he rolled the old Buick into the garage for an oil change at Kennedy’s garage two days after the Fourth of July holiday. My father knew exactly what he was referring to. Kennedy had a bi-wing Cessna airplane that he flew regularly when business at the garage was slow as well as on holidays in the summer months. “You damn fool, you’re gonna kill yourself one of these days” scolded his wife Mabel. She was content to stay home in her own world, devoid of the craziness of George. She had no idea of some of the tricks he pulled off in his plane; she had never even ridden in it; he’d do barrel rolls, near-stalls, you name it. That plane was his life. “Greasing up cars, fixin’ brakes has its limits in enjoyment” he’d say. Or, “the old lady’s usually too tired for anything else,” a statement that could have meant many things but when accompanied by that boyish smile gave it clear meaning to my dad.
Anyway, back to Fourth of July; we were out in the field by our house back East having a grand time lighting and shooting off firecrackers. We had pinwheels, sky rockets, wing rockets, some with parachutes attached, some with million color displays. And of course, the occasional dud that got us really mad. We’d run like crazy through the corn rows, all six of us, to see who would come up with a prize parachute. If the girls got there first we’d yank it away, saying: “that’s not for sissy girls!” and run off with the bootie. Tommy, my brother, and the quietest one in the family matter-of-factly said: “You can have Thanksgiving and all the punkin’ pie you can eat but there ain’t nothin’ like shootin’ off firecrackers.” To this day he talks it up like it was just last year that we all got together, with my father telling us “Be careful, I can’t afford to take you to the hospital”!
So when we heard that plane flying overhead we lost all interest in fireworks. It came with a deafening roar but even so it was really a treat to watch the pilot doing those dips and dives. Bi-wing planes always intrigued us. They were kind of a novelty to us kids. How Mr. Kennedy knew just where we lived was a mystery in itself. Back in those days not all roads out in our neck of the woods even had names; most were dirt roads. Not infrequently you’d see a cow pie in the middle of the road somewhere and that was when the nearest way to the cow pasture was along the public road. People seemed kinder, less rushed then; they’d accept their fate and amble along behind us in their cars not wanting to scatter the cows off into the bush by tooting the horn. Boy, do I remember.
Now, when the mailman came we knew the instant of his arrival by the cloud of dust he kicked up as he flew around in his trusty Hudson sedan, trying to get his route finished before 4:30. He and Kennedy were drinking buddies. Both had some good laughs discussing the good times they had “back in the old days.” So it was no surprise at all when Mr. Stillson came up to the house to deliver a package that he shared with my dad about the close calls “that damn fool Kennedy” had through the years with his “crazy flying machine.” “I rode with him once and that was enough”, he said, “that guy’s nuts!”
To make a long story longer: One year George did a dipsy-doodle with his Cessna on the Fourth of July in the sky right near us; he was no higher than 35 feet. And then he roared off into the sunset! I’ll bet he was laughing his head off. What he didn’t know was that just 10 feet above his plane were two high tension power lines. He had no idea they were there and he had gone directly under them. A bit higher and he would have been history. Now that would have been a fireworks display that nobody would have loved more than us innocent kids! Life goes on: George Kennedy is gone now but the picture of him in his plane doing tricks for us kids lives on in our glorious memories some seventy years later. I love it!
Emery: What’s in a Name?
When Kay and I were first married, we moved into an old house owned by an old school teacher I knew. It was a two story home in Canton, Illinois. Gladys, the owner, showed us around and said not to touch Emery’s shotgun in the attic, Emery’s tools in the garage or Emery’s things in the basement.
Emery was her late husband who had passed away many years before. After Gladys left for Arizona, we never saw her again, but kept in contact through mail while we lived there.
We had a cat named Peepton that met his demise by crawling into a washer-dryer combo between the sheets and literally went the cycle. We got another cat later that we named Herbert, and he moved with us to our first owehouse. One day he just didn’t come home. Emery came to my mind as a good name for our next cat, but by then our young son, Aaron, got the honor for that one (Jack). Kay named cats, Aaron named cats, and our daughter, Jessica, got in the name game too.
As time passed, I developed a latent desire to name a cat Emery. Finally, after Leroy and Rodney were laid to rest under a grand oak tree at Tara Trace in Morton, and the kids had left … my day had come. Kay and I went to a cat orphanage called Friends of Strays where they had well over 100 cats for adoption. We told them we wanted a young male cat and they told us about the bottle-fed kitten all the people there adored.
Following the lady into another room, I asked if he already had a name. She said, “Yes, his name is Emery.” The little guy was born in a PVC pipe on an Emery Freightliner truck and the mother didn’t get back to him before the rig left. Emery didn’t disappoint us. He grew up to be sweet, loveable and lots of fun. Emery loved to play and he loved people. All who entered our home couldn’t resist his panning for pettings.
Emery Lee and tortie sister, Bonnie Sue, traveled with us all the way to Arizona in the back of our van. They shared a portable dog cage with a homemade shelf inside so they could have some extra room. They dozed as we drove and played in the motel rooms.
One day a sudden illness overtook him. Vets and medications failed. Kay comforted Emery overnight; then I spent the last night of Emery’s life with him. We both loved him as part of the family, but had to let him go. Tears rolled down our cheeks, and for me, I was the little boy on Dean Court who lost his cherished friend.