Saturday, June 16, 2012

Our Father- William G. Kinzie -A Tribute

My grandfather,  Letcher Kinzie, and my father, William G. Kinzie 

Most memories of my father are happy ones. The earliest go back to the time we lived in Umalla, India.  Our father was a Church of the Brethren missionary and after a year or so of language training at Anklesvar began his work at Umalla which was about 25-30 miles inland from the west coast of India not far from the Narbada river in the Raj Pipla kingdom of  Gujarat. It was probably the year 1940.

After supper when evening became night the family would gather in the living room of our brick bungalow. The floors were bare concrete and would become cool to the touch..My father would take out his violin and play. One of the tunes he enjoyed was ‘The Old Refrain”by Fritz Kreisler . I was about three years old and  would get a coat hanger, place it under my chin in imitation, and pretend that I, too, was playing the violin. Music was something we both enjoyed.

Several years later when there were now three brothers in our family, he began the practice of singing hymns at our breakfast table and memorizing Bible verses, some of the Psalms, and even larger important Scripture sections. It was a great way to start the day! Around this same time he began to read a story from Hulbert’s Bible stories each evening as we sat around him on the front porch after supper. In this way we painlessly began to learn the main stories of our Bible based faith.

Almost every morning before lunch he and I and sometimes my brother John would walk the few miles to the local post office. It was a time of story telling of his life in America as a young farm boy or whatever was on his mind. We learned of his unfortunate encounters with chewing tobacco and adventures dealing with recalcitrant cows or threatening bulls. There were observations about people who worked for his family in their home; helping his mother, and tales involving the processing of hay and other farm chores. He would also regale us with stories of coon hunting after a hard day of manual labor. There was family pride at being able to attend college and learning beyond high school.

His father was a rather strict disciplinarian. Paul’s exortation to church leaders was that they should be able to rule over their families if they were to guide churches. Grandfather Kinzie was a church preacher at Green Hill Church of the Brethren which he helped organize so it was incumbent on him to be able to rule his family. That lesson was well learned by my father. If we deliberately broke a clear instruction not to do something we got spanked. Boys will be boys and the inevitable followed.Slowly we learned not to do dumb stuff. Was he a stern father? Not most of the time...we knew he was approachable and that he loved us.

Part of the year for several months we migrated to Landour, Mussoorie in the foothills of the Himalyas
for formal schooling and family vacation from the summer heat. Landour’s 7000 foot altitude was a welcome respite from the scorching heat of India’s summer plains. When I was near eight years old,  we hiked down to the village from where our milk came. We started in the morning and made it back before supper. Again, it was a morning to share all sorts of observations about living as we walked down and back. It was during this time in my life that I became dimly aware of World War II and its impact on all of us. My father also purchased my first real half size violin and began teaching me to play.

Our father relished travelling and seeing new places. The Kinzie homeplace had mountains in front (Fort Lewis mountain...part of the Blue Ridge) and Twelve O’clock Knob behind. He felt hemmed in and yearned to know what was beyond. The Brethren emphasis on service and his curiosity of what lay beyond merged to create our family’s time in India. We travelled by train, buggies, tongas (ox pulled buggies), horse, motorcycle, bicycles and foot. Since we spent two terms in India I experienced much that country had to offer all related to my father’s itch to see what was “on the other side of the mountain”. A part of me will always feel at home where there are Indian influences.

Our parents were lovers in every sense of the word and were sometimes teased about it by the older missionaries.They were openly affectionate toward each other and modelled for all to see how a good marriage worked. Our mother always met him at the door when he returned from being away with a hug and a kiss. Yes, they had their spats, but were generally out of sight of the children. Sometimes they could even joke about what they had disagreed about. I never experienced the unease that children have when they know or see their parents fight.The years I spent with them there was always the  feeling of safety and comfort.  My father respected women and in the stories he related there was no condescension toward them.

As I was the first born much of my father’s interest remained focused on me, or so it seemed. He taught me to read using phonics because I wasn’t learning from the “look-see” Dick and Jane readers. He cared more for my musical advancement through the violin than my academic growth.
In one way it seems I have lived the alternate life he would have enjoyed: life as a musician/music teacher. I tried for several years being a young pastor and preacher, and it just wasn’t to be.

 He taught me to drive and let me be his chauffer. Beside driving etiquette and attitude we had increasingly deeper conversations about the purpose of life as we travelled to Harrisonburg, Virginia from Mathias, West Virginia for groceries and weekly violin lessons for me at now James Madison University. The car trips were where we shared who we were with each other. I was a young “know it all” liberal as the young should be, he was the conservative who had been around the block. I’m so thankful he encouraged me to think  with him from my perspective and then he would present his side..

Our father studied people, places, and events. He enjoyed debating a topic and encouraged conversation.  On the mission field and in America, there were interesting people who were in our homes for a meal or a short visit. They weren’t always family, but their ideas were stimulating and thought provoking. To this day it is almost impossible for my male siblings to get together without falling  into sometimes intense discussions about almost anything.

He often proclaimed, “ Our Lord will provide”. He had lived long enough to understand in some mysterious way that things worked out in the end for them that were faithful. In my second year away from home I action many of my adult friends cautioned against...we were too young and it wouldn’t last. My father accepted our decision and we have lived and loved these 56 years. He died about six months later of a heart condition that had dogged him for numerous years. Through time I have come to better understand the complex, adventurous,  and wise person my father was. I hope others may recognize in me some of those traits, but perhaps not with his intensity.

It feels strange to know that I will soon be 25 years older than my father when he died. He never knew his grandchildren; they were way off in the future. He did see television, but certain scientific understandings were beyond his ken and he was an educated man. He would be amazed and interested in the advances made by medicine and science. These would surely change his world view, for even on the mission field he was open enough to be able to engage with people of different persuasions and conversion was something that happened because they saw a reflection of God’s love in his actions toward them rather than the current Brethren dogmas of salvation.

Our sister, the youngest sibling and only female has changed her FaceBook picture to that of our father in honor of Father’s day. She only knew him for six very short years. That picture was motivation for me to honor a man who had a powerful influence on providing the direction my own life would take.So, Mary Inge, thank you for reminding me of our loving father and moving  me to remember him this way.

Our family: William & Pauline Garst Kinzie  both deceased.
                   sons: William Kinzie (Bill)--  -author of blog-retired music teacher and violinist
                             John Kinzie - chemist, biologist, and teacher
                             Alexander Kinzie - business man -deceased
                             Michael (Mike) Kinzie - professional musician (fiddle), bandsman "Supergrit"
                             Mary Inge- beloved sister -school teacher. .
Dad, I salute you this Father’s Day!!

1 comment:

suezoos1 said...

Saw your blog mentioned on FB and decided to check it out. I love what you wrote about Uncle Bill. Our get togethers were few and far between, but I cherish the memories of all my cousins and the times we had at reunions. It's hard to believe it was so long ago!