My Grandfather, Ken Keller
When I was growing up, my brother and I called my grandfather “Grrrpa” because he had a tendency to growl out his responses during our conversations. This gruff exterior was like a superhero’s alter ego – the Clark Kent to Ken Keller’s Superman. Because the truth of it was, my grandfather had a heart as big as the land he farmed for 67 years, and he loved his family and friends fiercely. And while he was a longtime member of the NRA and Ducks Unlimited, he would also help any animal in need, bring home a veritable menagerie of animals including jack rabbits, turtles and even two raccoons.
After placing an abandoned nest of duck eggs under his seat in the cab of his truck, the hot Colusa sun and my grandfather’s posterior helped nature take its course, causing my grandfather to call up my grandmother and say, “Joyce, today I have become a mother.”
My grandfather was attending UC Berkley when he joined the United States Airforce in 1943. He was in the Air Transport Command 1503rd Foreign Transport and flew overseas to Australia and many of the locations in the South Pacific including Hawaii, Fuji, Guam, Okinawa, Kyoto and Manilla.
Upon his return to the US in 1946 he resumed his studies at UC Berkley. In 1947, my grandfather started on the journey with the two biggest loves of his life – he married my grandmother, Joyce and became the third generation Keller to farm in Colusa County.
My grandfather always put family first. He left UC Berkley before completing his studies because he stepped up to take over the ranch. It was a pretty special day for him when my cousin Chris graduated from UC Berkley nearly 50 years later.
My grandfather also continued to be a pilot even after his return from WWII. I grew up flying with my grandfather in his Cessna and loved our moments in the air together. We would fly from the Nut Tree in Vallejo to their house in Mendocino, we would fly over his rice crops to see how things were growing and some days we would fly just to fly.
One time when I was 15 and we were flying around checking out the crops, and it was time to head in. As we are circling, my grandfather put down the landing gear, but the light that was supposed to come on when they are fully deployed did not. Unfortunately, the tower couldn’t visually confirm that the landing gear was down and my grandfather asked them to call the fire department just in case.
As we circled the runway waiting for the fire department to show up, my grandfather asked me about how I was doing in school and what my plans were for my upcoming birthday. Then the fire department showed up.
My grandfather lined up the plane for the landing, and right before he started the descent, looked over at me and said, “Alright hold on Katy. Just so you know I love you very much.”
It’s about then I realized things were a bit more serious than I thought.
Clearly the fact that I am sitting here typing this means we survived, the landing gear was down and it was a smooth landing. But the moment when my gruff and tough grandfather, told me he loved me very much right before he landed the plane is both one of the most touching and most ridiculous moments of my life.
My grandfather loved a good joke, which I think is hereditary. He told a story once, about a time when the levees broke and Colusa was flooded. It happened when he was just a boy and his father and Uncle Perry were communicating together on a CB Radio. My great grandfather asked Uncle Perry to bring a boat and extra oars. Uncle Perry responded, “No problem, do you want a blonde or a redhead?”
When I moved over to Australia, I went and saw my grandparents before I left. Life is an unpredictable thing and it was important to me that I see them before I go. After a great weekend visit with just the three of us, I went to say goodbye to my grandfather. He wasn’t able to move around very much and as I leaned over to hug him, he said (because the man was not capable of a whisper) in my ear, “Love ya, you are my favorite granddaughter.”
And I responded with the usual, “That’s because I am your only granddaughter!”
And then he broke our normal routine and responded with, “I know, but even if you weren’t, you’d still be my favorite.”
My grandfather passed away on Tuesday. He was one of those men you read about in books, and I was so lucky to know him.
Ken Keller left the land, and the people on it, better than he found it.
The End of Redhead Down Under
I couldn’t leave my favorite country and not mark the occasion with a small blog post.
I have always wanted my life to be an adventure, and my time in Australia has, for the first time, made that come true.
One of the countless live music acts I saw during my time in Australia was a woman named Amanda Palmer, she is a crazy performer in the best sense of the word. She also happens to be a fellow American who fell in love with Australia. One of my favorite songs of her’s captures what Australia has meant for me, better than I ever could:
I could tiptoe on a tightrope made of fear and looking down see
all the people do they see me
I could wave or I could carry all the dishes that they game me
Or I could go to Australia
Carry a bowie knife
And wear my hair like Hepburn parted on the side
And learn card tricks
And buy everyone drinks
And take boxing
And write songs about my bowie knife
Thanks Australia for everything, I will shout you a drink next time I am in town.