Friday, July 15, 2022

The Gift

I had only one first cousin in this world, Kenneth Keep, the son of my mother’s brother Harry. I met him exactly one time. He was driving across the country to San Francisco where he was going to get married. Ken had cooked up a plan to visit all the members of the Keep family as he traveled from one side of the country to the other and to document all of us in photographs. He brought a professional-quality camera with him and snapped pictures throughout his visit.

He told us that the Keep family in the US is so small that everyone with the Keep surname is related. I’ve always been fascinated by that, though I haven’t put it to the test. My mother mused privately that he must have been motivated as much by securing free room and board on his trip as he was documenting his relatives. Maybe. 

He was young - - perhaps 29 - - and a naturally playful sort of fellow. I was fourteen. We enjoyed the visit and learned some new family stories. When he got to California he mailed us some photos. Here are two of me.

Then we lost touch. Every once in a while I’d try to find him through online searches, without success. It was as though my cousin had just evaporated.

Then last February or March I received a call from a lawyer in San Francisco, informing me that Ken had died of COVID and had left no will. The lawyer had been put in charge of doing all the necessary investigations in preparation for the dispersal of the estate. Ken was divorced twice, with no biological children, so first cousins (my two sisters and I) were being contacted as a part of the process.

It felt very sad and strange. I saw no reason why I would receive anything at all. I did ask that I be considered for any photographs he had taken on his visit if they still existed. There were forms to fill out, things to mail. And then I forgot all about it.

Last week I received a thick yellow mailing envelope from San Francisco and a check. I was stunned. The amount was not small enough to be blown on a fancy dinner but not big enough to be earth-shaking. Yet it was just large enough that I would need to give it some serious thought.

And then, suddenly: this eureka moment. What better use for this unexpected gift than my bird feeder, my bird bath - - my retirement hobby on a modest income. And along with a dedicated birdseed fund, there are times I’ve wanted to donate to a worthy cause lately but just couldn’t swing it. Now I’ve been given an opportunity to remember my cousin in small acts of giving: feeding the birds, or hungry neighbors, or supporting community initiatives.

The money won’t last forever but it will be a source of love while it lasts. I think that’s a good way make something good out of loss.

Something else I need to do now that I think of it: make a will.

Ken Keep entered peacefully into rest in San Francisco, California on January 14, 2021. He was 76 years old.

Born March 22, 1944 in New Jersey to parents Bernice and Harry Keep, Ken worked as a senior activity coordinator for the last 15 years of his life. An active member of First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, he is survived by many loving family members and friends, and will be deeply missed.

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