Remembering Things The Wrong Way

My mind is sort of stuck in low-gear these days, so I’m using blogging prompts to plow through while creating content.

Write about a time you realised you were mistaken.

I have a very clear and distinct memory of the first time I remember an adult in my family dying. My maternal grandfather had died before I was born, while my other three grandparents lived well into my adulthood.

My uncle’s parents were a bit older than my own grandparents. We knew them as Mr. and Mrs. Keck. They were frequently a part of our young childhood, whether we ate at their restaurant in Clairton or were at a family gathering. They were gruff and not really ‘kid-friendly’ people, but they were never mean or abusive. They were part of the landscape of our young lives.

Until the day Mr. Keck died. I remember feeling very sad and asking if I could attend the funeral, but I was sent to school. I remember sitting on the concrete wall outside of my junior high building and thinking about death for the first time. I was about 12 year old. I didn’t really feel sad for my own sake so much as my cousins. I was sad about the implications of death. A lot of the usual type questions a typical kid would have at that age. I definitely remember wondering if my parents would be home when we returned home from school. So much of these memories is wrapped up in the sensations of sitting on that wall, feeling the sun on my skin and the roughness of the concrete under my hands. I can close my eyes and go right back to those moments.

Except, that didn’t happen.

I learned through my genealogy work that Mr. Keck died in May 1979. I was 8 years old and a student in the third grade at my elementary school. No wall, no sitting in the sun. A completely different building in a different part of town.

I triple-checked his date of death because the memory seems so vivid to me, even now as I write this post. Why would my brain make that leap?

There are no other older men in my family who died around 1982, no neighbors or family friends that I am aware of now. I didn’t simply transpose events.

Mr. Keck’s death was not especially traumatic for me because I just perceived him as an older man who died as older men do. I had no real reason to distort the events in my mind, no trauma, no damage.

This bothers me because it makes no sense. Why would my brain fuse two different experiences like this?

My best guess is that it was sadder for me than I expected, probably no one actually talked wit me about my feelings so I soothed myself. Or perhaps I did sit on the concrete wall and think about death and Mr. Keck, just years after he died. Perhaps I read something in a book that reminded me of that experience? I was an avid reader and very much in my head as I struggled with the bullying and harassment of junior high. I didn’t really experience another such loss until 9th grade when my step-grandfather whom I only knew briefly died and then in high school when my great-grandfather died.

Carl William Keck (1901- 1979) was born in West Newton, Westmoreland County to a coal mining family. He moved with his parents to Clairton where they purchased a farm. In 1927, he married Edith Catherine Ackman (1899-1985) and they settled in Clairton. They opened a dairy and, eventually, Keck’s Famous Restaurant. They had one son, Carl Ronald, who married my aunt. Mr. Keck died in 1979 while on a fishing trip. Mrs. Keck lived until 1985, living above the restaurant.

Now that I can synchronize my memories with the actual facts, it helps me spend time thinking about the experiences I had in Clairton with the Kecks. I also dug a little deeper into their history and was surprised to find such a long, rich presence in this region. I can also think back to the most delicious hot roast turkey sandwich I ever had at Keck’s Famous Restaurant. 🙂

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