Thursday, June 15, 2017

KENNETH GRAHAM R.I.P.

Kenny was one of my oldest friends. I've known him since we were kids. We grew up in the same town, and I mention him in some of my poetry, including in The South Orange Sonnets. We spent time in each other's homes. When we were teenagers we made trips to Manhattan, we double dated, crashed parties, and shot hoops. He was always the calm one, I was always restless.

His father drove a taxi that had its office beneath the apartment his large family lived in back then (we're talking the 1940s and '50s). Kenny was the oldest, and since I left town at 18, I didn't get to know his siblings except for his late brother Raymond, just below him in age. Both Kenny and Ray towered above most people and were natural athletes. Ray was offered a basketball scholarship to some college but joined the paratroopers and ended up in Viet Nam. He survived battles but succumbed to other health challenges in later years.

Their mother was a strong voice against racism in our community. Their father, as I remember him, was more reserved, like his oldest son. Kenny was pretty unflappable. I was all high energy and outrage and addicted to new experiences. Kenny never lived far from where he grew up and adapted his athletic abilities to tennis, becoming a private coach on his own time and a school coach for his nine-to-five.

When I moved back to South Orange in 1999, after being away for close to forty years, the first person I ran into was Kenny, and he immediately made a joke about a girl I was dating in 1959. We had a lot of chuckles over the years. I had expected to see him at my 75th birthday party last month, we talked on the phone beforehand and I emailed him about it but he never showed up and I missed him being there.

But that had been my experience when we were teenagers as well. Sometimes he just wouldn't show and no questions would be asked. Only a few months earlier, he had called me and said he was just thinking back on the old days and there weren't many people around who were there except us. We talked for a long time about those who were gone or we'd lost touch with, had some laughs, and some quiet moments. It was a good, loving conversation that I am now very grateful we had.

Kenneth Graham (as he chose to call himself on his Facebook page) was a calming presence everywhere he went and will be remembered for being an exceptionally decent and kind person. My condolences to all his family and friends.

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