I got a call last year on a Thursday from Cindy- she was asking if I could come help her take care of Ken on Saturday, who was in the final stages of colon cancer. He needed to be lifted and moved every few hours to help him with the pain, and she wasn’t strong enough to do it. It had been a long 6 months for her and him and their family. By that Saturday, he was gone. I got a call from Cindy saying I didn’t need to come over anymore. The family wanted to be alone, and needed rest before the funeral.
Six months before that, Ken was riding his motorcycle to his office at the hospital, and got in a wreck. They took him by ambulance the rest of the way to the hospital, and while checking him out, found the cancer. They did surgery, put him on Chemo, and my wife and I went to see him around Thanksgiving. He was in great spirits, said he was going to beat the cancer, but Chemo was awful. By Christmas, it didn’t look so well. He started giving his kids his final blessing, made arrangements for his funeral- asking me to give the closing prayer.
At the funeral, they told only good stories about him. He put all the trim up in our church when it was first being built. I only knew him the last 7 years of his life.
He was never rich. He owned a bath remodeling business for a while. He bought several houses, fixed them up, and rented them. But he usually felt sorry for his renters if they couldn’t pay, so it didn’t work out so well for him. He worked at the hospital as a technician. I think he fixed beds and equipment. I don’t think there was anything he couldn’t fix. I met him when he helped move me into my house a few blocks from his. He commented while moving the washer that he built the addition we were using as our master bedroom. I built the stairs into it and a walk-in closet. He said he loved what I did to the place, and the friendship was made.
When I went back to school, so did he. When he was going to drop out, I talked him out of it. I didn’t mean to- I just said, “you made it this far- what’s the harm? You never know what might happen if you get that degree.” He graduated with his degree the year before he died. We carpooled. We talked about life. Divorce. Kids. Church. Societal collapse.
He bought his house for $15,000 at an auction. When they got the title and key and opened the door, they found the second floor had completely collapsed onto the first floor from being in such disrepair. He and his wife completely remodeled it. They slept there when they had no power to protect his tools from thieves while they worked on it. It’s worth close to $200k now, and is completely awesome on the inside. It’s over 3000 square feet, and it’s full of turn-of-the-century charm. Eventually, his brother’s house (right next door) came up for sale. He bought it, and tried to sell it to us at a deep discount. We intended to buy it, and had a letter from the bank saying our credit was good. I worked on it almost every Saturday for 3 months, and a lot of nights in between. I probably spent about a hundred hours on that thing sanding floors, painting, putting up walls, tearing out walls. He was grouchy, funny, snappy, always in a hurry. He kept things simple. But we were tearing out a kitchen upstairs, running new electrical downstairs, painting the trim, having yard sales, deciding which closet would get the secret gun closet, and cleaning the yard at the same time. I asked him how did he keep up with what to do next, and he just showed me his list on a pad of paper: “Every time I finish something, I cross it off. At the end of the day, I make a new list, and anything I didn’t finish today gets put on the new list. Eventually, everything gets checked off, and we’re done.” Eventually, the bank didn’t like my contracting salary, which wasn’t too steady, so the whole thing fell through. I worked for free on the thing- sweat equity. He probably owed me money for labor, and I probably owed him money for customizing it for me, and then losing the sale. He said, “I guess we should settle up. I think I owe you some money.” And I said, “I’d rather just have you as a friend. Let’s just forget the whole thing.”
He had a shed in his backyard, and I ran a computer cable for him to it. Then we hung some cabinets in there for him. One of them wasn’t quite level, and I said, “Ken, it’s a shed- who cares?” And in typical deadpan Ken-fashion, he responded “I guess you’re right. I guess I’ll just eventually go crazy from every time I come out here and see that cabinet hanging there all cock-eyed.” So, we leveled it.
During the tornado induced week-long power outage in 2011, he came to check on us often. He was one of 10% in the neighborhood that made it safe. Eventually, we talked about moving out to the country. He wanted to build a log cabin. I sent him some info on the class I’m going to in 6 days, and he was very excited. He said he spent a week reading every story on that website, and researching every thing he could find on the method. He said it was the best idea he had seen for building a home. He actually fell behind in his classes studying it. We always wanted to go to the class together.
Family and his church were his thing. Man, was it his thing. He was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (so am I), but not always- he had his years of rebelliousness, driving fast cars, trying to meet girls. But eventually, settled on this church- and then threw himself into it with all his energy and heart. You might not like “Mormons”. Whatever- you gotta respect a man like Ken, who went all in, gave his heart and soul to what he believed in- that’s admirable, no matter what flavor of Jesus you claim. His family had problems- lots of divorce, kids in and out of the church. Didn’t matter to him- he was completely even-handed with them, fair, and loving. You want a Christian? Ken was a Christian. He taught Sunday School. He fixed widowed sisters’ sinks, cars, houses, dug ditches for sewer pipes in January- whatever. You couldn’t go anywhere in the church without finding someone he had helped move, or build a fence, or fix a switch. And we’re not talking his neighborhood- he was everywhere. And he loved his grandkids- all of them. He talked about them all the time.
The funeral was a mess. People were sobbing. His wife was a complete wreck. It took all of her kids to support her. Literally. Her kids were literally holding her up. The sight of her made me weep. His whole family was there- and they would stand behind me on this one- said that he was the best one of them, and should’ve been the last person to get called home. People that had rented houses from him were there. What kind of renter shows up to their landlord’s funeral? Or rather, what kind of landlord has renters that show up to his funeral? He was one of those people you think you are their best friend, until you go to the funeral. Then you find out he had a lot of best friends. Well, not a lot- he was like me- a few close ones, and that was it. But we all felt like we shared something special. You felt like you were his only best friend because of the time he took to talk to you- like you had secret access to him that no one else did.
He was one of those people you call when your car breaks down at midnight somewhere, or your food dehydrator has some wiring issues, or you can’t figure out how to run a 3-way switch, or you found some cool new article about ancient Jewish temples, or you need to throw some renter out of your rental property and you need some back-up muscle, and he just says, “be right there.” And that’s not just nice talk about the dead. He watched my dog while I was on vacation at my house. Came over and played with him and fed him and everything. The only payment he would accept were a plate of my wife’s chocolate chip cookies. He was one of those people who says, “come talk to me.” when he can see you’re frustrated. He was also one of those people when you were about to do something stupid and you’re all fired up- he could say, “Now calm down- let’s not get all crazy,” and you’d actually listen, and not get all crazy. I’m sorry, but when some people die, it’s not the same as when Ken died.
Now, he wasn’t perfect. Boy he had flaws. He was short with his wife at times. He lost his temper more than once around me. Course, that’s what we liked about him, too. He was real. And he was man enough to apologize, too. He believed in repentance.
When Ken died, that was it. My wife and I both said, “There isn’t another one of those guys on the whole planet.” I don’t have a lot of friends-only 1 or 2 close ones. I’m talking about friends that have seen your faults and tell you to fix them kind of friends. The kind of friends that say- let’s buy some property together, build two houses for our wives, and live next door to each other till we die kind of friends.
I fly to Vegas this Friday to start the dream you never got to finish, Ken. R.I.P., my friend, I got some work to do yet, I’ll see you when it’s done. Yes, I do know which end of the hammer to hold. Yes, I’m sure that cut is supposed to be 1/8″, not 3/8″. Yes, I measured it twice already. What? Ok. I’ll measure just one more time for you.