Saturday, April 25, 2009

A rogue and a scoundrel?



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)
BLANK
Kicked out of the home at 14
Hard-drinking days
BLANK
Drafted
Serves (in more ways that one--a story to tell later) in World War II and Korea
BLANK
Earns degree in chemistry
BLANK
Marriage #1
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
Divorce #2
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)
Marriage #3
Earns tenure
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
Retires early
Moves close to sister and mother
BLANK
Dies

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.

It worked.

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

18 comments:

Pyzahn said...

What a fascinating man. So many twists and turns, but obviously quite brilliant and complex. Was he interesting to be around, or too involved in his pursuits?

I look forward to hearing more.

david mcmahon said...

Aye, there are many things that books can tell you about a man.

This is probably the most fascinating thing I've read today.

Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner said...

His daughter is just as curious and amazing. :-)

Erin Davis said...

What a treasure you found among your father's books! You do such a wonderful job of using the timeline to paint a picture of this enigmatic man. Thanks for sharing!

Merisi said...

Your father seems to have borne the cross of genius, which makes it hard to lead an ordinary life. Leaving the journal probably was his way of trying to give you a key to the mystery of his meanderings. Being such a curious and intelligent person he must himself have wondered about so many things in his own life.

Congratulations on winning David's Authorblog Post of the Day Award, so reachly deserved! Thank you both for giving me the opportunity to read your story today!

recipes for the life said...

Wow!!Your father had such a colorful life.And you told it so well.

Congrats for winning POTD at Authorblog.

Sandi McBride said...

I'm sure you know that all of our fathers are mysteries to us, who chose what morsel of information about their lives to share and usually at the most unexpected times. I'm so glad that you found what he wanted you to find...just his way of revealing, as it were, himself one last time.
Congratulations on Post of the Day from David...
Sandi

Gaston Studio said...

I concur with Merisi... and congratulations on the POTD award! A fascinating post.

Jewels said...

Wonderful post! What a treasure that journal must be to your and yours.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Awesome...he sounds a bit like my dad...and as I have been working on writing a post about him, this is extraordinarily inspiring for me...on so many, many levels!!!! Congrats on POTD!!! Very well deserved! So glad to have "met" you and your wonderful blog!

Grace Albaugh said...

Hello to a fellow Minnesotan. What a wonderful post. The things we learn about our fathers. My post yesterday was also about my father. I lost him when I was 8. Much too early. Thank you for sharing a piece of your dad with us. Well deserved for POTD!

Tranquility said...

Oh my... your dad sounds very interesting. I'm so intrigued and I hope you are able to learn more and fill in some of those blanks - could make for an great novel (or movie) someday!

I've been doing some reading lately about great leaders in our history - it seems that the ones who really stand out were also some of the most intriguing and complex personalities. It sounds like your dad could easily fall into that group.

Cheffie-Mom said...

Wonderful, wonderful post! Congrats on the Post of the Day Award from authorblog. BTW - I live in East Texas. Stop by my blog anytime.

♥ bfs~"Mimi" ♥ said...

Seems like he was searching for much of his life, doesn't it? Fathers. We adore them. We fear them. We question the why of them.

Congratulations on your POTD!! I hope it has felt as wonderful for you as it did for me when I was honored. Just fabulous! To spill your heart and then feel the ♥ for doing so!

Well done!!!

Pouty Lips said...

This is a wonderful post about your daddy. Coincidentally I was mentioned today in David's POTD list for a post about my daddy. (Twilight Zone theme playing)

lakeviewer said...

I came in from David's post. Congratulations on catching his attention and his shout-out.

Kathleen said...

Dear friends--

Today is my birthday, and I cannot begin to describe what a gift it's been to read your thoughtful comments. I was so surprised to see you all and I had no idea how wonderful it would be find the supportive and insightful words you gave me. Please come back and visit again. I guarantee you I'll be stopping by your blogs soon.
Warm regards--

Pyzahn--oh, yes...he was quite interesting to be around, except when he'd get angry. But he had a hilarious sense of humor. He called his toupe, for example, his divit!

David, David, David--you made my day! Left you a verse today in gratitude!

JGW--Shhh...you know me too well! I am SO happy to see you in the blogshere again. I missed you terribly, like Eric. Your posts just amaze me. Hope you'll write about your trip. And I hope you're feeling better very soon. I heart you!!!!

Erin--Thank you...that little piece has been lurking around in my head a long time. So glad to get it out of there! So kind of you to take the time to read it and comment. I'm honored.

Merisi--Welcome! I do believe you know my father better than I do. Thank you for your insight, so beautifully stated. I look forward to reading your blog. Please come back and visit again.

Recipes--Thank you for your visit and your kind words. There's SO much more to say about my rogue and scoundrel father. I appreciate your encouragement. I look forward to visiting your blog and hope you'll come back again soon.

Sandi -- Wow! What an interesting observation. So fascinting to think he took the chance of me finding his journal this way, never having said a word to me about it. I've always envied little girls whose fathers seemed, well, more fatherly. But I'm beginning to understand what a rare man I had in my life. Funny how it takes so many years to stop being mad long enough to open up to understanding. Thanks for visiting.

Gaston Studio -- Welcome! I'm so honored that you visited--and commented. I look forward to visiting your blog. I hope you'll come back again.

Jewels -- Thank you! Sometimes I wonder if I should post some of his entries. At the very least, I should photocopy it, eh? Hope you'll come back again. I look forward to visiting your blog.

Sniffles--So glad to have "met" you as well! I look forward to reading your blog and seeing your post about your father. Isn't it wonderful how blogging helps us help each other? Hope you'll come back again!

Grace -- Welcome, fellow Minnesotan. I will pop over to your blog and read your post about your father. Maybe it'll help me continue to unravel this mystery! Where in Minnesot are you? Are you originally from this state? Hope you'll visit again before long.

Tranquility--Your comments made me cry. Thank your for sharing your observation. My tears are about not being wise enough early enough to have appreciated who he was. I wish I'd been more compassionate, and less annoyed. Better late, than never, eh? And thanks for the encouragment to keep writing about my father. Come back soon, OK?

Cheffie-Mom--Welcome! Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. You live in East Texas? Do you have a receipe for "Couvian" (sp?) or gumbo sans tomatos? Do you live near Lufkin? Nagadoches? Ever met any Pixleys? I adored my Uncle Wayne who lived near Lufkin. We used to play a game called Wahoo...ever heard of it! Can't wait to read your blog!

Mimi -- Good gracious! You are so right! I don't believe I've ever see father issues explained so poetically. And yes, it did feel like spilling my heart. But it was time. And your comments and those of others have been so inspiring. I will pay a visit to you blog. What post was POTD? I want to to go straight to it!

Pouty lips -- Wow! That is quite a coincidence! But wait--I'm not so sure anymore that I believe in coincidence. I can't wait to read the post David mentioned in POTD. Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I'll be in touch!

Lakeviewer -- Welcome! Thank you for visiting and commenting. I'm so honored you stopped by. I'll be paying a visit to your blog as well.

Derrick said...

Hi Kathleen,

Just following your trail from the Sunday Roast interview! This is one I missed. Your Father does indeed sound fascinating; not always easy but fascinating.

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