Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Floor Recognizes the Gentleman at the Back of the Room

Every organization or group - irrespective of its size, composition or stated purpose - needs a leader. No door is big enough for everyone to fit through at once. Someone has to be the first one through the door. In the disparate collection of personalities sewn together solely by genetic material that is known as the "Kenny Children", my big brother Bill was the first one through the door.

As the maiden effort in the baby-raising business of Bill & Joan, Inc. he was equal parts prototype and guinea pig. While it would have been nice had he actually bothered to get more than two or three wrong on the entire SAT (it was fun [NOT] all those years later to hear Dad grill first Kara and then Jill on just how tremendous a score Bill had achieved and how disappointed he would likely be by their efforts....mercifully (for me anyway) he died years before I sat for mine), it was of tremendous benefit to those of us at the back of the line that first dealt with WPK, SR as a father years before we had to. I have heard the stories. I know now what I missed. I regret having missed exactly none of it.

He is the person who decided that the youngest of his five younger siblings, a big-headed, epilepsy-affected little doofus who looks remarkably like the big-headed, quickly-graying doofus who stares back at me in the bathroom mirror every morning, would learn to read at an early age. He was also the one who taught me - at the ripe old age of two. Some of the happiest memories of my childhood are of afternoons spent at the Rutgers University library with Bill and his friends as he taught me everything that one could learn from The New York Times. I entered kindergarten the year Bill graduated from Rutgers and while - deep in the throes of epilepsy - I was the leading candidate to be picked last for every athletic and/or quasi-athletic activity in which Mrs. Spaeth required us to participate, I was also the only member of my class who knew what our reported troop strengths were in Vietnam and why McGovern's odds of getting elected President of the United States were so laughable that Ron Paul seems like a chalk pick in comparison. The lack of progress I have made in the past forty-three years in terms of my comprehension and aptitude is something for which the blame rests squarely upon me. The introduction into a world where knowledge was treasured and actively pursued is something for which the credit rests equally well upon him.

We are a diverse and divergent sextet, the now-grown offspring of WPK, SR. and Joanie K. We have far more differences than similarities as a troupe. I suppose that a significant reason for that divergence is that our 'rents really had us as two separate trios with there being a four-year break between the arrival of the first trio's final member (Kelly) and the second one's first member (Kara). We were raised in what were for all intents and purposes different households, which were shaped by the times in which we were kids and - candidly - the economic circumstances in which Mom and Dad found themselves. Those of us at the back end also experienced at least a taste of what it was like to live in a single-parent household when Dad died in May, 1981. We are the same. We are also markedly different.

From the back of a long line of older siblings, one develops a certain comfort level. The scar tissue that those who preceded you through a particular phase of life acquired along their journey serves to protect you and to keep you safe and sound - at least to a degree. As the lead dog on the team, Bill had just the opposite experience. No one led him through the hole the way in which a fullback or a pulling guard might lead a running back. His playbook had a lot of sneaks and naked bootlegs in it. He was called upon to make his own way, to achieve his own success.

He did so. And in so doing he left a trail that even the tailgunner - way back here at the end of the production line - can see. He taught the rest of us that while life is indeed lived forward, time is also spent looking back over one's shoulder to cast a protective eye on those who are following behind you. For we know not where are are going once we lose sight of the place from which we started our journey.

Happy Birthday to my big brother Bill. A million years ago he taught me the first big lesson of my life: how to read. In the four and a half decades since the lessons have not stopped. Whether I have learned them well is open for debate. I have always done what I can.

And I shall keep on walking....

....just as a very wise man taught me to do.


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