I’m afraid I’ve run into a snag. It’s called a strained right wrist, which makes it hard to type, even when I wear a wrist band. So of course it makes it almost impossible for me to write my blogs. What to do? Sure, I know – I could dictate them, but that doesn’t work for me. My mouth is good for crooning snatches of pop songs from the wayward days of my misspent youth, but words only seem to flow from my fingers. I figured I would just have to wait and hope my wrist would recover, but then I had a Eureka moment….
About ten years ago, I brought out a little book, chiefly for my family and a few close friends, that I called “Ken’s Annotated Family Album.” It consists of some short entries about me, beginning with when I was a kid, and various other members of my immediate family, and is illustrated with photographs. Since the text is already written, I realized that I could simply paste in some of these stories for you, so that I would have to do very little typing. Of course, I would only be able to include a small selection of the excerpts from this album, but I’ve tried to pick those that I hope would interest you. So get ready to meet the family!
Actually, you’d better wait for a moment while I provide something of an introduction and context for the people you will soon be meeting and seeing.
People under thirty might not be aware that in ancient times, say around 1970, photographs were actually stored in special oversized books, not on iPhones, called photograph albums. As someone who hails from the distant past, I, too, have about a dozen of these albums and they contain hundreds of photographs.
Of course, with so many photographs, I have to be very selective. Naturally, the ones I’ve chosen for you mostly feature me together with some of my family, particularly my kids. However, there’s a lot about my life that you will not find in this blog, so perhaps I should say a little about that.
For example, there’s nothing about my professional life. There’s nothing about all the traveling I did when I was in the midst of my career, specializing in the study of near-death experiences. Aside from some casual allusions, there’s nothing about my love life, my affairs and most of the women who were important to me. Even most of my wives didn’t make the cut. Furthermore, I had to lop off consideration of my grandparents and grandchildren since I was mostly concerned with the period of my life when they were not or were no longer relevant. Indeed, I don’t really say much about my life after I turned forty of so. So it’s mostly about the first half of my life and the people who were most important to me then, especially my three children.
I tried to write about myself and these people mostly in a light-hearted, sometimes whimsical way – with affection and love, and, yes, a measure of possibly sentimental tenderness. But I have also written some more serious memoirs, and my kids at least can read some of those, if they wish, when I am no longer here to respond to their incredulous questions.
In the meantime, here is my offering to you, beginning with introducing you to the two women who raised me….
My Two Mothers
My Beautiful Mother
Here is an image of my mother when she was in her mid-thirties, and still a beauty (she was in fact a beauty queen when she was younger – I have some photos of her then). She is sitting in our little backyard after she, my stepfather, Ray, and I had moved into the hovel that was to be my home during the years I attended junior high. These were still the years before my mother’s sad decline, which began sometime thereafter.
I don’t know and never learned exactly what brought it on, but I do recall some conversations with her when she seemed to imply that she was very dissatisfied with and unfulfilled by my stepfather as a lover. My mother was refined; my stepfather was crude. But who could know what really went on between them? Nevertheless, whatever may have precipitated it, it was a long downward slide for her. I remember encouraging my mother to leave my stepfather – I knew she had other suitors – but she could never gather up the courage. Maybe she was intimidated by Ray; maybe she was just too insecure and weak. But she had made her bed, so to speak, and she was destined never to leave it.
I was always close to her; we had a special bond between us. I was the repository of some of her dark secrets, but for all that, my mother remained opaque to me, a mystery to the end. Nevertheless, through my emotional intimacy with her, I learned to be sensitive to women and their sorrows. This was perhaps her greatest, if inadvertent, gift to me.
My Other Mother
I grew up with two fathers (one mostly absent) and two mothers (my own often sleeping or otherwise indisposed). In many ways, my “real” mother was my mother’s older sister (and her protector), Mary. My mother and she were extremely close and they lived together during my early life. It was Mary, as I recall, who did most of the cooking; it was Mary who said “sit up straight, Kenny;” it was Mary who was always painfully cleaning out my ears. It was Mary who raised me; Mary to whose house and piano I escaped to when I was older and wanted to avoid my stepfather; it was Mary who shooed people away when I needed to find a quiet place to study. It was always Mary to whom I felt closest of all my relatives, who was my very favorite, and to whose house I would always first go when, as an adult, I would return to California.
As I was told when I was older, when I was a child, I was often mistaken for Mary’s child since my mother was a brunette and I was then blond. In many ways, I was her child. She often told me, too, that I was her favorite (at least among my cohort of cousins, though of course her son, Cliff, came first).
When she died in 1990 at the age of 80 – the first of her sisters to go – a vital part of myself went with her. I cannot say enough about how much I loved her and how important she was to me all my life.
Kenny As A Kid
Kenny, the Window-Gazer
Although all my earliest memories are of my father, I was always close to my mother, Ro. I suppose she was my original imago of a beautiful woman, the kind that would always attract me in later life (but then I am a man like most others, at least in that respect). Here she is in her late twenties as she went shopping in downtown Oakland. I seem to be window-gazing, but with my poor vision, still undiagnosed and uncorrected, it is problematic what I could see. Perhaps holding my mother’s hand was enough. Later in life, there were plenty of occasions when I had to hold hers.
Kenny, the Young Patriot
At the beginning and throughout World War II, everyone was a patriot. People planted “victory gardens,” little boys like me collected “tinfoil, everyone was supposed to buy War Bonds and swell with pride when listening to Kate Smith sing “God Bless America.”
Here I am doing my flag-waving best to support our troops, looking mighty fine in my little suit at the edge of Lake Merritt in Oakland.
Ken As A Youth
My First Honeymoon
My mother got remarried in 1946 when I was ten. I remember attending the ceremony, complete with a hoopah, and afterward my new stepfather, Ray, and my mother went off on their honeymoon – with me in tow. Heaven knows why they took me along, but we traveled by car up to the Sonora area of California, where my grandfather (my mother’s father) then lived, and stayed in a little cluster of shacks, as they seemed to me then, called Hoyt House.
We obviously spent some time at the nearby Stanislaus River, as my mother noted on this photograph. When I was a kid in grammar school, I was on the chubby side, at least as I recall, but clearly by the time I had reached ten and half, I had grown quite slender and had already taken up my drinking life with soda pop.
Her name was Carolyn and I first saw her, I believe, in my chemistry class in high school. I found myself enamored and discovered where she lived – about a three or four mile walk from my home. I would sometimes walk to her house and, too shy to knock, would loiter outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of my would-be beloved. Eventually, of course, we did encounter each other there --under rather bizarre circumstances, which I will elide over here -- and became friends and then more than that.
At that time, I was a devout atheist while Carolyn was intent on becoming the first woman Presbyterian minister. We argued all the time when we weren’t kissing and making out.
This photograph was taken at our high school prom. I no longer remember who the other couple was, but looking at it now, I am struck by that nifty tie-clasp I then sported. The only thing I remember from that night was stepping on Carolyn’s feet while attempting to dance.
We remained a teenaged twosome for a couple of years, but broke up when we were both in college, at Cal, in Berkeley.
A coda: Fate brought us back together more than fifty years later. By then Carolyn was living up in Winnipeg with her husband, Peter, a philosophy professor. Since that time, we have, according to what Carolyn has told me, exchanged more than a thousand e-mail messages. We still argue about most everything except now we have switched sides.
On the Mall at the U of M
Oddly enough, I seem to have almost no photographs of myself during my college years, either at Cal, where I was an undergraduate from 1954 to 1958, or at the University of Minnesota during the three years following, and even at UCLA during the years 1961-2, where I finished my graduate work. But here’s one, taken by a graduate student friend of mine, Frank Caro on the mall at the University of Minnesota. It was probably around 1960 or so when I sat with my recently acquired first wife, Elizabeth. I would have just turned 24 and was in the early phases of my training marriage. Alas, the wheels came off several years later under far less happy circumstances than those that were true then.
Ken Grows Up
Ken Becomes a Father
1963. What a year for me! I’ve just got my first job teaching at the University of Connecticut, I’ve just acquired my first TV, oh, and by the way, also my first daughter, Kathryn, who was born in March of that year. A few days later, on an unusually warm early spring day, I remember carrying her in my arms up the stairs to the apartment her mother, Elizabeth, and I then occupied. What a thrill to have this most eagerly wanted child home at last.
I loved taking care of her – feeding her, bathing her, even changing her diapers. A friend and colleague at the University had dubbed her “Tiger,” and we sometimes called her that, but she was a gentle and mild babe. Here is one of my favorite photos of her from those days where she and I are bonding. She is smiling at me, but she has made me smile ever since.
The Young Professor in a Soulful Mood
Ah, to be young again with abundant hair (though I am still grateful to have mine). When I was teaching at the University of Connecticut, I came to love walking through the woods some of which surrounded our campus. This photograph seems to have been taken on one of those nearby roads called Dog Lane down which I often wandered. I believe this must have been taken in the late 60s, so I would have been in my early thirties then. My real life was yet to begin, but perhaps here I am dreaming of what was to come.
Numero Uno Hijo
My son, David, was, in the end, a welcome, if unexpected, addition to my family. After Susan and I had got married in March of 1969, we took off on a cross-country honeymoon on our way to California where I was to spend my sabbatical leave in Berkeley. Each of us had had a daughter by a previous marriage, and when our kids met, they decided they would like to be sisters, Susan and I, with some measure of misgivings and ambivalence, which turned out to be well-warranted, decided to oblige them by marrying. The girls would join us later. This was our honeymoon and we were determined to have a ball on the way out to California.
Susan assured me that, as she had been on the pill forever, there was no chance of her getting pregnant any time soon.
Famous last words, as they say.
Dave was the product of her miscalculation, but it was one of her best since that boy turned out to be a joy and a father’s pride – but then, I am proud of all my kids.
As a boy, Dave was a charmer – so very sweet and loving. Cool, too. This photograph shows him in his youthful exuberance. He was always breaking his big glasses during those years. After one such mishap, he greeted his optician by saying, “Long time, no see.” A born wit. He has only got better with age.
Father and Son
My son, Dave, was due to be born on my birthday, but the hospital didn’t induce babies on Saturday, so he didn’t emerge until two days afterward. Still, we are both Sagittarian fellas. As he grew up – and up! – we were always comparing our respective heights. Of course at first I towered over him, but eventually he caught up with me, and finally, when he became a teen-ager, I suffered a supreme parental humiliation. I, who had always been the tallest member in my family, was now dwarfed by this giant I had spawned.
Anyway, one of these photos, shown here, was taken just before Dave and I took off on a father-and-so vacation in Virginia where we went hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Dave had no interest in hiking in those days (he preferred video games). At one point, he asked peevishly “Dad, why are hikes always up?”
This, from a lad who would later hike over two hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail and become a marathoner. Do you think he gives me any credit? May his son exceed him in height one day!
Actually, Dave has long been happily married and has two (adopted) kids, one of whom, his son, shows promise where height is concerned and may yet exceed Dave in altitude. As for my son himself, like his father, he’s mostly worked in the field of education and now teaches English and crew at a tony school in Connecticut. He’s also become something of a gifted actor in local theatrical productions. My son, the thespian.
Speaking of which, here’s how my boy looks today. It’s as if he’s playing a character in a play by Chekhov.
I first met Elise in 1968, when she was 4 years old and I was passionately in love with one of Elise’s mother’s best friends, a beautiful married Catholic woman whom I was trying to persuade to run off with me. Susan, Elise’s mother, was then living in a squalid little flat in New York, having been abandoned by her husband and temporarily ostracized by her father who, not being Spencer Tracy, had blown a fuse when he learned that she had married and had a child by “the man who came to dinner.” Anyway, Susan was then playing the go-between for the illicit affair I was then engaged in, and would often put me up overnight before one of my assignations with the woman of my dreams who shall, for pity’s sake, be nameless here.
I acquired temporary possession of Elise after Susan and I got married and though she continued to live with Susan after our divorce, I always had regular contact with her until she left for college – Harvard, of course. Once she was there, however, I acquired her officially. Elise had asked me to adopt her. But as soon as I had her for my own, I lost her. That same day, her boyfriend, who had been abroad, flew in for the occasion and took me aside. “May I have your daughter’s hand in marriage,” he asked. Easy come, easy go. I lost a daughter, but I gained a very wealthy and generous-hearted son-in-law.
Elise eventually moved to Texas where she has become very active in Planned Parenthood and various other social and education organizations. Most recently, she is about to become the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the school that her kids – she has three wonderful children – attended. She’s also become a business woman. Elise is just a ball of energy!
As if that isn’t enough to keep her busy, she has become very involved in Democratic politics and was a national delegate to the Democratic convention in 2008 when Obama first ran for President. She actually had met Obama with whom she became friends while they both attended Harvard Law. And here’s a photo of Elise with another one of her friends.
Kathryn and I took a cross country trip with some friends of mine in 1977 when she was fourteen. And when we reached Colorado, she finally looked up from the book she had been reading and seemed to be awestruck by the beauty of the mountains. Later that day, when we were hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, I remember her saying, “Dad, this is where I want to live someday.”
In any case, once she had graduated high school, she did indeed set off for Colorado in order to attend a technical school in Denver where she would learn to become an auto mechanic. It was tough adjustment for her at first, but Kathryn stuck it out and eventually achieved her goal, and then some.
Kathryn indeed did become an auto mechanic – a girl in a man’s world – and worked for twenty years or so for Volkswagen where she was accorded much recognition for her outstanding work. During that time, she not only worked on cars, she constructed them. Below is my favorite photograph of Kathryn with a snazzy car she built from scratch. My daughter, the mechanic.
Kathryn has continued to live in Colorado ever since. She is happily married and among her many virtues, she has become very fond of and knowledgeable about many animals, and, like her father, particularly loves cats. But birds also seem to be drawn to Kathryn, as witness this photo:
The old man
Ken in the Mellow of His Life
Well, of course, this is a vague allusion to Dante, but I hope I’m not bound for a trip to the Inferno just yet. In any case, here I am having a beverage (not wine) up in the Wine Country of California where I sometimes used to venture with my girlfriend at the time, a woman named Harrie. Frankly, I mostly went for the ice cream. At least during the day. What happened at night is another matter. Modesty forbids and all that.
So far, life has been kind to me as I approach advanced middle age. (I’m 78 and counting – counting my blessings mainly – as I write this.) My children have all turned out well, and have shown a marked disinclination to have taken me as a role model. They are all, for example, happily married to their original spouse. None of them has trafficked in the world of psychedelics or other drugs of my youth (and early middle age). None of them has wandered into any of the outré realms of exploration that have enticed and enchanted me for so many years. They don’t even have affairs! What can I say? They have learned from me well, have they not? I can rest content.
I’m also blessed with the love of a wonderful woman, Lauren, and have more friends than I can manage. Life continues to be full of interesting projects and rewarding work. What more can I ask? I thank my forebears, my children, the women who have loved me (when they haven’t rued me) and my lucky stars.
Here's looking at you, kid…
Another fascinating contribution from Dr. Kenneth Ring. I always enjoy everything you write. I'm always learning something new about you and your family. I'm glad there are so many beautiful children and grandchildren and...I would like to hear what advantages there are to each additional day and week and month and year. I suspect there must be some compensation for so much loss as one gets older. Isn't there some kind of calmness or contentment or even bliss of contemplation? Is there a transcendence of the body, a feeling of oneness with all things, a clarity of perception, any heightened clairvoyant or telepathic abilities? As you know, I play piano for seniors in retirement homes and I don't see misery even though many in my audience are falling asleep in their wheelchairs, drooling, and sometimes very unresponsive. Some of the ones who have had strokes pound on one side of their wheelchair to show appreciation after each song. Most simply listen without any response at all.ReplyDelete
I once asked a group of three elderly women if life keeps getting better and better with age because this has been the case for me. Although confined to wheelchairs each one enthusiastically said, "Oh, yes!" I ask how this was true. They insisted that the amount of love they felt from others, and the amount of love they felt for others, was far more powerful than ever in their lives. So, here's to hoping. I'm grateful for your friendship, Ken.