IAmNotBritish, episode twenty-five
Happy Brunch Sunday from Cov-ida. Let's raise our mimosas or mugs and clink a cheers to a bit of connection between work, notices and ads in our inbox. Written with a London accent in my head. Reading with an accent is completely voluntary.
This week, New York state issued a health order requiring Floridians landing in their airports to fill out a social tracing form, or face a hearing, a $2,000 fine and a mandatory 14-day quarantine. This online form is also mandatory for car and train travelers. We are not that special--18 other states also must comply when traveling to New York. This form will also be used in New Jersey and Connecticut.
So that's awesome.
I am practicing a little mantra when faced with a challenging minute: "This is not an emergency." Mental dramas from years gone by emerge and make mostly neutral interactions and circumstances very colorful. Our brains LOVE to play in this way. (Chuckle.)
Heavier, harder circumstances, certainly, have not paused for a commercial break: non-covid medical and mental illness, relationship issues, buffering our feelings with ice cream or alcohol. This week, all of these things have come to stay in our home.
In last week's email, I took a moment for those who have passed before. I had no idea. This week our family adds one more to that number.
This is my space, so I'll say a little bit about Ken. He was my brother-in-law. I met him in the kitchen of the Maple Lane house in Provo, Utah. He was stirring red Jello gelatin powder into boiling water in a bowl, adding ice. I didn't know what autism was back then. He always gave me socially appropriate greetings, and would answer my questions with short replies, at first. Over the few weeks before I married his youngest brother, I learned which questions to ask to get more detailed responses. Ken was excited to talk about the things he loved.
One day, I was riding the bus after a college class across town, and walked past Ken, sitting in the front side "disability" seating. I was excited and sat next to him and said hello. He clutched his bag. He did not recognize me. Our relationship was contextualized. He had always seen me in their home, never on a bus. Ken seemed to be getting more upset at my presence, so I apologized and sat in the back. We never talked about it, and the next time I saw him, we picked up as if it never happened.
At a reception after I married Steve, Ken hugged me.
When we had our son, Ken held him. Five years later, he held our daughter too.
Ken watched our son as he grew, chuckling. Ken chuckled.
We moved away a year after our daughter was born, but saw him when we would visit most Christmases while the kids were small.
Ken sent me e-cards through email most years after we moved away. He loved funny cards.
On a visit, Ken gave our son, who had been diagnosed with a milder autism, two favorite Looney Tunes DVDs. We pulled those out this week.
I bought Jello chocolate pudding cups. None of us like gelatin very much.
Steve's family has been mine since 1994. I lived nearby his parents for eight years--eight years of Sunday dinners, holiday gatherings, weekly Grandma Days for my son, 9/11 Day, holding my new daughter. I picked my Mom-in-law's brain repeatedly about our son's behavior as compared to Ken's when he was a child. After our son's Asperger's diagnosis in 2004, we talked about it more often. She shared stacks of school papers and drawings Ken had made. She assured me that our son, her first grandchild, was exhibiting much milder characteristics and that Steve and I were doing a great job as his parents. We laughed loudly about the endearing things our sons did. She is my mother and Ken was my brother. I will miss him.
My heart is completely with his brothers and sister, and both his parents. And, of course, my husband. Here is the obituary Steve wrote for Ken:
"Kenneth Carl Whiting
March 12, 1962 – July 16, 2020
Kenneth Carl Whiting, died unexpectedly after a brief illness on July 16, 2020 in Provo, Utah. Ken was born on March 12, 1962 in Lansing, Michigan to his surviving parents Gordon and Barbara Whiting. He lived a remarkable life, worthy of celebration and remembrance.
Ken had high functioning autism at a time when few knew what autism was or how to navigate it, and it was a major part of his life. It created a myriad of challenges for him that he managed with great courage and strength, but it was also an integral part of him and of making him the wonderful, eccentric, kind, loving, and generous person that he was.
Ken had a rare combination of frugality and generosity. Over many decades, he was a hard-working, dependable employee, and though he never took home large paychecks, he always prepared for the future and became financially independent. His crowning financial victory, at which he never ceased to chuckle, was the day he paid off the mortgage on his own condo and finally “stuck it to the bank!” Ken was a faithful contributor to his church, and generously supported local charities to help the homeless and the poor. Though he refused to part with his 30+ year old, run down couch, he considered himself the luckiest person in the world and found great joy in his few possessions while always looking for ways to help others.
Ken possessed a remarkable memory for facts and figures of all varieties: fascinating, important, absurd and mundane! In an age before the Internet, he served for family and friends as a sort of personal Wikipedia. If you needed to know what day was Constitution Day in Norway, Ken could inform you without effort that it’s May 17. If you have forgotten or never knew, Ken could remind you that Harrison was the ninth president, between Van Buren and Tyler, and that he only served a record short 31 days in office. Whatever the topic, in those days where one couldn’t simply Google the answer, asking Ken was just as effective. More recently, he was known to regularly beat Apple’s “Siri” to the punch when it came to queries of all varieties.
He was a great lover of cinema. In the days before streaming services and on demand, Ken’s love of movies led him to one of the few financial indulgences he allowed himself of collecting videos. Over the years he developed a vast and carefully curated collection of movie titles that he loved to share and enjoy together with family and friends. He joyed in hosting movie nights, in serving as master of ceremonies, and in choosing or providing viewing recommendations. Movie nights with Ken might feature high-brow work from the likes of Orson Wells, Ingmar Bergman, or Akira Kurosawa, but could just as easily feature the silly or absurd films of John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, or Chuck Jones. His tastes were eclectic and broad, but more than anything he joyed in exposing a friend or family member to something new.
He will be sorely missed by his parents, siblings, cousins, nephews, nieces and friends."
Until next time,