by Kim Keller
Last weekend was the annual Keller family reunion. My dad always looked forward to these gatherings, getting to see his brothers and sisters and their kids. It brought him great joy to be with his extended family.
Dad’s last reunion was in July 2005. He was so sick but equally determined to make that trip north to attend this event. He needed to be helped to the couch, where he stayed for most of the weekend. And it turned out to be too much for him — my mom had to take him directly to the hospital after they returned in Florida. That was the beginning of his near-constant hospital stays that preceded his death the following July.
I think about my father all the time but naturally the reunion made me think about him even more. I miss him every day, but I really missed having him there last weekend.
I was watching my cousins with their own kids, and thinking about all the lessons and memories they were creating for each other. I’m sure our family is no different than other families — we get together and share stories and talk about the past and about the people who are no longer with us. It’s so comforting, sharing the memories, sharing the warmth. It almost brings those loved ones back alive, laughing and giggling and crying about things that happened with them when they were still with us — they become such a presence again that you almost expect to see them come strolling into the room.
Just before my dad died, I sat on his hospital bed and recalled some of the memories and lessons he gave me about life — guidance that I’ll always be grateful for and I’ll never forget.
There was one lesson in particular that I knew would make him laugh. And we really needed some laughter, so I recounted for him the time I was about 8 years old, playing outside on a Saturday afternoon with Danny, one of the boys in our neighborhood. Danny was about my age but much bigger and stronger than me. One of his favorite games was to charge after me and tackle me to the ground. He never seemed to tire of this game.
After some time had gone by, my father knocked on the window and motioned for me to come into the house. I assumed it was time for lunch, so I quickly ran across the lawn and up the stairs into the house.
As it turned out, lunch wasn’t on my father’s mind at all.
He said, “Kim, don’t let anyone push you around! Do you understand?”
This had never occurred to me before. I stammered, “But . . . but, Dad, he’s bigger than me! What am I s’posed to do?”
And with that, I got my first (and, actually, last) lesson in self-defense.
“Next time he comes running at you,” my dad began, demonstrating his instructions enthusiastically, “you wait until he’s this close, then turn your back, stick out your foot, grab his arms and pull him right over your hip! You got it?”
No, I didn’t get it at all. “Dad,” I pleaded, “he is BIGGER than me!” Honestly, I couldn’t understand why Dad didn’t get that part!
My pleading fell on deaf ears. “Kim, it doesn’t matter if he’s bigger or stronger. Use his own motion against him.”
He demonstrated the strategy a few more times, then gave me a final pep talk and sent me back outside. I didn’t know what to expect but it didn’t take more than a minute for Danny to notice I was back in the yard.
He charged straight across the lawn at me. I glanced quickly back at the window where I could see my father peeking around the curtain. He gave me an encouraging fist pump and I could see him mouth the words, “Go on!”
It all happened rather fast.
When Danny got close, I followed Dad’s instructions and quickly turned my back. I was surprised how natural it all felt as I stuck out my foot, grabbed his arms and, much to my surprise, he went sailing right over my jutted hip and was laid out flat on the grass.
Danny and I looked at each other in mutual shock!
I turned around and looked up at my dad, still standing in the window, clapping joyously and beaming with pride. I will never forget his face at that moment. And I’ll never forget the lesson. I had just discovered a brand new world of self-confidence.
As for Danny, well, he never touched me again.
It was a crucial lesson for a young girl. And that memory from so many years ago still makes me smile whenever I think about it.
It made my dad smile, too, that afternoon in July as I retold the events from so many years before. We had a good laugh together, sitting close on his hospital bed, his hand in mine. With tears in our eyes, I thanked him for always looking out for me.
The memories and the lessons he created for me, whether at a family reunion sharing laughs and stories, or a life lesson that shaped my character as a little girl, make me grateful for the journey Dad and I traveled together.
Kim Keller is the Co-Founder of In Care of Dad. She lives and works in New York City.