Trumpets bellow their warning from miles away, reverberating off the concrete grid of streets and buildings. The city yawns wide engulfing the sound. Crowds dwindle to a lone pair of footsteps echoing in the empty chasms. The splendor of the setting sun transposes to harsh patches of yellowed flickering lights. Stifling heat lessens its grip and blankets the ground, the air is still. Bridges span sequentially and illuminate the churning waters below. Horns blare louder, the ground trembles. Beasts of land and water meet, hauling the weight of history, feeding the intricate machines of nature and humankind. At these crossroads, vaulted domes earn their right to stand tall and proud.
Harold Meyers Kimball; aka Harry, Hal, Crash Kimball, Dad, Pumpa and yes even Pumpina. It wasn’t until recently that I was made aware that my brother Greg had invented the name Pumpa when he was just learning to speak. I have known him as Pumpa for all of my life, and had assumed that everybody else did as well.
There is some majesty and grandiosity in the name Pumpa. The mere mention of the name invokes so many memories that it is hard to know where to begin. One of my earliest memories of Pumpa was lighting off fireworks in our backyard in Dixon. Of course, these were not garden variety fireworks, he was a Kimball after all! Let me put it this way; they had to bury a 3 inch diameter metal pipe into the ground to launch these suckers. The launching of each mortar was a test of dexterity, resolve and guts. Add what I’m sure was a few brewskies into the mix, and it made for quite an entertaining show!
Each mortar was different; the “regular” mortars had long wicks that would hang out of the pipe. Pumpa would drop the mortar into the pipe while holding onto the fuse then he would light it once it hit bottom. I remember he always ducked a bit while quickly distancing himself from the launcher as if it increased his chances of surviving if something went wrong. Seconds seemed like minutes as the spark slowly crawled up the side of the pipe and then inside. Greg and I would cringe in anticipation of the launch… BOOM and we would arch back to look at the dazzling lights in the sky. Some mortars had shorter fuses which would sometimes require two people to manage, one to hold the fuse and drop it as soon as the other had lit it. As soon as it did light, it always seemed to surprise them both as they scampered away in the opposite direction quickly followed by… BOOM! Occasionally all the fuss over lighting it was followed by silence with Greg and I still cringing, waiting for the tell-tale sound. When seconds did actually turn to minutes Pumpa would declare “we’ve got a dud!” To which Yaya and Mom would immediately respond with “now be careful!!” This was fascinating to us as we never knew what to expect, and there was the imminent risk of somebody getting hurt! Pumpa would approach with much trepidation. He would tap the pipe with his foot as if to encourage it to come out. Ultimately it would require a splash of whatever liquid was handy, usually beer, to quench our fears of a late launcher. But it was always on to the next, no matter the danger of the one prior. The show stopped only when the mortars ran out, or when the neighbors complained that their roof was on fire – seriously.
Pumpa was very much like those mortars, full of enough potential energy to light up the sky with a show of dazzling beauty. Sometimes his fuse was short while other times we would leave disappointed or frustrated. But we would always return for more because this Kimball could sure put on a spectacular show; filling our nights with expertly told ghost stories, our minds with poetry recounted from memory, our eyes with the art which he loved so dearly, our souls with never ending charity, and our hearts with his unconditional love. Pumpa embodied the all the majesty and grandiosity that his name suggests.
These last months that we were fortunate enough to spend with him were his grand finale, far greater than anything he was able to accomplish before. Each day was a test of dexterity, resolve and guts and he faced it all without ever complaining. The spectators came from far and wide, every one of them touched by Pumpa’s life. Every day he would fill our skies with beauty, leaving us with a finale that we will never forget.
Pumpa, rest easy now as your light will be part of the night sky for eternity.
I attended the wake of a friend today. The last time I had heard from him was just over a year ago – he had sent out an e-mail titled “Important – Tim Butler”. In it, he described his diagnosis and the beginning of his battle with lung cancer. I was so taken aback I had no idea how to respond, I starred the e-mail so that I would respond to it when the news had some time to settle. As time went by, the message made its way to the bottom of my in-box. The few times I would happen by it, I would ponder once again how to respond and save it for another time. As I knelt by his casket I thought I was too late. How could I have waited so long? After sharing my condolences, thoughts and love with his family and friends, I headed home. As evening fell and the events of the afternoon started to sink in, I decided to light a candle in his memory and re-read his message while listening to Adagio for Strings. While reading, a response finally took shape.
The last line he wrote was: “Thank you all and I look forward to laughing about this with you in the future.”
I’ve had your e-mail starred in my inbox for the last year. I keep on beating myself up for not having responded to you sooner. I’m sure you understand that your e-mail totally took me off guard, and I had no idea at all how to react. Your candor, strength, and lightheartedness were at a stark contrast to what you shared with me, I think it goes to show how you will handle this into the future. I sincerely appreciate you including me on this message. Though I was never as close to you as some other mutual friends of ours, I always saw what a good person you are. Not only because of the ways in which our friends respect you, but also because of the way that Peggy adores you! You are very fortunate to have found each other and to have started a family together. She will be by your side through all of this and your relationship will be stronger for it. Your friends and family are here to support you as well – if there is anything I can do, all you need do is ask. I sincerely believe that everything happens for a reason, though it may not be clear now or even down the road, there is a greater plan for us all. It is obvious that you have touched the lives of many people and will continue to do so no matter what the future brings. That being said, I want you to know that I have been keeping you and your family in my prayers and I will continue to do so. I pray that you all have the clarity, strength and lightheartedness that you have already shown. I too look forward to talking to you and laughing about this with you in the future – but take all the time you need, we have all eternity.
Until next time,
I hit send, finishing what I should have long ago, knowing that somewhere in the ether my message will reach its intended destination.
I have just arrived home from the return trip to Minnesota. It has been a long weekend – but it was wonderful to be surrounded by family, and to be there for, and with, each other to celebrate Unky Steve’s life. (we have called my uncles “unky” all of our lives) The funeral service today was beautiful, I can’t imagine a better way to honor his life. Last night I decided to write something to read during his eulogy, as thoughts about his life, and his impact on mine had been swimming in my head for days…
One of my first memories of Unky Steve is at the pool when we lived in Dixon, IL. Unky Steve would demonstrate to us the arcane art of the Cannonball. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Canonball, let me take a moment to describe it. Unky Steve would begin by taking a swig of brewsky, he would then walk confidently onto the diving board, once he got to the edge he would pound on his chest with his hands, then jump as high as he could, grab his legs close to his chest, and attempt to displace as much water as humanly possible. For my brother Greg and I, this was the ultimate spectacle at the pool. We would watch in awe as the resulting splash would send water in all directions, creating waves so large that they would spill over the edge. He would always emerge, vigorously shaking the water off of his head, with a jovial laugh, awaiting the report from us on how high the water went. “It was higher than the fence!!” “It went up to that tree branch over there!!” We were amazed at this talent, and would try to duplicate it ourselves, as Unky Steve would laugh heartily at our attempts while taking another swig of brewsky. Nobody can do the Cannonball like Unky Steve!
Now I see that Unky Steve himself epitomized the Canonball. His voice and his laughter were both explosive and infectious. He made waves wherever he went, his joy of life spilling over and touching the lives of all of those who surrounded him. He would face each challenge by standing at the edge, pounding on his chest, jumping higher than the time before and creating an even larger splash! He was always drinking in life, enjoying every last drop. Those of us that had the fortune to witness it will always strive to duplicate his resolve and his passion for life.
For his last Cannonball, everybody watched. He fought like hell, approached the edge, pounded on his chest saying “come on Kimball”, and then finally jumped higher than he ever has before. When he came down into the water – his waves washed over us all, the resulting splash reached the heavens.
We’ll miss you Unky Steve.
Thank you all for your phone calls, messages, thoughts and prayers – your support has helped me grieve and helped me heal.
Deep thunder rolls as the temperature drops ever so slightly. A cool breeze flows through the open windows. I rush to shut off the lights and twist open the blinds just enough to see the sky – another far off rumble. I wait in silence for a spark to illuminate the heavens. My patience is rewarded with a furious and dazzling flash. I count out the seconds before the thunder tumbles in. The distance is still large. It is followed by a great silence, as if all of nature hushed in respect to the oncoming power. Everything is still. I hear the sound of rushed footsteps passing by trying to outrun the downpour, as others shut their windows. The smell of new rain precedes the droplets. A patter fills the air as the leaves dance with each raindrop’s descent. The sound grows as the rain seeks out every corner – it now permeates the air. Jagged white tears in the sky trigger brighter flashes. A sudden clap of thunder overpowers all other sounds for a brief moment, giving way to the crescendo of the rain tapping perpetually. The water begins to satiate the soil and blanket the sidewalks and roads – the asphalt glimmers under the golden glow of the streetlights. Another sequence of blazing light fills the air and penetrates the room – the resulting rumble enters from all around. The storm is near…
Ok – so if one is to be stranded anywhere, let it be on an island in the Adriatic with perfect weather and a means of getting around! Due to a misunderstanding of the ferry schedule, we were not able to get to Hvar (another island) today as planned. We ended up running around all morning trying to find a solution to this “problem” – then we realized that it was not a problem at all! We headed back to the same home as the day before and asked if we could use the room again, got some supplies (snorkel kits etc…) and headed to the beach! Both beaches were incredible in their own right. We had to traverse miles after miles of vineyards to get to the first beach – but it actually had sand!! The others have been pebble beaches. After a few failed attempts at snorkeling (my training at the Epcot Center didn’t seem to help much) I finally started to get the hang of it! It was amazing seeing this different world come alive in front of my eyes. I was following a few fish for a while, then when I turned around I realized that there were another 20 following me! The water was so clear, it was amazing! But, by far, the best find was when I was just about to head back in to hit the next beach. I saw this large brown object floating in the water – I had no idea what it was. As I approached the details started to emerge – the unmistakable movements got me excited about what I was about to see! As I approached, a beautiful specimen of jellyfish lay before my eyes, with its own entourage of fish keeping it company! I watched it with amazement for at least 10 minutes until I ran out of the water like a little school kid to tell Matt where it was so he could see it. It was quite amazing – yet another reminder of the wonders of the world that continue living and breathing as we struggle through our busy days and crazy schedules…
The second beach was even harder to get to – harder on the car especially! Probably the worst road we had been on yet – in my travels it is tied only with the road to the volcano Cotopaxi in Ecuador! But as was the case in Ecuador, what laid at the end of the road made the annoyance of the voyage a distant memory. The beach was coddled in a large bay at the foot of the mountains of the island. Very isolated, and very few people that could find it as well as put up with the road! It was beautiful and quite relaxing! I think Matt and I have had more than our share of sun for the day though – as my nose has done its Rudolf thing again. Ah well – I’m not going to complain! Tomorrow morning we plan to go on a boat tour and then head to Hvar! Cant wait to share pictures!
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
The weathered paint shows the passing of time. Unseen, just to the right is the date it was painted: 9/96… almost 9 years ago. It is amazing to think how much has changed in that time, more amazing yet to imagine what awaits in the years to come.