Words usually come easy for me, but that is not the case today. My brother-in-law Kevin passed away unexpectedly Thursday night, and I don’t know how to describe how much my heart aches for my sister Julie and their three amazing children.
Kevin was probably the most curious person I’ve ever known. If I said that to him now, he’d probably say, “Why do you think that is?” If I ordered a Dr. Pepper with lunch, here’s what I imagine him saying. “You really like Dr. Pepper, don’t you? Why do you think that is? Is there something about Dr. Pepper that tastes that much different to you? Or do you just like the name? Do you think you would like it if it was called Dr. Salt? What makes it better than Coke or Pepsi? Would you say it’s your favorite drink of all time? What would you do if there was suddenly no Dr. Pepper left anywhere in the world?” And he would truly want to know the answer to each of those questions.
I don’t have a problem coming up with words to describe Kevin. Adjectives abound. Loving, kind, devout, charming, funny, smart, artistic, spontaneous, energetic, creative, handsome, ornery, athletic, adventurous, engaged, engaging, musical, sincere. My sister asked him to a Sadie Hawkins’ dance in high school, and he’s been part of our lives ever since. They celebrated their 35th anniversary last November.
You hear about people living life to its fullest, and that’s what Kevin did. He cooked, often describing his actions with a horrible French accent or doing a pretty impressive Julia Childs impression. He played golf, tennis and, at least once that I know of, croquet in the rain. He skied. He rode a motorcycle. He danced. He told jokes and loved puns. He would try anything. He loved to tinker, build and rebuild. He built an airplane in their basement. You don’t say that about many people. You never knew what he’d be doing when you showed up at their house, but he always made you glad you came.
I lived with Kevin and Julie in Rolla the summer after my freshman year in college. Kevin and I took summer school classes and he helped me survive calculus. He drove us to class each morning in an old Opal that was probably the sketchiest car in rural Missouri, which is saying a lot. The ignition had broken at some point and he decided that using a pair of scissors was the answer. Then the tip of the scissors broke off in the ignition, so we had to use that exact pair of scissors to start it. Didn’t really have to worry about anyone stealing that car. That was the year that MTV was born, and we watched it on TV, along with the Cajun Cooker and Bob Ross, the guy with the afro who taught painting on PBS.
We went to St. Louis to tour the brewery that summer and stayed with their neighbor’s mom. Her name Weva and she fixed us ground-beef-and-sugar omelets for breakfast. She was known thereafter as Weva Basket and we laughed about that nickname and those omelets years to come. “Weva me awone” was always good for some chuckles.
Like his dad and brother, Kevin loved to fly, which helps explain the airplane in the basement. He worked for Braniff, TWA and American Airlines, and was a flight instructor when he was furloughed after September 11. That, combined with his curiosity and love for adventure, led to some pretty amazing travel opportunities for the whole family.
It also led to one of the best worst weekends of life. I should begin by admitting I don’t like to fly and I get motion sickness thinking about it. Before we all had kids, Kevin flew me, Julie and Scott to the Lowery family lake house. Longest flight of my life. I shook the whole way and actually turned green. He let Scott take the controls at one point and I had an out-of-body experience I’ll never forget.
Once we’d landed and I was able to walk, Julie and I took the station wagon they kept at the house to the grocery store. There was a hornets’ nest inside the wagon, then the engine died…twice. The second time was right in front of a big “Beware of Dog” sign. That’s probably the fastest that Julie and I have ever run. Then Kevin and Scott decided they could teach me to water ski. (This was not the first time Scott had tried this, to no avail.) After many attempts, I was floating along at the end of the rope and another boat came speeding through between me and the boat. So much for skiing. After all of that, we still had to get into that tiny airplane and fly back to Kansas City. Despite the near-death experiences, real and imagined, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat as long as Kevin was there.
My favorite Kevin story, I think, is the first time he convinced my sister that there was a bear in their St. Louis backyard on April Fools Day. I say first time, because he was somehow able to do it three more times. (Sorry, sis.) The last time, he had their daughter Emma hide in the woods with a string tied to a bush. She wiggled it on command and he got Julie on video saying, “It’s a BEAR!”
Kevin never met a stranger and I can’t imagine that anyone he met ever forgot meeting him. Mostly because of the questions he asked. “Is that a good book? Do you like that author? Why do you think that is?”
He told the best stories, played games he made up, built forts and, with my sister, raised three wonderful kids. He saw all three get married within the past two years and welcomed his namesake and first grandchild into the world earlier this year. He loved them all fiercely. Though there is an indescribable hole in each of their hearts right now, Kevin is alive in each of them. And I know that we are all better people because of him. I don’t know why God called him back now, but I am sure he’s already entertaining the other angels and asking lots of questions. “These wings work? We can fly? Why do we have two wings? Do Angels ever get propellers? Where can I find the stuff to build propellers?”
It’s a cliché, but it’s true: Life is short. Make the most of it. Love your family and friends with all of your heart. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Make a stranger laugh. Dance until the band goes home. Play croquet in the rain. And raise a glass to Kevin.