Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Last Good-bye

Lilacs will always remind me of Kenny...

When we met Ken Bird ten years ago, he just seemed like a nice, retired guy who wanted to sell trees and shrubs at the Farmers’ Market.  His past service to his country and his long career with the railroad were overlooked somehow, as he referred to himself as a TRUE "tree hugger".

We had no idea what an impact he would have on the Market...and our lives.

I don’t know if there has ever been anyone quite so devoted to the Market. Despite the fact that he was one of the few vendors ever to hold the dubious “honor” of having ZERO in his earnings column more than once, he was always there with a cheerful smile. He might not have had big sales, but many folks loved to visit with him and his wife on a Saturday morning. He certainly knew his trees and shrubs and he had such a zest for life. His enthusiasm and gracious attitude were contagious. He was a joy to be around. 

Along with a wide variety of trees, he sold lilac bushes.  The Boss bought me one, knowing that I have always wanted to have a lilac bush by the kitchen door. The plant thrived, due in part to Ken's kind tutelage in its care.

That awful diagnosis six and a half years ago shocked everyone. And, the prognosis was worse.

“Doctor said he ain't got long
He just smiled and said

  Bring it on

If you think I'm scared
You got me all wrong
A little cancer can't break me
My heart's right and I believe

We all hit our knees
Started prayin'...”

I don’t know why anyone was amazed when he came through the surgery and subsequent treatments far better than expected. He wasn't. His faith was amazing. He left that 6 month prognosis far, far behind. And he just seemed to keep going and going. More than one acquaintance referred to him as the “energizer bunny”.  Read this one.

While he didn’t have the stamina to continue to sell at the Market, his support never wavered. When the Market came under attack from those who would change it,  he took part in its defense.  This man with one lung, who needed an oxygen tank just to breathe, making every spoken word a precious commodity, took to the phone and talking to anyone who would listen, particularly the City Manager’s office, giving his best effort to protecting something he held dear. (far more than many able-bodied folks did) He rejoiced when the Market was able to remain unaltered.

His battle with the disease was long and arduous. But, his cheerful attitude didn’t falter. He was always grateful for what he was able to enjoy.

“Naw he never gave up
Said the Good Lord's waitin'...”

He truly loved the Market and its vendors. So, when his health would allow, he and his devoted wife would come for a visit. His strength didn’t allow for long periods of standing, so the Boss improvised a seat from an empty cooler. He would sit on his cooler “throne” and feel, for a little while, that he was a part of the Market he loved.

It became a running joke to get a phonecall or text to request his “throne” in addition to his veggies and eggs. Friends and acquaintances would stop and visit as he sat there...and if for some reason he wasn’t there...the inquiries would start. I don’t know if he had any idea how many people he inspired with his quiet, cheerful attitude toward life’s greatest injustice.  There are a great number of people that we can now count among our friends as a direct result of knowing Ken.

“That's the only way to go
Fightin' the good fight
'Til the Good Lord calls you home...”

While the sad outcome was expected, there is no real way to express the sense of loss. The Market will be a different place without the possibility of the cooler “thrones” and the impromptu inspirational gatherings of friends on the sidewalk.

But, when Spring comes, the lilac bush next to the kitchen door will bloom, bringing with it the fond memories of Ken and his tree farm.

"So be well my friend
'Til I see you again
Yeah this is our last goodbye…"

(lyrics from Brantley Gilbert’s “Hell of an Amen” )

                                                      Kenneth O. Bird 1946-2016


  1. What a fine and fitting tribute Barbara to a man who has obviously had a great impact on so many lives. Rest in peace KEN.