Our friend, Ken

My dear friend, Ken Hampton, has gone ahead.
That’s how I like to think of it, as though he is breaking trail, lighting the way for those of us who remain behind.
I had the great fortune of sharing elementary school with Ken and even better we shared the same birthday.
We used to laugh when he claimed to be older, as he was born in the morning and I was born in the evening, though neither of us were entirely sure those statistics were accurate.
Ken achieved many things, but every day of his life he was a “good man.” He made school happier and friendlier.
Where I was a puny shrimp, Ken was tall, taller than everyone, occupying the biggest desk in the class.
When I sat in his desk, my feet never came close to touching the floor and at that time I was pretty sure he was taller than the Friendly Giant and kinder.
Ken stood guard for everyone, including me. In Grade 4, during high jump for our school track and field practice on a particularly windy day, Ken and John DeGagne held the rather bent and distorted aluminum high jump bar in place.
I broke my own feeble high jump record that day and though I can’t be sure, I suspect I had some help from Ken and John.
Ken had a great laugh, a laugh that could be relied on for sincerity and when we heard that laugh we knew all was well.
The joy of attending a small country school like Alberton Central was the preservation of our innocence, a delayed entry into a world we weren’t sure we wanted to be part of. Heading to high school was not anything we were eager for.
We still liked playing pretend when we were teenagers, supposedly obligated to shed that type of play. That privilege has gone the way of the Dodo.
To celebrate the end of summer in 1969, we had a bonfire in Ken’s back yard. We cooked hot dogs on a stick and did a lot of laughing. As it got dark we shared a few of our worries about growing up.
“Town kids are already kissing each other,” I announced, having been witness to such madness at a party with a family friend, a town kid.
They played spin the bottle in the basement of someone’s house and then locked lips for what seemed like a very long time.
Of course, the lights were switched off during this lip locking. I ran back to the home where my parents were and breathlessly told my dad what these kids were up to.
He gathered me up in his arms, I think perhaps relieved that I hadn’t been a participant.
Luckily, the spinning bottle never landed on me. The memory of that still makes me laugh right out loud.
As I described the event to my friends around the fire, we all expressed our shock followed by a long stretch of silence until Marty suggested we could maybe give this kissing thing a try, to see what all the fuss was about.
Ken and I looked at each other before laughing uproariously at the ridiculous notion.
Though we were undoubtedly curious, I’m very glad we were in no hurry to grow up.
I was so lucky to have called Ken my friend. He made the world a happier place to be.
We were all better for having known him and we won’t forget him, not ever.
wendistewart@live.ca

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