01 May 2008

Happy Birthday, Kathy (wherever you are)

Today is my big sister's birthday. Kathleen Lenore Munday was born 01 May 1954 in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Here's Kathy Munday in her high school graduation photo (her face is still a little swollen from all the dental surgery following having been hit by a truck):

May first, a good day. May Day, the International Workers Day to celebrate the labor movement. May Day, the pagan holiday--in celebration of which Gramps would say,

Hooray, hooray, it's the first of May.
Outdoor fucking starts today.

Gramps could always get a smile with that, and with his many other witticisms and bawdy songs. Kathy and he would sing "Uncle Mike" at the top of their lungs, shouting out the verses over the noise of the engine that pumped the wells at the oil lease, or over the clatter of the old Willys going down the road. I still laugh to think of it.

For me, though, May 1st not so happy. Not since Kathy seemed to drop off the face of the earth more than fifteen years ago.

She had a tough time of it from day one. Mom and Dad fought a lot, both were alcoholic (Mom especially), there were several older half-siblings from Mom's first marriage, and Mom & Dad were trying to keep an independent trucking business afloat. My first memory is of Kathy coming in to wake me up, taking my hand, and leading me to the top of the staircase where we could peek down into the living room. Dad and Mom were going at it again, yelling and swearing, Dad punched Mom and gave her a bloody nose, and she clobbered him with a wire magazine rack that opened a big slash on his bald head. Kathy was four and I was barely three when the marriage went bust, and Kathy & I went to live with our fraternal grandparents.

Gram and Gramps had always wanted a daughter, and Kathy helped fill that void. But she always longed for Mom & Dad. We saw them both -- Mom on the occasional day visit (often including a drunken visit to the Option House bar) and Dad when he was home from the road (often including a drunken visit to the Italian Club) -- but it wasn't like having them as parents. Kathy & I fought a lot, and I don't know how much of it was our opposed natures, and how much was acting out what we felt in our lives.

By junior high, Kathy was into sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll. I liked books and getting into the woods. Still, we had a mostly good sibling relationship during those years, and I learned a lot that I wouldn't have otherwise. Things like how great the Stones were, and why heroin was a lot worse than pot.

Kathy was very smart and could have done well in her classes at the local University of Pittsburgh branch campus. But rebellion and drugs don't make for college success. Still, she always seemed to maintain, and would pop in and out of my life throughout my high school and college years. She was back home living with Gram after Gramps died, and it was there in the old house at 37 High Street that she met Don, my friend from the MS program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Kathy and Don married, lived near Bradford for a time, and then moved to upstate New York. Kathy Kieffer went back to school, took a degree in nursing, and had some good jobs. But she was still wrestling with some demons, and the marriage and her nursing career did not work out.

Kathy visited with us after Emily was born, and there seemed to be a bond. Emily looked a lot like Kathy at different phases of her life and still does in the right light (and when her anger flares). Soon after that visit, Kathy left upstate New York and none of the family ever heard from her again. Gram, Dad, Mom, and Uncle Jim all longed on their death bed for some news of their darling.

It hurts to remember, but there is also a warm joy in some of those memories. So Happy Birthday, Kathy, wherever you are. And if you ever run across this, please drop me a line.

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