Two Hundred Ten.
Sunday, 2017.12.03, 12:21 PM CST.
better with gravy" - regarding the death of my father, William
L. "Jack" Kelley.
Current Mood: Pensive and full
of memories, but optimistic.
Current Scent: The Dreamer by Versace.
is a very special update, and it's one that I've actually held off on
posting for a very long time. Seven years, in fact, without posting
about it publicly here or on my Facebook
page. Hopefully you will understand why, once I explain it here.
dad died in 2010.
years ago today, on my thirty-ninth birthday, a Tulsa police chaplain
showed up at my door at around 6:00 PM. She had my wife take our
then-three-year-old son, X, into his bedroom. Then, the chaplain
sat down in our living room and told me the news that I already knew
was coming, kind of:
father was found dead."
I was expecting "your father passed away" or "your father
died today." I wasn't expecting "found dead."
That made it sound like he had been found in the parking lot of one
of the casinos he frequented, stabbed to death in a botched mugging
or something. Fortunately, that was not the case.
a quick bit of questioning on my part, the chaplain explained that Dad
had been "found dead" in his home, his body discovered by
his next-door neighbor, whom we had known for over thirty years.
had collapsed in front of his refrigerator, dead from cardiorespiratory
failure. I have often said that the only thing that would have
made it a more perfect death for him would have been if he'd been holding
a handful of bacon. He loved bacon.
my dad was to me.
dad was a bigot, a bit of traditionalist country boy, an obsessive family
historian, and an man of strong, unrefined opinions which often contradicted
feel the need to point out that there's nothing wrong with just being
a "country boy" or, in many ways, a traditionalist... or a
family historian, for that matter.)
also had quite a temper. He often seemed to possess the belief
that he could win arguments with me by simply interrupting me and being
louder, and at one point in a particular argument, when Dad had had
me crying almost to the point of hyperventilating, my mom had to advise
him to calm down because she was afraid that he was pushing me into
a nervous breakdown.
that being said... Dad was also a very hard worker and extremely
dedicated to his family. Despite our differences and the times
that he yelled at me, he loved me and my mom very much, and he did everything
he could to provide for us. While I didn't love a lot of his viewpoints,
I loved him.
often described my dad as a "medical train wreck." At
the time of his death at 77, he had battled his way through diagnoses
of diabetes, emphysema, congestive heart failure, at least two heart
attacks that I knew of, lymphatic cancer, and - towards the end - glaucoma.
He had stopped smoking (almost entirely) in the late 1980s, but the
damage was already done. In his final years, he had to carry around
an oxygen tank wherever he went, but he still loved to socialize so
much that he would usually go to the casinos two to three times on an
average week, mainly to shuffle around and talk to people he knew.
didn't seem to have the attention span to watch most television programs
or movies, but he could usually watch documentaries about wars or the
mafia without any issue. Oh, and he loved "The Honeymooners."
I rarely heard him laugh as much as he would when Ed Norton and Ralph
Kramden would do something stupid that would result in calamity.
like all people, dad had good and bad qualities. The good ones
didn't make the bad ones magically "okay," nor will I ever
pretend that they did. But, he meant well, especially for his
most precious memory of my dad.
I mentioned before, my
dad passed away on my birthday. Can you imagine that? Happy
birthday, William. Here are your presents. By the way, fifteen
minutes later, someone's going to show up to tell you that your dad's
hadn't spoken with Dad on the phone all day, which had already seemed
odd. We normally talked at least once every two days, and he wouldn't
have missed my birthday.
the chaplain delivered the news, I wasn't shocked in the least.
I didn't cry at first. I felt like I probably seemed cold in not
doing so, but I had been expecting his death for a long time.
I hadn't been wishing for it, but I'd been expecting it.
And then, while the chaplain sat there, possibly surprised that I was
taking the news so well, I finally thought of one particular memory
that made me break down and weep.
dad teaching me to ride a bike when I was around eight.
parents didn't believe in training wheels. They forced me to learn
to ride a bike without them. Dad would walk behind me, following
as I pumped those pedals on my little Huffy while he held the back of
the bike... and, eventually, once I developed the confidence and balance,
he started letting go without telling me. I would look behind
me and he'd still be walking, but his hand would be off the back of
the bicycle seat. He was quietly letting go in a way that minimized
my fear until I could really grasp that I could "do it."
And then, I would proudly tell him, "Look, Daddy... I'm doing
it by myself. I'm riding all by myself."
memory - that one right there - that is probably my most cherished memory
of my dad. It still makes me cry. Pretty much every time,
including right now. Dad's dedication to helping me ride the bike,
and the time he took in doing so, was unusual.
Dad and I on Christmas
and my childhood.
here's another thing about my dad... After I grew past my toddler
years, the concept of interacting with his son kind of lost its novelty
dad was an aircraft mechanic, and he made a decent living. We
weren't "rich," but we did pretty well. My mom was a
stay-at-home mom - what some would call a "homemaker" - and
she busted her ass around the house. They were both hard workers
in their own way.
would get up obscenely early in the morning, take a trip to work in
a special carpool van, work like mad, then come home. Once he
was home, he usually either slept or went to a friend's house to hang
out or work on lawnmowers. During my early childhood, I missed
out on a lot of potential memories with him.
didn't make time to play with me much. That was mom's responsibility.
She watched TV with me, watched movies with me, played board games with
me, and played video games with me. Dad bought me a baseball bat,
ball, and glove... but I think he and I may have played with them less
than a half dozen times. That was how things were. Spending
time with me wasn't much of a priority most of the time.
were special, though. On Friday (sometimes Saturday), both of
my parents and I would head into Tulsa and Dad would buy us dinner -
maybe at Godfather's Pizza, maybe at Furr's Cafeteria, maybe at Bill
+ Ruth's, etc.
those trips to Tulsa, he would usually buy me something - like a new
toy, or a new magic trick when I was getting into performing "magic"
(still a fascination of mine), or, later, a new Atari cartidge or computer
game. I had an "allowance," but if I didn't quite have
enough for something, he would often go ahead and splurge for it.
was spoiled. I know this, and while I know that I took it for
granted at the time, I really learned to appreciate it later on.
I don't beat myself up for being spoiled, but I acknowledge that I had
a lot of advantages that most kids didn't have.)
the moneymaker, dad made sure that we had a roof over our heads and
food on the table. He put aside a good chunk into savings, which
then got used on things like our trip to Walt Disney World around 1980,
my first Atari 2600 in 1981, my TRS-80 Color Computer (for which they
paid thousands) in 1982, or my Apple IIe (for which they again paid
thousands) in 1985. Those last two weren't just seen as toys;
they were seen as investments in my future, because Mom and Dad knew
that I would be able to learn more about computers if we owned them.
know now that Dad was using money as a way to help make up for not spending
time with me. At least, I strongly theorize that that was the
good thing that I can consistently say about his interactions with me
during my youth... unless we were arguing, he would make a point of
telling me that he loved me and that he was proud of me, especially
for my academic achievements. I was an only child, and Dad constantly
carried around a few pictures of me to show off. He would tell
his friends how proud of me he was. Heck, he would tell my
friends how proud of me he was. To this day, DJ TMJ - whom I introduced
to my dad when I was 23 - still occasionally breaks out his impersonation
of my dad telling him, "I'm proud of mah boy."
Mom, Dad, and I in late 1990/early
dad's involvement in my becoming a DJ.
though we were very different people, dad usually went along with my
mom in supporting my creative endeavours.
1989, as many of you know, my high school friend Dave French, who had
taught me about DJing during my time with his mobile DJ company, had
to move away for college. My parents had noticed that I had become
more and more social as I had helped Dave with the DJ events, and they
believed that my high intellect (I was "gifted") might alow
me to do well at running a business, could so they talked about it and
offered to help me start my own DJ company.
their financial backing, I wouldn't have been able to start EKG Mobile
Music later that year. With Dave's knowledge/support and my parents'
extremely kind financial assistance, I started running my own DJ company
at the age of seventeen.
the kind of kindness I would never be able to repay - and the kind that
I'll never forget.
Dad also insisted on helping drive equipment around, helping to set
up and tear down gear for practically every EKG performance from 1989
until the final one in 2002. He would then either head out to
visit nearby friends, or - in many cases - he would stick around at
the event, either resting in the car or making small talk with the people
(i.e., school sponsors) who had hired me.
was sometimes a little embarrassing, but I'm pretty sure that I know
what he was really trying to do - make up for lost time. Dad hadn't
been around so much when I was a younger kid, so now that I had the
DJ business, he was trying to find a way to spend more time helping
me as a way to compensate for his relative absence during my childhood.
any of those old customers are reading this and were ever bothered by
dad's presence at my events, I'm sorry... but I assure you that he really
had a slight bit of obsessive-compulsive disorder when it came to electricity.
He often feared that if he didn't make absolutely sure that certain
light switches were turned off when he left the house, he was at risk
of burning the house down. A number of times, in the early morning
hours, I woke up to see him in the hallway, holding his fingers down
on the light switches to our main bathroom... then walking away and
walking back to touch them again, then again... just to make 100% sure
that those switches were off.
child of the Great Depression era, Dad had gone through an extremely
poor childhood; he would often say, "We were so poor the poor people
called us poor." Dad occasionally relished being able to
talk about the details of the grotesque things that he ate when he was
a child, i.e., squirrel brains and eggs.
dad was one of the very few people who could call me "Billy"
without irritating me. His other nicknames for me were mainly
derivatives of "Bill" - "Billy Boy," "Bull,"
"Bullet," "Bulletto," and the ever-popular "Bobo."
a number of my friends have told me that I should write a book of my
dad's unusual sayings ("dad-isms," which I'm sure isn't too
unique of a term). Here are a few of them:
something was really bothering me - for instance, if I were afraid of
not doing well at a school assignment or failing at something at work
- he would say, "They cain't eat ya." (I still hear
that one in my head often.)
I didn't think that I would be able to finish something and I was really
distraught over it: "Do what you can; hell with the rest."
insignificant was "a popcorn fart in a whirlwind."
he had just gotten done eating a big meal: "I could roll
faster than I could walk."
finally, one of my favorites: "Everything's better with gravy."
He like practically all fried foods, loved pork products, and he possessed
a special degree of adoration for almost all types of gravy.
is important to note that during my dad's funeral service, the minister
to whom I had given my eulogy for my father ended up bungling
it. She incorrectly read from the written page that my dad used
to say "Everything's better than gravy" - a completely
opposite sentiment than he had held! I still cringe thinking of
that moment in the funeral. I should have spoken up.)
I took so long to post this.
my dad died, he left behind a house full of stuff, a fairly long drive
from where I lived. So, any trip to dad's house was already a
pain due to the distance. At first, it was additionally painful
to go out there because both my parents were now dead. Then, it
was even more additionally painful because there was so much stuff to
didn't post about his death publicly because I was continuously afraid
that someone who knew where we iived would break into his house and
help themselves to some of the property in the house. So, I didn't
want to just come out and advertise that the owner of a house full of
possibly valuable property was no longer around.
last year, some thieves eventually broke in; that's a story for another
day, but at least I can happily report that not much was stolen.)
started referring to the house itself as "the albatross" -
a reference to the large bird from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,"
which (spoiler alert) the protagonist kills, after which he is forced
to wear the albatross' corpse on a chain around his neck as a punishment,
dragging it around everywhere he goes.
subject of the house eventually became intensely sensitive; I didn't
like talking about it or even thinking about it. As time went
on, I would even have a hard time enjoying meetings with friends or
entire holiday seasons, because I would keep thinking about the fate
of the house and all the work that would have to go into getting it
year, I finally started entertaining a deal with a longtime family friend
to sell him the house so that he could fix it up and start renting it
out. We made it official earlier this year.
the time the friend has been renovating it this year, he has been kind
enough to let me continue to visit the house and remove anything I wanted,
room by room. As time has passed, he has made the decision that
instead of renting it out, he would be better off simply "flipping"
it and selling it for a profit. I respect that and have no problem
with his decision whatsoever.
I'm happy to report that I'm about to go extract the last carload of
items that I wish to keep from the house. I didn't have a long-term
goal of intentionally achieving this on the anniversary of my dad's
death... but it's very liberating to know that my part will finally
be "done" on this very special day, and to finally be able
to publicly post something like this blog entry.
albatross is no longer so much of a factor in my life any more, though
I may still go out to visit it and soak in the memories now and then
before it sells. Until that point, it is being kept safe and secure,
which takes a load off my mind.
you're looking to puchase a really nice house (three bedrooms, one and
a half bathroom, with lots of brand-new decor, a large shed, and a storm
cellar) in the Claremore area, please feel free to get
in touch with me and I'll be happy to point you in the right direction.
dad was far from perfect. He had some egregious flaws and some
very misguided beliefs, but he had some extremely kind qualities as
well. I am doing whatever I can to make myself a better parent,
and a better person, than my dad was.
that being said, as I've stated before, I know that my dad loved me,
I really loved him, and I miss him. I miss him.
of the house corrected from two-bedroom to three-bedroom on 12/14/2017.
(A few words added for context and a bit of grammar corrected on 12/05/2021.)