The Eulogy for Eleanor Kinsley

11
Feb

The Eulogy for Eleanor Kinsley

Eleanor Kinsley was born on April 16, 1936 in Rahway, New Jersey and grew up in a house in Westfield with her mother, father and her brother Calvin who was born two years before Eleanor.  Her father commuted into New York each day for his job with Mobil Oil.  Eleanor would spend her summers in Milton at her Uncle Clarence’s pond with her cousin Kay.  She would try to get a tan but it never would happen because she was just too fair skinned.

She took piano lessons for eleven years and played in recitals.  She attended the Westfield Methodist church where she sang in the choir.  When Eleanor was seventeen the family was surprised by the addition of a baby brother named John.  She graduated from Westfield High School in 1955 and began working for RCA as a hand punch operator.

Charlie, her future husband, was two year ahead of Eleanor in school and had moved to Westfield from Newark with his family when he was entering second grade.  Although they attended the same high school and actually sang for a time in the same large Church choir, they would not become truly aware of one another’s existence until after Eleanor graduated from high school.  A certain party was held to which Eleanor very reluctantly went with a friend, and as it so happened, Charlie also, was similarly dragged by one of his friends.  Charlie remembers entering the party and being smitten at first glance by the sight of Eleanor sitting alone.   In such settings, both Eleanor and Charlie were by nature “wall flowers.” Charlie remembers spending the entire party trying to get up the courage to speak to Eleanor.  Towards the end of the party his buddy caught hold of Charlie and said that the girl he had his eye on was about to leave and it was now or never if he was going to make his move.   So with her coat already on and ready to head out the door Charlie finally spoke to her.  The anxiety he felt in doing so was so great that to this day he can’t remember precisely what it was he said to her.  But apparently he asked if she wouldn’t mind going out with him some time, and she said yes, giving him her phone number.

And so not long after that they began going out on dates.   Charlie learned early on that he would have to call Eleanor well in advance, because if he called too late, Eleanor’s mother would answer the phone and tell him that his call was waking up baby John and hang up on him.  Despite this resistance, Charlie persisted.  They dated for a year until Eleanor let it be known that if this relationship was going to proceed further, there would have to be a ring on her finger.  And so at some point Charlie got down on his knee and proposed, and she accepted, and afterwards Charlie followed up by asking Eleanor’s father for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

They were having a hard time nailing down the date on which they would get married.  Charlie remembers driving Eleanor to the Perth Amboy Drive-In where they liked to go for the movies and more. He pulled the car over to the side of the road and declared that it was time for them to decide on a wedding date and Eleanor agreed, so Charlie flipped a coin and so it came to be that they were married on March 1st, 1958.

The wedding took place on a very windy day at the Westfield Methodist Church. Charlie remembers waiting at the church for his bride and her bridesmaids to show up.   The time for the wedding to start came and went with no sign of his bride, and a very anxious Charlie began to wonder if maybe he was being stood up.

As it turned out, Eleanor was back at the house waiting for a limousine to show up that never arrived.  So finally, her father said “let’s go”, and somehow Eleanor and her bridesmaids all crammed into his car and off to the church they went, much to the relief of Charlie.  There were lots of guests and a reception that was held afterwards in a hall in Plainfield.  At the end of the evening when it was time to depart on the honeymoon the car in front of Charlie’s wouldn’t start, so a whole bunch of Charlie’s buddies had to physically help Charlie move the car out of the way.

Charlie had been working at a printing company since his graduation five years earlier, and had finally worked his way up to three weeks of vacation.  He took it all so that Charlie and Eleanor could drive down to Mexico for a honeymoon truly to remember.  If you knew Eleanor as the homebody she was in latter years, it is fun to imagine Eleanor on such a great adventure.   For the duration of the trip the newlyweds averaged 310 miles a day, which included just two non-travel days.

Somewhere in Mississippi, Charlie realized he had left his suit at the wedding reception.  He called and got it shipped, arriving in San Antonio just in time for him to wear it at the fancy hotel they were booked to stay in.

In Mexico there was no speed limit and so with a lot of terrain to cover in between towns Charlie would at times get the car up to 80 miles an hour.  Eleanor would hold onto a pair of binoculars with which she would scout out possible obstructions ahead on the road. One time a farmer crossing the road with his goats led a quick-reacting Charlie to weave the car off the road at the last moment, spinning out onto a side road.   With their hearts still racing, the farmer profusely thanked Charlie for managing to spare his goats.

They hired a local tour guide for two and a half days who drove them around in Charlie’s car like they were royalty, advising them as to what was worth taking the time to see, and what wasn’t.  They saw a bullfight and ancient pyramids and lots more.

As they were leaving Mexico six Mexican soldiers armed with carbines forced Charlie to stop the car, demanding that he open the trunk so they could examine the contents.   Apparently they were looking for contraband of some sort. Charlie was afraid that maybe the souvenir sword he had bought might be a problem, and visions of ending their honeymoon in a Mexican jail flashed through the couple’s mind.  But the soldiers had no problem with the contents of the trunk and sent them on their way.

 

Eleanor and Charlie returned to Westfield where they moved into an apartment in which they would live for the next four years.

In 1962 they purchased a house in Lake Parsippany and moved into the home they would live in forever more. They promptly joined the Parsippany Methodist Church, having been greeted by Jack Kelshaw and Hank Heitschel the first day they attended worship at the little white church on the hill.  Eleanor took a job working for Grace Agre’s husband Eli at Sandoz while Charlie continued to commute to his job with the printing company.

In 1964 Rev. Ed Wynne became the pastor of the church.  Eleanor and Charlie began attending a weekly Bible study he led that was held at the home of Mary Thompson.  It was Rev. Wynne’s vision that this Bible study group would be ongoing and would be the place from which the church leaders would arise to guide the congregation into the future.  And so Eleanor and Charlie became very active in the church, attending the Bible study for years and becoming Sunday School teachers. At one point Charlie served as head usher and as president of the United Methodist Men.

Not long after arriving in Parsippany Eleanor and Charlie began trying to have children, but with no clear explanation from doctors as to why, they failed to conceive for four years.  They decided to put their names in for an adoption. They remember being interviewed by the agency in Morristown that would arrange the adoptions.  The agency also happened to be responsible for investigating child abuse cases, and so Eleanor and Charlie were grilled at great length, both separately and together about how they would parent their child, and whether they would use any form of corporal punishment, of which the agency didn’t seem to approve.   In spite of acknowledging that they would probably on occasion spank their child when needed as they had been when they were children, they were given approval for adoption, their honesty apparently appreciated.

Charlie remembers an initial meeting at the agency with 13 other couples who wanted to adopt.  The person in charge told the prospective parents, “Listen, there is no such thing as a blond, blue-eyed baby available for adoption, so if that is what you’re expecting, you might as well leave now.”  Eleanor and Charlie said they would take pretty much whomever they were given.    For nearly two years they waited for what they expected to be a little baby girl when finally one day they received a call telling them to come pick up their twin three month old baby boys, who, as I’m sure your realize, turned out to be as blond and blue-eyed as two children could be.

Eleanor and Charlie had to hurry to get another crib and seconds of pretty much everything else as well.  It is hard to imagine just how overwhelmed the young couple must have felt, especially Eleanor who quit her job to stay at home with David and Danny while Charlie went off each day to his job. Without any outside help to speak of, Eleanor was constantly running from one baby to the other to feed and change diapers and do everything else babies require.

 

When out making calls for his job, Charlie would pick up all the baby food he could find.  It was Charlie’s job at home to wash nearly 200 diapers a week and to do the late night feedings.

With the whole church family aware of the fact that the boys had come to the Kinsleys through adoption, Eleanor was determined that from early on her sons would understand the story of how they came to be a family together, consistently conveying the message that the love she and Charlie had for them was unconditional.  She made a point of telling them that their birth mother was to be admired for having the strength and courage to carry them to term and then to let them go so that they might have a better life than she was capable of providing.

As the years passed, the boys kept their mother running, literally. By their own telling, David and Danny weren’t the two little darling angels we might imagine them to be. They learned early on how to push their mother’s buttons and seemed to enjoy doing so. For instance, waiting for their mom in the car they would turn every possible switch or knob on the dashboard, so that when arrived and turned the key in the ignition, the wipers and the blower would turn on at full speed, the turn signals would blink and the radio would start blaring while they, out of reach in the backseat from their mother’s failed attempts to swat them would giggle in great amusement.

No matter how exasperated she got, Eleanor was determined not to curse, and so she would make up her own words to express her exasperation.  Her face contorted, she would spat out “Viddy!  Vaddy! Vu!!”  which the boys would find just hilarious.  They quickly learned where all the places in the house were in which a kid could hide out of sight, and so when they did manage to push their mother to the breaking point they were quick to run off and disappear where she could not find them, only to come out later when their mom had cooled down.  (It was Dan who figured out that the drier was a great place to hide where you were sure not to be found, and he showed it to David.  An often told story involves the time David took possession of the hiding spot before Danny could, leading Danny to get back at his brother by turning the drier on.)

Eleanor volunteered at her sons’ elementary school library so she could be close to them during the school day.  She tended to be something of a worrier and somewhat overprotective, in reaction to which David and Danny enjoyed climbing trees to heights that would send their mother into a frenzy.

The family took one major vacation together when the boys were around 7, taking a camper they owned to Williamsburg. Charlie remembers feeling like a million dollars taking his beloved sons out into the world to experience all the wondrous sights and sounds.

As the one who routinely was home with the boys, there is some evidence that Eleanor did not find the vacation quite so gratifying, and thereafter she decreed that Charlie would take the boys alone on vacation so they could have some quality bonding time together.  Having had bonding time to excess, she was content to have a few days home alone to herself.

In the one central task of her life, that of raising up two sons, Eleanor was truly a success as testified to in the really quality men David and Danny grew up to become.

She taught them how to take care of themselves, to be self-reliant.  Eleanor didn’t especially enjoy cooking, but she made sure her boys learned their way around a kitchen.

She also made sure they learned how to swim, taking them to the beach at Lake Parsippany and to their aunt’s pool.

Eleanor exposed her boys to music, encouraging them to join choirs and learn instruments — Dan the clarinet and David the saxophone — giving them a life long love of music and the pleasure that goes along with it.

She taught them the proper way to pet a dog, and to care for all living things. When the boys told their mother about a stray cat named Spencer who had wandered into the school and was destined to die if no one adopted him, she sent Charlie down to the school to bring him home, beginning a steady stream of cats in the Kinsley home from that point onward.

Eleanor was humble and lived a modest life without need of luxuries. She taught her sons the things that matter in life, and to be hard workers. When the boys were twelve she began to take jobs to earn money to help put her sons through college, as well as to have some money to do fun things with.  She started part time at Fashionella, and then worked for a couple of temp agencies before taking a job full time at Chubb.  She was a favorite there of the college guys who used to hang out with her on breaks and at lunch.  They started calling her “Big E” and would ask her for advice about dating.

Eleanor taught her sons to be compassionate, repeatedly encouraging them to try to put themselves in other people’s shoes — to imagine how it felt to see the world through another person’s eyes.

When her father died in July of 1984, she looked after her mother.  In 1989 she brought her to live with them so Eleanor could provide her with the care she needed as her health began to fail. Later she would have her brother John come to live with her as well.

In contrast to her own parents who could be quite bigoted, Eleanor would give her sons talks about how they should never discriminate, how underneath everybody was the same, and all people should be treated equally.

When David graduated college and came home with his friend Darryl, Eleanor became concerned when her son made frequent trips to the church to be counseled by the pastor. She worried about what the problem might be that her son was struggling with. What she didn’t know was that David was coming to terms with the fact that he was gay.  Having heard stories of gay men coming out to their parents and experiencing rejection David was reluctant to come out to his own parents. She let her son know that whatever it was that was troubling him, she hoped he would feel he could talk to her about it.

When he finally did, her response was, “Is that all?!”

David left it to his mother to tell her father.  The conversation I am told went something like this:

“You know, David likes Darryl.”

Charlie said, “I know David likes Darryl.”

“No,” said Eleanor, “David likes Darryl.”

Again, Charlie answered, “I know, David likes Darryl.”

“No,” said Eleanor yet again, “David really likes Darryl.”

Finally it dawned on Charlie what his wife was trying to tell him. And he too had no problem with the fact that his son was gay, and that he was in love with Darryl.  And the same was true when Danny came out as gay a year later.

In the latter years of her life, Eleanor became more and more of a homebody. She was content to sit in her favorite chair watching TV.  She had her fixed routines that include a snack each day of Oreo cookies and tea.  On the rare occasions she went out, for instance to attend a party at her sons’ house.  She’d enjoy herself and amuse guests with her quirky sense of humor, but after two hours she would need to return home to make sure everything was okay back at the house, that the gas hadn’t been left home and the cats were alive.

Eleanor enjoyed watching movies, including old b movies, and the occasional scary movie.  Somewhere in the 90s she watched the classic horror movie, “Child’s Play” in which a creepy doll named Chuckie comes to life bringing about a reign of terror.  She had a quirky sense of humor, and from then on Charlie and Eleanor became “Chuckie and Big E.”

The last couple of years of Eleanor’s life were very difficult as she steadily succumbed to Alzheimer’s Disease. The extraordinary love that had sustained almost 58 years of marriage was evident in the faithful and tender way Charlie cared for his wife as she declined.