Kingsley’s life built on small-town foundation

ONGOING HUMILITY Pictured at his 2014 retirement party, no matter how far Jim Kingsley went in life, he never forgot where he came from and treated everyone as if they were on the same level as him.

ONGOING HUMILITY – Pictured here at his 2014 retirement party, no matter how far Jim Kingsley went in life, he never forgot where he came from and treated everyone as if they were on the same level as him.

On the judicial circuit, he was revered as “The Honorable James C. Kingsley.” But when back home in Union City, everybody knew him as “Jim” from the Class of 1959. That’s one of the reasons Jim Kingsley, 1941-2015, was so honorable. No matter how far he travelled in life, he never lost sight of where he’d got his start. Our family got to witness his journey.

As the proprietors of Donovan’s market in downtown Union City during the 1950s and 60s, my mom’s side of the family knew the Kingsley family on East High Street. Both sides of my family have long been friends with Jim Kingsley’s in-laws, the Case Family. We couldn’t have been happier to see Jim marry Judy, except for the fact that they settled in Albion instead of Union City. Hey, you can’t win ‘em all.

Growing up along Union City’s St. Joe River, Jim developed into a standout student and athlete. He took the neighborly, small-town values he acquired, including the customer service lessons honed at Horton’s store in Union City, with him when he went on to attend Albion College and then the Northwestern University School of Law. He applied them in his law practice and with his own family, the childhood sweetheart he married and the two successful children they reared who are also grounded in community.

The year he was seated on the Calhoun County Circuit Court bench, 1982, Jim keynoted my high school commencement. While I can’t remember exactly what he said, I remember being inspired to make something good out of my life like Judge Kingsley had.

My positive impression of Jim was reinforced every time I saw him after that point, including a 2008 interview where he said he hoped to be remembered as someone who “meant well.” At his 2014 retirement celebration, listening as multiple people feted Calhoun County’s longest-sitting circuit court judge of 32 years, nine months, it was obvious Jim had not just meant well, but done well. He was respected locally, statewide, nationally and internationally.

The last time I spoke with Jim, he was in Union City to eulogize his late sister-in-law, the irrepressible Sally Case Gifford, at her memorial service. I had a great vantage point, the piano bench at Lighthouse Funeral & Cremation, playing hymns.

Jim told stories of growing up around Sally, his wife’s sister, and the rest of the Case clan. His affection for family, togetherness and our community was evident. After the service, he inquired how my daughter was recovering from her recent illness and expressed concern regarding my job loss. He listened intently. While sometimes an overlooked quality among Kingsley’s attributes, to me, Jim’s ability to listen was perhaps the most foundational quality upon which most of the others rested. He always honored others through his attentiveness.

As I gave an update, Jim leaned forward, cocked his head slightly and trained his eyes in my direction with a thoughtful expression on his face. It conveyed that while there were many other people nearby, he was focused exclusively on me.

After I finished speaking, Jim bowed his head, touched the knuckles of his hand to his closed mouth and reflected a few moments before speaking. When he looked up, he earnestly expressed his thankfulness for Kate’s improving health, offered encouragement for coping with uncertainty, shared couple of job search ideas, then supportively squeezed my hand in parting.

That was gentlemanly Jim, as eloquent in how he spoke to everyone as was Robert Frost, in one of his favorite poems, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.”

Although Jim Kingsley was laid to rest in the heat of summer, the promises of love and loyalty he kept to family, friends and the communities where he resided will keep memories of him kindled through the winters of life to come.

May future recipients of the James C. Kingsley Memorial Scholarship, so graciously established by Jim’s family, honor his memory through continued connection to community roots, no matter how far life takes them.

Family work bonding creates resentments

CHILD LABOR EXPLOITATION - Although adults vehemently deny it, all children recognize the only reason their parents decided to reproduce was to save money on hiring out crappy jobs, which can instead be ofted onto their offspring.

CHILD LABOR EXPLOITATION – Although adults vehemently deny it, all children recognize the only reason their parents reproduced was to save money on hiring out crappy jobs, which can instead be ofted onto their offspring.

If my farmer dad were still alive, he would have just turned 82. My guess is he would still be working because he was wired to be tireless when it came to work.
What is work, anyway? It’s defined as a job, a form of labor, a duty, a deed or an accomplishment. By those standards, my father was a highly accomplished man, for all he ever did was work.
Surprisingly, Dad never complained about working. Sure, he might cuss about the #%*@! cattle that foolishly broke out of green pastures to get into the neighbor’s wheat stubble or say a few choice words about the ever-increasing price of binder twine during hay baling season, but he never complained while fixing fence or baling hay. He’d whistle cheerfully.
My older sister and I did enough work complaining to make up for it. Because we wanted to avoid getting backhanded into tomorrow, we never complained directly to our father, but to our mother. We indirectly blamed her because she’d married and reproduced with him. But mostly we complained bitterly to one another the whole time we worked, which made things worse.
“It’s your turn to go to the truck for insulators,” my sister would snarl at me.
“Well, I can’t drive the truck ahead to where dad is working,” I’d snarl back.
“It’s not my fault you’re too short and stupid,” she’d reply. So I’d throw a rock at her, putting yet another dent in the tailgate of the old red farm truck. Meanwhile, Dad was bent over, wire pliers in his mouth, waiting for an insulator to wind the electric fencing around.
“Just give me a #%*@! insulator,” he would shout. “Better yet, bring me the whole #%*@! box of them. Don’t make me step in or you won’t like it.”
We weren’t liking much of anything about fence building. Seems like we were either baking like raisins in the sun or being eaten to death by mosquitos. He barely noticed because even the most determined couldn’t penetrate the thick hair on his arms.
There was no such thing as a water break because Dad never brought along water. It’s probably a good thing because he wasn’t big on bathroom breaks, either. Which is also good because someone who doesn’t carry water is doubly unlikely to carry along a roll of toilet paper. If dad had to go, he’d just slip off behind a tree or go behind the truck. We girls had to turn a deaf ear to nature’s call, which made trudging back to the truck for insulators even worse.
I recalled those happy family/work bonding times recently when I rounded up my son to weed- whack. I’d wanted to do it myself because I find it satisfying, but the evil eight-foot hedge required a step-ladder-aided trim, so I delegated the easier job to my son.
“I don’t want to. It’s too hot. This is too heavy. And it’ll take too long,” he informed.
“Wait, aren’t you the guy who weight-lifts and attends sports practices held in the hot sun?” I asked.
“But you actually LIKE doing work. I don’t,” he said.
What?!?! There’s a big difference between actually liking dirty, crappy jobs and being disciplined enough to do them. If I didn’t keep right on him, albeit difficult from atop the ladder, he’d pretend he was done and go back in the house. Dragged back outside to work on the big hedge, he refused to lean precariously off the ladder and thrust whirring blades at out-of-reach stuff, like I do. Safety became his new excuse.
Kate arrived home later, exhausted from non-slumbering at a slumber party. She suggested waiting yet another day on moving the wood pile and resisted when I insisted it happen then.
“Fine, then I’m going to complain the whole time,” she sputtered. My speech on how nice it would be to view our accomplishment afterward was lost on the siblings as they bickered over who was taking too long to put on gloves, picking up the lightest pieces, and stacking the pile crookedly.
“Don’t make me step in or you won’t like it,” I heard myself say. Wouldn’t my dad be proud!

Home tours depress views of our own homes

I had the privilege of attending my hometown’s most recent home and garden tour, an experience I highly recommend to anyone who is looking to be inspired with all kinds of new and different homefront possibilities. Hats off to hosts. I can’t imagine all you went through in the name of home tour.
Having sold a couple of houses, I can recall all I went through to become market-ready. It was time-consuming and nerve-wracking. There were so many details involved that we couldn’t really live during the months that preceded having our Kalamazoo home buyer-ready.
I was up at 5 AM the day of our first house showing, putting another coat of paint on the basement walls and fan-drying them. My mother came over and watched my toddler children while I took the morning off my day job and ran around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to be sure no detail escaped our household’s ramped up scrutiny. Then we had to hide out while separate sets of prospective buyers toured at 1 PM and 7 PM.
Our hard work paid off, as the realtor called me at my evening job and informed the first prospective buyers had submitted an offer at our asking price. Hooray for that! It wasn’t just on account of the money, but more importantly meant we weren’t going to have to continue to standing on our heads for several more weeks or months, staging the house.
My heart went out to the owners of the home and garden tour dwellings, for their hard work was only going to be viewed for a day and wasn’t going to profit them thousands of dollars as mine had me.
Even knowing the optimized level of repair, cleanliness and decorativeness required for that particular moment in time, I felt a wave of envy while touring the homes. Irony struck as I considered all the work that wasn’t getting done at my home while I spent the better part of a Saturday salivating over the work that had been done on other homes and grounds.
Actually, the most difficult part of the tour was returning home to the mess I had left in my haste to go and get a look at the messes other’s had cleaned up to make their digs extra-presentable to the public. Success on a home tour is determined by the degree to which one’s home no longer looks very lived in, which certainly can’t be said for my house.
Arriving home post-tour, I was rendered speechless by the sight of things. Usually, the one positive I can count on is that the lawn is neatly mowed, but alas, it had rained enough I hadn’t been able to mow for several days. So I instead gazed at my recently cleaned gutters and tried to elevate their importance into a bonafide home feature. Pathetically lame. On a brighter note, the hedge cutter and weed whackers just arrived back from the repair shop.
I recognized that as a single parent with two kids, I don’t match the typical home and garden tour host demographic. I need a spouse to help spruce up stuff. And my kids’ rolling chaos only sabotages preparations. Kudos to the Hull and Falkner families for defying that stereotype. If I want a home tour showplace home, I need to replace my kids, cats and shoe collection with a couple more bathrooms.
Surveying the inside of my house, I became self-conscious of the chipped toilet seat, peeling paint, aging windows, worn carpeting, ancient kitchen linoleum from Hell, and the clutter I never seem able to fully eradicate.
I cursed both sides of my family for not handing down any beautifully-framed previous generation portraits and/or heirloom furniture. I mourned my un-refinished hardwood floors and non-replaced light fixtures. I realized I neither collect anything unique nor have visually-intriguing hobbies, like quilting or woodworking. My writer’s notebook and laptop computer wouldn’t generate much home tour excitement and interest.
Maybe I should start an alternative, “Round Tuit Amotivational Home Tour” where people stop to see my latest neglected DIY household project. In the meantime, I won’t go on another home and garden tour. It’s too depressing!

Brutally attacked by flying survey monkeys

When I was a kid, I remember my older sister and me watching “The Wizard of Oz” with pillows poised to bury our heads under, thus giving ourselves a certain measure of control over the scariest parts. One of the most frightening parts for me was when the heroes of the story found themselves under siege by the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys.
49148979731938ab2007ae4ee4f085feIt’s one thing to dodge apples thrown at you by talking trees, or to put up with and put out a flaming ball of fire tossed your scarecrow friend’s way, but I know no tried and true formula for outwitting witch-controlled, manually-dexterous apes that swoop down from darkened skies. Nothing Boy Scout can prepare you for that.
I feel the same way about surveys. Nothing in my hardwiring, upbringing or training had prepared me for the huge number or surveys I am ambushed to complete because “your opinion counts, Mrs. Smith.” Well, if it counted that much and they truly cared, perhaps the survey purveyors wouldn’t assume I’m a Mrs., and not a Ms. But I’m heading elsewhere with this rant.
Two years ago, I kvetched about being over-surveyed. While I’d like to report things have improved, they haven’t. Including my attitude about surveys. I HATE, HATE, HATE constant opinion polling. Whoever is unleashing upon me those flying survey monkeys needs to give it (and me) a rest.
Perhaps I am more sensitive to surveys because of recently spending more time at home due to being out of work and needing to be home to take my daughter to all her appointments. I swear the phone rings 14 times per day with something even worse than telemarketers: callers who aren’t selling anything, but want to know what I think about things I’ve already purchased.
On a brighter note, it’s had the serendipitous effect of making me look even harder for work so I won’t have to be at home to hear the phone ring incessantly.
Thanks to multi-media polling techniques, I not only receive phone calls, but cell phone text polls, email inquiries, Facebook interrogation and conventional mail questionnaires. And those selling the goods aren’t the only ones doing the surveying. The service sector has jumped onto the band wagon, too. All aboard!
My email opened the other day to a request I complete a questionnaire related to my “Service Experience” at a large city auto dealership. That’s crazy. I didn’t go there for an “experience,” just an oil change and a tire rotation. I ignored it, only to have them re-appeal to me several more times. Finally, I completed their dagnabit survey by stating the oil change was a real toe-curling experience for me and I could hardly wait for my next lube!
Taking a page from the service sector playbook, the medical community has also joined the ranks of survey-happy industries. Normally, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but since April, I have visited a lifetime worth of doctors and therapists who provided care for my daughter. And guess what? They all want us to rate the care we received.
As there are many divisions within most medical care facilities, we received multiple surveys from some. They must undiscerningly send one to every patient, regardless of level of care, because the pediatric ICU unit where Kate spent less than three days, all the while in a medically-induced coma, wanted to know if she considered the décor and food tasteful. Best ever feeding tube fare!
I decided to go to the corner bar and mediate of this sad state of survey affairs, but on the way there, I ended up following a large cargo truck with one of those “How’s my driving?” stickers on its bumper. It gave me a number to call to report on my tailgating (to read the sticker) experience. When I finally got to the tavern, my table had a stack of service comment cards wedged between the condiment containers. There’s no escape.
What I want is someone to survey me about their survey. “What did you think of our opinion measurement tool?” Better yet, “Where would you like us to stick it?” Now that’s a question I would answer immediately.

Summertime breeds humidity and humility

I am a horrible slacker, a terrible parent and a poor excuse for a human being. How do I know? Because my teenaged son tells me so. Usually following me setting limits regarding what I won’t allow him to do, or conversely, when I am attempting to get him to do something around the house that he doesn’t want to do. In other words, all the time.
Under normal circumstances, this would be annoying but laughable under the heading “that darned, self-righteous teenager behavior,” but our family has not bumped into normal in so long we wouldn’t recognize it if we met up with it on the street. And in view of the large-scale devastation our family has experienced this year, Connor’s “you’re a terrible parent” routine is downright demoralizing.
Connor is pretty smart and undeniably clever. However, like most 14-year-olds, he lacks wisdom. Knowing answers alone doesn’t provide big picture understanding of the context into which they fit. The result is excessive, self-centered armchair quarterbacking from someone with no investment in our family franchise. Dealing with his lopsided shallowness takes more energy than I can muster, given all the other variables with which I am having to deal surrounding unemployment and the fallout of his sister’s recent critical illness. Being in survival mode overdrive has greatly reduced my tolerance for adolescent posturing.
Absent a fair-minded, community-oriented male role model in his life, my son is quick to proclaim my thinking is flawed. He’s annoyed that despite our circumstances, I still try to be of benefit to others (except him, of course) with how I spend my time. He chastises me for my other-helpful actions, from giving someone a ride or donating blood, to volunteering to help people or causes, to awarding scholarships to other people’s children. According to him, it’s all a waste of time and something I do just to make myself look good. Gratitude and community-building can’t possibly be anyone’s motivators, least of all mine.
When told I would not transport him to athletic team weight-lifting until he put away the combat boots he’d left for three days in the kitchen, removed the shorts he’d thrown onto the dining room table, and retrieved a pair of (dirty?) underwear he’d tossed into another corner, he began ranting I was blackmailing him.
“You never do any work, yourself,” he admonished.
What about the ongoing job-searching, mending, meal planning, shopping, cooking, appointment-coordinating, transporting, lawn-mowing, cleaning, bill-paying and errand running? In addition to holding down at least two part-time jobs at all times. Nope. They don’t count. “You are a terrible mom.”
Fortunately, I have positive role models in my life who help me weather his hooey. One of them is a friend with two children, one of them a younger, special needs child and the other a couple years older than Connor. Let’s call her “St. Mom.” She has coped with far more issues and she’s still standing. Some days, that’s the best a person can do.
At any rate, it did my heart good when, while watching the Memorial Day Parade with me, St. Mom asked, “Have you ever been driving down the road with your ungrateful, clueless, potty-mouthed teenaged son next to you in the front seat of the car and mentally picked out a tree or light pole you’d like to run into with the passenger side only of your vehicle just to get him to shut up?”
I cracked up. I completely got where she was coming from and respected the fact she wasn’t afraid to have and share those baser thoughts. Yes, I have had those fantasies. In fact, I had one on the way home last night from my son’s baseball double-header. I had not been able to get there until it was ending, as I had to play piano somewhere late afternoon and then continue on to a speaking engagement in another county, both paying gigs.
Interestingly, he who had been berating me as worthless for not having a job instantly switched to criticizing me for my jobs interfering with watching his ball games. Talk about winless season! Here’s hoping I survive not just the humidity, but this summer’s humility.

Time to invest in your own dashboard deity

A few years ago, WWJD (“What would Jesus Do?”) wrist bands were all the rage. Everybody had them, whether or not the individual wearer was clear on the acronym’s meaning. As usual with what began as a good idea, it became trendy. Before long, the Christian-messaged bracelets took a pop-culture left turn, stopped prompting thought and became just another accessory. Worst case scenario, they were used by non-Christians as artificial lures to attract datable Christians. WWJD, indeed!
I’m sure there have been many more shenanigans over the past 2,000 years using the name, image or words of Jesus for less-than-noble purposes. In my lifetime, WWJD jewelry wasn’t Jesus’ only foray into pop-culture of questionable taste. Nearly 60 years ago, members of the entertainment industry spoofed this hokey tendency in a folk song. You all know which one I mean.
Plastic Jesus photo“I don’t care if it rains or freezes, long as I got my plastic Jesus, sittin’ on the dashboard of my car. Comes in colors pink and pleasant, glows in the dark ‘cause it’s iridescent. Take it with you when you travel far.”
That’s the first stanza of the “Plastic Jesus Song,” written in 1957 by Ed Rush and Joe Komarty. The song vaulted to fame a decade later, along with Paul Newman, whose star was already rising when he sang it in the 1967 classic film, “Cool Hand Luke.” However, Newman’s version was patterned more after the 1965 Marrs Family recording of the ditty.
Plastic Jesus Song originally had been penned as a humorous spoof of an advertising jingle. Rush and Komarty had performed it as the fictitious Goldcoast Singers on World Pacific Records. According to Rush, the idea was inspired by a hokey radio show he’d listened to that had been run by a fanatically-religious Texas dentist. Rush and Komarty positioned their plastic Jesus to be as outrageous as the items with alleged healing properties that were sold during the Texas-based radio show.
“Get yourself a sweet Madonna, dressed in rhinestones, sittin’ on a pedestal of abalone shell. Goin’ 90, I aint’s scary, ‘cause I’ve got the Virgin Mary, assurin’ me that I won’t go to Hell.”
After watching Cool Hand Luke one too many times, I vowed if I ever found a plastic Jesus at a reasonable price, I would become its new owner. And that’s exactly what happened at Antique Salvage in Union City during M-60 Garage Sale Days in June.
The much-desired five-inch rendering of Our Savior was located in the same dollar item bin as had been the decoupaged cow pie I wrote about purchasing earlier this year. More kitschy than reverent, plastic Jesus sported a goofy, knowing grin, shoulder-length black hair, waxed brows and a miniature goatee. His outstretched arms were hinged and four flimsy plastic wheels adorned his undercarriage. This Jesus was made for speed.
I could picture kids placing him on their Hot Wheels tracks. Or perhaps putting a small object into his screwed-on, outstretched hands and then making him either bowl it forward or hurl it backward, depending on the direction they wound the arm. If you manually raised his hands at the same time, plastic Jesus took on the same look of Ohio’s huge, wooden, roadside Jesus that parody performer Heywood Banks immortalized in his “Big Butter Jesus” song.
Only Plastic Jesus was all mine. You might wonder why he was so important to me. Well, because I need him not just every hour, but ‘round the clock, on the dashboard of my life. It’s prompted my friend, Terri Montgomery and I to own matching vintage red, rotary dial phones we designated as our “Jesus hotlines.” Again, because we know the importance of remaining in communication with Him. Plastic Jesus is an amusing reminder of our serious faith in the real thing. And I’m not talking Coca-Cola.
Interested in your own faith-reminding Plastic Jesus? The same 2001 Accoutrements version is selling on eBay for $10 a pop. One eBay vendor also had Edgar Allen Poe and Jane Austen plastic action figures for sale. Now that’s creepy. What an odd, accident-causing dashboard grouping that would make.
But it’s nice to know, whether rain or snow, I’m good to go.

Shaking the magnetic attraction of negativity

“You are a magnet for trouble, Kristy Ann Smith.” That’s what my mother, my grandmothers, Catechism teachers, 4-H Leaders, and a whole slew of teachers used to say about me. To have argued with them about it would only have served to confirm their point. That’s the only reason I didn’t. Guilty as charged.
While I’ve earned my journeyman’s card for stirring the pot, I’d just as soon not. I’m no longer motivated by revenge and can’t remotely relate to the motives of most of the characters in the movie “Unforgiven.” Grudge-holding would take more time, energy and focus than I possess.
Somewhere along the road, I also ditched my desire to debate, or arguing just for argument’s sake. Even if you are right, it’s not worth the cost of the relationship. I no longer delight in shocking people with (real or trumped up) extreme viewpoints. Being a contrarian has lost its luster. Try to engage me in political discussion and I’ll go as neutral as Sweden on you. Attempt gender- or race-baiting and I won’t bite, but stare straight through you.
I no longer correct people’s grammar mid-sentence. If I know what they meant, that’s all that counts, however it came out. I only keep score with extreme jerks to later story-tell of their jerkishness. Even more incredibly, I’ve misplaced my red pen and can no longer circle errors in print and send them to editors. Maybe if my stuff were perfect or if my own house were in order. But alas, neither is.
With all my work at personal reform, you’d think I might be a better parent, daughter, sibling and friend, but I’m not. I continually struggle with my own insensitive tendencies, only occasionally winning a round against pettiness.
Joblessness and struggling to manage the multiple facets of my daughter’s recent health crisis, in addition to single-parenting two teens, managing a household and fulfilling community responsibilities have finally pushed me over the edge mentally and emotionally. Writing is apparently one of the last skills to go; thinking went by the wayside three months ago. The process had been gradual, but medical crisis was the camel’s back-breaking last straw.
While I can still carry on a (mostly) coherent conversation, I have lost my marbles, been out to lunch and embodied even more colorful craziness cliches since April. One day, when returning to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, where my daughter was a patient, I instead got in my car and unthinkingly drove to Okemos, where I formerly worked. Pretty scary!
As unsettling as that was, at 2 PM last Friday, I took my son to a baseball practice that had been scheduled from Noon-2 PM, as clearly outlined in his coach’s text to parents. The next day, I thought the baseball tournament was in Union City, but the empty field that greeted my arrival suggested it was elsewhere. Holy last-minute scramble! Apparently, I completely lost my mind somewhere among the scores of medical forms and scads of job applications I’ve had to complete.
On the home front, I have been misplacing things, from checkbooks, to appointment notices, to pills. Sometimes I haven’t really lost them, but am staring straight at them, but I still can’t make the connection. Perhaps most disturbing was my losing a piece of music I’d just played – and I was still sitting at the piano bench when it happened. Yikes!
I attribute this to the recent trauma and extended oxygen deprivation. With all that’s been going on, I haven’t had time to breathe. To counter the problem, I finally engaged in a massage, funded by a former co-worker who sent money expressly for that purpose. I’d planned to disregard her instructions and use it to pay bills, but my muscles screamed release, so I relented. Turns out, it was exactly what I had needed to help rejuvenate my over-wrought system.
However, midway through the heavenly body work, I noticed the masseuse wasn’t stroking my left wrist the same way she had my right. “I’m still wearing my watch, aren’t I?” I asked. We both laughed, for I’m never fully off the clock these days, just my rocker.

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