“He really was an enchanting person. In some way he was like the spiritual father of everybody…. It is hard to imagine Central Park without Charles Kennedy.” Marie Winn, author of Red-tails in Love, and close friend of Charles, remembering him after his death in October 2004

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Feathers, Friends, and Family

Had a delightful dinner last evening with most of the 'hawk watch family', including Noreen, Lee, and Jimmy, all of whom appear in the Legend of Pale Male documentary. (Marie was the notable absentee. We'll catch up with her this evening.) Charles's good friend, Marsinay, was with us as well. For many years Marsinay was Charles's scribe, copy editor, and all-around most valuable player. It is to Marsinay that we owe the most gratitude for compiling all of Charles's photo-essay collections and haiku into readable, digital form. These folks were family to Charles and they adopted the rest of the Kennedys as part of their extended family, a blessing for which I will be forever grateful. It is a bountiful Thanksgiving, indeed!

Sitting on the subway after dinner I couldn't help feeling how sorely I still miss Charles. Others at the table had given voice to the same sentiment. Several of us recounted stories of having close encounters with Red-tailed Hawks in recent days and were all happy to believe that the encounters represented Charles's spirit affirming the success and brilliance of the film. Life can be so sweet and beautiful and sorrowful––all at once and so perfectly.

So, as my dear niece, Jill, and I prepare to head into Manhattan to help staff the grand opening of The Legend of Pale Male, I'll post the most poignant (for me, anyway) of Charles's stories from his book Pale Male and Family.


     When I was a 16-year-old kid, the brakes on my elderly automobile failed as I was backing out of our family’s driveway, and I smacked into Whitey Groatwald’s private car. Whitey was a much-feared highway patrolman whose territory included my hometown, and he was moonlighting at a carpentry job directly across the street. Large, ominous Whitey heard the crash—minor as it was—and came storming down on innocent ol’ me. Now this is a story about fathers, and mine, a sweet man with superb hearing, also heard the noise and came firing out of our house to protect his baby son from the evil officer.
     Flash forward four decades to a 7:30-a.m., mid-July morning. One of the juvenile red-tails flew into a small cedar tree, carrying a dead pigeon. Following the young one was a small flotilla of neighborhood vigilante birds who felt that a hawk in their neighborhood was a considerable threat, which indeed it was. Two blue jays, two robins, and a mockingbird began their attack on the breakfasting red-tail juvenile.
     This is the bird/father part. Pale Male, our hero who, in fact, had caught the pigeon for his son, arrived not at the bottom of the cedar tree where his young one was chowing down, but on the lightning-rod top, immediately drawing off the fisticuffing birds who, no doubt, had nestlings in the area. Pale Male chose to sit passively at the top of the tree and let the locals fly by and ineffectively attack, while his progeny sat directly beneath him eating its porridge. The pigeon feather is the last evidence of the pigeon that junior ate under the protection of Dad. Ah, dads.
     I wonder if Whitey Groatwald was a good father. Maybe. Mine was.


ombsmith said...

Beautiful sentiments, beautifully said. Listening to Duke Ellington right now. Did Charles ever tell you about the time he had a beer with Duke Ellington?

Steve Kennedy said...

Thanks, Ms. Smith! And yes, in the upcoming owl book readers will take a side trip back to 1954 and the Cobblestone Ballroom in Storm Lake, Iowa, for that memorable encounter. Duke is so fine...