Oh, the tales I could tell about my father. Problem is I don't know them all yet.
His life is a mystery slowing revealing itself to me.
He died in 1993 at age 66 from a heart attack, the kind a pack-a-day of smoking earns you. He died alone, a hermit who had led a fascinating life, then abruptly withdrew from it. From what we've pieced together, he did so to think, and record his thinking, and help administer morphine shots to his dying sister, and be a comfort to his mother when she "survived" the death of her ony daughter to pancreatic cancer.
He died on a Sunday; his body was not found till Thursday. No, not a pleasant scene to enter.
But I'm getting way ahead of myself. And I didn't want to make this a long post. I've had a stranglehold on my keyboard this week, ever since news reports of the swine flu "situation" began to emerge. My job is to help businesses prepare for just such events. (I've got lots of blogvisit catching-up to do, and may for a while.)
Back to Daddy
(Is it a southern belle thing to call your father Daddy? My kids call Mr. B "Pops," which I prefer.)
Daddy's life: an outline
Born in East Texas, Cajun country (close to where pieces of the shuttle landed)
Kicked out of the home at 14
Serves (in more ways that one--a story to tell later) in World War II and Korea
Earns degree in chemistry
Hobby: oil painting
Has son, gets divorced
Meets my mom. Marriage #2.
Two years of medical school at Baylor
Wins fiction short story award from the Atlantic
Has me, surprise!
Hospitalized for months. Why: Semi-BLANK
Drops out of medical school
Switches gears, gets PhD in chemistry.
Dissertation on origins of molecules that make up life on earth
Teaches his 4-year-old to play chess
Ends hard-drinking days
Postdoc work at Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto
Insists his daughter introduce him to her friends as Dr. Kimball
Hobby: reads piles upon piles of science fiction
Takes daughter on Saturdays to look at jewelry, pens, books with his name in them
Claims he's an atheist
Makes yearly retreat with Jesuits
Tries unsuccessfully to teach his 9-year-old how to do calculus
Adopts twice, one girl (half Mexican/half slavic), second girl (half Mexican/half Irish)
Brings home brand new car, never having consulted his wife
Brings home mice to inject 'round the clock for his research
Moves back to Texas for tenure-track position at University of Houston
Hobby: Painting with acrylics
Hobby: Making perfumes
Hobby: Making fudge
Grad students love him, some a bit too much
Very popular lecturer; gets lots of grants, awards, recognition
Hippy stage, wears toupe & denim
Conducts ground-breaking research
Develops drug that cures a form of childhoold leukemia (still used)
Walks first daughter down the aisle
Develops heart troubles; gets angioplasty
Not asked to walk second daughter down the aisle
Walks 3rd daughter down the aisle
Diagnosed with narcolepsy
More heart troubles
Divorces 3rd time
Hopes for Nobel Prize
Does not receive Nobel Prize
Moves close to sister and mother
He didn't have many belongings in his apartment when we 3 sisters arrived to clean it out. He had books, though. Lots of books. Lots of books on dinosaurs. We couldn't find a will. We kept a few of his books and belongings, but his clothes clung to the smell of death, so we couldn't donate them. We did box up most of the books to give to charity.
On the day of his funeral, I decided to go through the boxes of books one last time. Though we'd each flipped through them searching for his will, which we knew he'd been working on, we never found one. In looking for that one thing, though, we missed a few important others.
Until the morning of his funeral.
That soggy August morning in Houston, I walked out to my sister's garage where we'd lined up the boxes. I wanted one last look at his books before they were to leave our sight forever. I ran my fingertips slowly across the terrain of hardback spines. Maybe it was a way of trying to be close to him by touching some thing that he treasured.
To my surprise, I found the following:
Item #1. A King James bible with a card tucked in marking a page. Printed on one side of the card was a picture of St. Francis; the other side held the lovely peace prayer attributed to him. I wished I'd paid attention to the pages the card marked, but that's one mystery that will remain unsolved.
Item #2. A journal he'd kept for 10 years beginning in 1981, when my oldest son was born. The weathered blue canvas cover had a blank spine, perhaps why we missed it. But the first page bears the the following inscription: "To be given to my daugther Kathleen Kimball-Baker, who is instructed after my death to give this to my first grandson, Sean, when she deems him old enough." It is filled with a carefully numbered potpourri of musings, theories about life, observations about society and all sorts of things, quips, and a few choice remarks about women. Just like a scientist to index his observations!
Dr. Kimball always called himself a "rougue and a scoundrel." I am quite sure he was right. But I'm also convinced there's much more to the story.
So much for a short post.
Image 1 by Chemical Heritage Foundation
Image 3 by maximolly
Image 4 by guldfisken
Image 5 by Chocolate Geek