There are few people indeed that one encounters in the course of life that have only one name. The incidence is linked so intrinsically to the gifted and famous I almost hesitate to attempt the analogy. None the less, I will try. There are –
Their fame not withstanding, they were elevated to the status of “one namedness” by the manner in which they lived and by their passions.
Crutch. I wonder how many would know he even died if the obituary read “William J. Kane, Sr.” I can think of few who call him Bill and less that call him William.
So many eulogies seem to be canonizations. Many speakers seem to think that this is the opportunity to promote the certain sainthood of the beloved deceased. That will not happen today. It is simply not possible. Our father was among the most fatally flawed persons I have ever met. His defects and appetites are legendary and were often very hard to experience. He was an alcoholic until the 36th year of my life, finally giving up the bottle largely for good in 1997. The Lucky Strikes and later the Marlboros never really left his right coat pocket. How clearly I recall the distinctive click – click of his Zippo lighter every morning. But so he was flawed, so too he was loved.
And I wonder why.
I spent a lot of time traveling this week and have driven over 2000 miles between Sunday and today. This gave me time to reflect on my life with my father, known to the world as Crutch.
Universally, no one I spoke really believed that he died. He was a crusty, salty Marine if there ever was one and more than once he fought off death with a new drug or heroic procedure or literally a last minute miracle of God worked through the hands of the medical staff of the VA Medical Center or Dr. Fructer here locally. Again and again he not only fought off death, but recovered fully, resuming his travel and lifestyle. Our collective and indescribable thanks go to Dr. Fructer and the VA Medical Staff who attended him with expertise, devotion and even affection.
If there is a common thread in his life, he quite simply never gave up. He fell often but he never stayed down. Quitting was never an option in my formative years and it is never a consideration for me or my siblings today. He was so persistent, so repelled by the finality of failure that so many of us believed he would never die. Retrospectively, he was like a bloodied boxer still standing in the ring; standing on nothing but sheer will and because of his choices, often standing alone.
But the time came that he sincerely repented from his past decisions and rejected the appetites that fueled a life that some days caused us great pain. Fully consistent with his personality, he sought and received forgiveness and amended his ways with the same dogged persistence and with the same largeness of appetite that almost brought about his downfall.
In particular in the last decade of his life, he dedicated himself solely to being a father and grandfather, the “pop” to not only his ten grandchildren but to several he adopted along the way of his travels. This was most true in Mississippi where he truly became an adopted son of the South and a beloved “Pop” to more than a few years of little league baseball teams in Jackson, Mississippi. Who would have thought that at the time of his death 1200 miles away in Jackson, Mississippi that a guy from Exchange Street in Geneva, New York would have 20 southerners in tears. The watch we bury him with today is set, appropriately, to Mississippi time.
At the time of his unexpected death, he was totally at peace with God and all men. He died a holy, serene and peaceful death, united to the Church surrounded by his children and his adopted Mississippi family. He rejected the narcotics offered to him more than once to alleviate his pain; and his physical pain was very real, until he received the Sacraments of the Church. He wanted to be awake for the Sacraments and he was. His last statement as I recall it was “I am afraid of nothing.”
I suspect he was aware of us to almost his last breath. Toward the end, we stood around telling jokes about him and his blood pressure would rise in sync with the punch lines long after his body stopped responding to drugs that in some cases were many times over the maximal dosage.
My father loved to cook. Since his death I have been going through his papers and found his cook book and I would like to share a few of his classic recipes.
My wife experienced his famous baked chicken (which she loves). His chicken was always so moist. One chicken quartered, four sticks of butter, bake at 350 for an hour. And you wonder why last Easter we bypassed the three arteries of his heart that were blocked over 90% at the time.
Spices – Very simple Salt by the handful, pepper until the dish was black, garlic by the head and margarine by the 32 ounce tub.
Before bed snack – one quart of ice cream, chocolate syrup, Spanish peanuts, ½ cup of frosted cereal with milk to taste. All inside of one of those recycled 32 oz margarine tubs. Each Kane household has a minimum of 10 recycled margarine tubs with the faded patina of 1000 washings.
True to form, his last meal was orange sherbet, frosted flakes and milk. Eaten I’m sure in one of those recycled margarine tubs.
Everywhere he went, as soon as he entered the house, he made tomato sauce and 100 meatballs. He had to make 100 meatballs because everyone ate at least half of the meatballs as he cooked them. He often left the freezer stocked with sauce and meatballs. That was a trademark of his.
Meatball Soup. This is a Kane delicacy. Water, meat balls, parsley and a table spoon of tomato paste. The tomato paste is important so that the soup is not green-grey but more a reddish tone. Four people in the world like it – myself, my brother Bill, and my sisters Kris and Tiffany. Most everyone else thinks it tastes like hamburger flavored water. Which it probably does. If you did not grow up in our house, you will never like it. We love it with a lot of Parmesan Cheese which absorbs most of the grease and covers the hamburger flavor.
No matter how sick he was, and in reality, he was never really well, taking over 30 pills a day, we always could count on him. He was there with the beer and the gear for every birth, baptism, 1st communion, sports event and the sickness and death of friends and in-laws. With respect to the unexpected deaths or illnesses of those he loved, he more than once called me to arrange emergency travel to be at the side of those who needed him most often that very same day. He was often the first to come and the last leave any event or situation. He wanted to make sure that those he was leaving were ready and able to carry on without him.
He injected himself into the families of his in-laws many of them here today. He spent many hours at their sporting events, high school football games, the Carrier Dome, countless little league games, fishing trips but mostly simple events like holidays and cookouts.
I have to get back to his one name. Having only one name, he often re-named his inner circle. This is even true for his children who he had the opportunity to name –
There is DF, Liam, Cricket and Tippy (the four of us); Mookie his sister, Specs, Bibble, Buggy, Thumper, Gumper, Poochie and Magic.
Magic was his best friend, and Depot co-worker, car pool buddy and confidant. I know he loved Magic very much and he spoke of him with great affection often. Undoubtedly, Magic was one of the central figures of his life and a much loved friend. To be frank, he loved no one, apart than his family, more than him. To this day, I do not know his real name. When Magic tragically lost his son, you would have thought he lost his own child.
He lived a very full life. Some of the things he has done in the last few years –
Three Super Bowls although none involving a Buffalo victory.
The 1996 Summer Olympics where we all cried seeing an American gold medal in track and field.
Several Atlanta Braves Games.
Years of Major League Spring Training in South Florida.
The Football Hall of Fame Induction of Jim Kelly (where he sat with Jim Kelly’s family)
The Dizzy Dean Little League World Series where my nephew C.J. played.
DHS Class Reunions – Never Missed One.
Most recently, the NCAA Sweet 16.
In reality, despite the largeness of the events I just mentioned, they only make for interesting press and reflect only a handful of days. Crutch reveled most in spending time with his family and friends, watching TV, sitting around teasing those around him and telling jokes.
He was Catholic his whole life and his faith was lived in action. He never put himself first, always last. He did not preach to us. He led from the front largely through self-denial. He was not a particular deep thinker about things, he just looked at right and wrong and tried to do right. At the time of his death, despite great pain, he delayed the administration of narcotics that were offered to him several times so that he could participate fully in the Sacraments prior to his death. He prayed for sure and worshiped every Sunday wherever he was. We sang the prayer of St. Francis today and that to me epitomized his Faith life – seeking as best he could to sow love, bring pardon, hope, light, consolation and joy. His legacy is the extent we do the same.
Given at the funeral of William J. “Crutch” Kane, Sr.
St. Francis deSales Catholic Church
Geneva, New York
10:00 o’clock, April 25, 2005