I am very sad to report that my Uncle Kermit (as in that gentle frog) passed away rather suddenly yesterday afternoon, the day after Flannery's birthday. He had suffered from Alzheimer's for a couple of years but had been able to remain at home on his beloved farm. Last week he took a dramatic turn for the worse, was hospitalized for a couple of days, and then went home to be under hospice care. The family was told Thursday he had about 72 hours. He went even more quickly. My mother is heartbroken. That is her baby brother and she is the last surviving member of her birth family.
Although it sounds so trite to say "he's in a better place," I do feel that on some level, he made the choice to take off without troubling people overmuch. That was Kermit's way. He lived a quiet life. The things that mattered to him were his family, his faith, and his farm. What brought him satisfaction in his later years were feeding the ducks on his pond and talking to my mother on the phone. Before the onset of the insidious Alzheimer's, they used to chat regularly. Together, they could take their health and family troubles, and with a gentle complicity, joke about the darkest subjects, making them somehow tolerable. My mother, who is disabled by arthritis, seldom leaves the house. Conversations with Kermit enlivened her days. She is beyond sad. And that makes me beyond sad.
When I think of Kermit, the word "artist" doesn't readily spring to mind. He was an electrical contractor by trade and he raised Texas longhorns as a hobby. Then, twenty or so years ago and to the family's surprise, he took to writing country/western tunes. He even traveled to Nashville to have them recorded by a professional musician. When the love of his life Nancy died, he had her mausoleum wired so that, at the touch of a button, that part of the cemetery comes alive with a soulful rendition of his musical tribute to Nancy. Truth be told, it's pretty hilarious. Even my mother has said, "Future generations of children will dare one another to press that button on Halloween night." He paid a small fortune to have that button kept in operation for the better part of a century.
Then there was the commissioned Texas longhorn painting. We were home one Christmas, and Kermit and Nancy were perusing a portfolio of paintings by an oil painter from the Bay Area Figurative School. Suddenly Kermit lit up. "Do you think he would paint one of my bulls?" He was so impassioned about the idea, we asked the artist Bill if he'd consider it. Bill, being an amiable man, and like most of us, always appreciative of a sale, agreed to the commission. In a moment of quirky inspiration, he painted the bull beside a rosebush. Kermit immediately recognized the rosebush in Bill's painting as the same rosebush that he transplanted from my grandmother's garden upon her death. Sometimes there's much, much more to a work of art than even the artist realizes.
Although I see much humor in both of these stories from the book that is Kermit's life, I relate them to honor his individuality and his passion for life. It's often the eccentricities of a person that we miss the most. And when it comes to our own quirks, we should probably celebrate them--they're what make us the true artists of our own lives.
I am including my own painting "Night Textures," which now resides in Seattle, in the way of a small tribute to Uncle Kermit as well as to that sometime disturbing mystery we call life.