My great-uncle Kenneth died 40 years before I was born. So I couldn’t tell you how his laugh sounded, or what color his eyes were or anything like that. But I don’t hesitate when I say that Uncle Kenneth has been part of my life from my earliest memories.
Kenneth Boone was killed in action while serving in World War II. He was the oldest of my grandmother’s six siblings. For as long as I have been coming to my grandparents’ house in North Austin a portrait of him as hung on their living room wall. I have spent inumerable hours in that room opening Christmas presents, watching football, and horsing around. Inevitably my eye will fall on the picture of the soldier staring down at me and I often have found myself wondering who Uncle Kenneth really was.
Family is and always has been a central part of Christmas. My extended family, including my grandmother, her six children, 14 grandchildren and a handful of great-grandchildren also comes together for Easter and Thanksgiving. But having family around is just more special at Christmas. I know that’s schmaltzy, but it just is. It makes sense if you think about. Christmas celebrates the birth of a child, the creation of a family.
But just as central as that sense of togetherness is a rememberance of those in our family who are no longer with us. My grandfather passed away soon after Christmas in January of 2000. He always had this special prayer we would say at Christmas, and we still call it “Pop’s Prayer.” So I wanted to take a little time during my Christmas weekend to remember Uncle Kenneth as well.
A couple weeks ago my Dad and I were up in Austin having breakfast with Grandma. My cousin, Kimberly, is dating a tank commander in the Army. We imagine it’s only a matter of time before he’s deployed.
“I guess that we’ve never had to deal with that, having someone in our family serving overseas,” my Dad said.
“I have,” Grandma said, quietly.
She doesn’t talk much about Uncle Kenneth. She has been through a lot in her life and is a very tough lady. But five decades later the loss of her oldest brother is keenly felt.
As the oldest male child in a farming family, he could have gotten out of or at least delayed his enlistment. In fact, my great-grandfather had the papers. My grandmother’s family lived in a “holler” in rural Kentucky, and the sons of several other nearby families had delayed enlistment. Despite my great-grandmother’s wishes, Kenneth insted my great-grandfather not sign the papers. He wanted to serve.
Kenneth came home on leave in 1942, at the same time that Bing Crosby realeased his famous rendition of “White Christmas.” My Grandma said that he liked to sit by the radio and listen to that song, and she told me that she always thinks of him when she hears it.
When Kenneth would come back in from some carousing with his friends, he would always crack the screen door and say, “Momma, I’m home.” Great-grandma Boone continued to hear that, years after he died in February of 1945.
As I write this I am sitting in an easy chair in Grandma’s living room. Uncle Kenneth’s picture hangs beside me. In a couple of hours we are going to eat a boisterous dinner and open presents. We are going to laugh at the same stories we always laughed at, and because this is the Blair family, we are going to make crude jokes not befitting of the occassion. We are going to remember all those who are not with us. I have Uncle Kenneth to thank for that.
Merry Christmas to everyone, and especially our military families. God Bless.