It’s been 10 years today since my friend Ken Kesey passed away.
It is unfathomable to me that is has been so long.
So many things have happened…. and so many conversations that haven’t since then because he wasn’t around to discuss and/or pontificate about them. I often find myself thinking about a current event and say to myself “I wonder what Ken would have to say about that…?” Iraq, Afghanisatan, Obama…Tea Party, bank bailouts, Occupy Wall Street…and more close to home, the fact that his nephews are playing on the Ducks football team. I’m sure Ken would have had a lot to say on all of the above and more.
There’s nothing I love so much as a good rollicking discussion/debate about current events, and Ken never disappointed in that realm (if you had the stamina to keep up with him once he got rolling).
Ten years ago I wrote a message to friends on the day of Ken’s funeral. In it I talked about how I felt he would be missed most by the kids in his life as Ken often had a special connection with them. My kids…and his grandkids…would look at Ken with eyes full of wonder…this big, barrel-chested man with the wild frizzy hair who would spin tales of squirrels tricking bears or his encounters with animals in the wild…and the kids would be entranced.
Ten years later….many of those kids are off in college now. My older daughter Sofia turned 19 today and is on an exchange program in Chile. My younger daughter Isabel is about to turn 15 and is in high school. For Isabel, Ken is iconic in her life, but when asked, it seems her real world memories of Ken have faded…much to her parents dismay.
DAMN….I wish he had stayed around longer. Not asking for much…just a few more years…long enough for my girls to have gotten a better hit off of Ken the person…not Ken the icon…Ken the faded memory…
So maybe I was wrong….maybe it wasn’t the kids who would miss him more. They missed OUT, to be sure…but it may have been us…the older folks who would miss him FOR our kids. WE know what they are missing out on, not having him around…Ken the Prankster…Ken the teacher…Ken the magician…Ken the loving Grandfather, Uncle, friend…
But I guess it is always this way with the ones you love. You end up wishing for just one more conversation…one more thing to share….one more memory to hold on to…
Yes, it’s 10 years later and I still miss that guy.
ps. – Below is the original message I sent to my friends back in 2001 (also later reprinted in the book “Spit in the Ocean #6 – All About Kesey”)
IT’S THE KIDS
By Patrice Mackey
So I just spent a day mourning, celebrating, and helping bury this unusual friend of mine, Ken.
I saw his other friends and family. We hugged each other. We wept together. We joked together. We shook our fists with anger at our friend for leaving us too soon.
66 years old.
24,161 days and nights.
I figured out that I knew him for about 4,736 of those days & nights.
Still too few.
While he certainly was famous…I knew him outside of that fame. I knew him as a father to his kids, a grandfather to Caleb, Jordan, and Kate, and a beloved surrogate uncle to my two kids.
It’s the kids, I think, who will miss him the most. The grownups he knew had a chance to experience him time and again. Each of his kids, nieces, and nephews has a million stories they could tell about how great he was to play with when they were growing up. But the grandkids only got a glimpse.
When the pallbearers carried his tie-dyed coffin out of the theater where the public memorial was held, my 9-year-old, Sofia, broke into uncontrollable sobs. Ken’s mom, Geneva, had been holding up pretty well until then, but when she saw Sofia she broke down too. When my 4-year-old, Isabel, heard that he had died, she went to the kitchen table and came back five minutes later with a picture. She said, “This is Caleb and Jordan crying ’cause they miss their granddad.”
Ken was a writer, a performer, a prankster, a hardheaded sonofabitch, and a lot of other things. He was famous for many of them. But if you wanted to see this man at his best, it was with children.
Once, at an event at the Fillmore in San Francisco, the “Psychedelic-Era Reunion party,” he saw Sofia (then about 5) in the crowd and went right over to her and took her hand and walked around admiring the scene with her. When the photographers asked him to come over to the ‘posing area’ for a shot, he and Sofia walked over and sat down together. When one of the photographers said, “Little Girl, could you move over so we could get a picture of Ken?” you would have thought he had asked Ken to cut off his right arm. Ken was incensed at him for suggesting that Sofia should move an inch just so this guy could get a “better” shot. He only said a few words to him, but the message was clear: She doesn’t have to move an inch. You can take a picture or not. That’s up to you. The photographer shrunk down to about 14 inches tall and backed off right away. He was quickly replaced by the noted rock photographer Jay Blakesberg, who took this picture:
So it’s the kids I feel the most for. Ken was a purveyor of wonder. Some audiences he had to work pretty hard to show them that wonder. Kids, I think, were easier. Either way, when he hit you with it, it stayed with you.
I’ve spent the last few days reading every one of the 1,945 email messages that have been sent to his website. I’ve watched the visit counter roll on past 50,000 hits since Saturday morning when he passed on. I’ve read how he’s touched people who never came within 1,000 miles of meeting him and still were profoundly moved by something he wrote, something he did, or something they’d only heard that he did.
It’s not a lot of people who can move so many that way.
I’m gonna miss that guy.