He died last week at 2:45 pm on December 18th, 2013 at his son Paul’s home. He had moved there only a few days prior. During the last few weeks he became almost totally dependent. He was ready to leave this life and it was a good time. And he wanted to die at home, not in a hospital. Mission accomplished.
At 85 years old, he lived a full life. Ray K was my DOD. He was truly a remarkable man, and not just because he was DOD. Few of us end up remarkable. I often thought, from an early age, that if I had 20% of DOD’s gifts and capabilities, I’d consider myself lucky.
Fresh out of four years in the Marine Corps, at 24 years old he married DOM. A year later to the day, I was born, followed by six others at one-and-a-half-year clips between each. We lived in Baltimore, MD for many years where he trained in a lab in the field of metallography. His soon developed skills landed him a job with a well known watchmaker in Lancaster PA.
Growing up, he was home every evening, 365 days per year. He was strict, but always loving. After coming home from his day job, and after the traditional family dinner, he filled his time with projects, all of which were for the benefit of his family. Early on, when I was young, just one of his many side projects was making batches of lemon beer and orange beer in large, thick 15 gallon glass jugs. When he started batch-making, there would be about 30 of them grouped together on the basement floor. Occasionally one or two would implode, a reminder that they were ending their fermentation process and ready to consume. We would wait with excited anticipation to start tasting the homemade soda brew once the jugs were opened.
His projects were all new explorations and ever evolving. When we moved to the country around the time I was in high school, he built a fireplace and chimney out of fieldstone that we dug up from the property. The fireplace was magnificently beautiful, unique and immense. He had never built a stone fireplace and chimney before, but he plunged into the project as if he knew how, and somehow he did.
He had several professions throughout his working career, but his main love was working with wood. He was an artisan wood-smith. He could make just about anything out of wood. If it was furniture, the joints, hinges, handles, were all made out of wood. He rarely bought raw or semi-finished wood. He started from the tree. Many of his pieces would be blended from the rich colors of birch, elm, cherry, oak, spruce, maple, pine, walnut and chestnut. I’m sure I’m not naming them all. The number and types of items he made are too numerous to describe, but they were all one-of-a-kind, awe-inspiring pieces.
When he wasn’t working with wood, he was working on a major home re-construction project, all the while either tending a large garden, working a vineyard, doing masonry or electrical work, plumbing, painting, making wine, being a locksmith, and later in life, a baker. One of his latest projects was cataloging recipes for making special meals with pressure cookers. His projects, on top of other projects, on top of his day job, were always organized with a vision of the end clearly painted in his mind and either technically outlined on his drafting table or carefully written in journals.
On top of his working projects, he was a lover of opera. His collection measures in the hundreds, now all on disc, recorded and cataloged in high-fidelity. He knew the names of all the operas in his collection.
He was only ever with two women in his life (that I’m aware), DOM for 36 years and then his second wife of 25 years, who died unexpectedly 6.5 weeks before he did. He was a home-body, dedicated to his mate and his home projects. A more dependable man I’ve never known.
He was a man’s man, one that others would want to emulate, yet he never flaunted his skills or abilities, nor did he boast about any of his many accomplishments. He was a planner and a doer, interested and interesting. Because most of his projects involved physical labor, he was physically rock-solid most of his life. I would never have wanted to mess with him, although I’ve never known him to be provoked to the point of messing with anyone. He had a hard exterior and knew how to regulate his interior between cool and warm, allowing him to keep his emotions in check while letting his love seep through at the right time. His physical toughness softened toward the end as he became more frail, somehow allowing his delightful humor to spill into every conversation.
He was cremated earlier this week. Once the holidays are over, the siblings plan to celebrate him with a small family remembrance. As in every family, each member evolves with their own experiences. I can say that mine, as it pertains to DOD, is only filled with appreciation of a man I admired much more than I ever let on.