Reflecting at 80
Judy Kimeldorf was born in 1940 and witnessed or participated in world-changing events from the erection of the Berlin Wall to Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, and now the disappointing step back into nationalism and fascism. She spends her time in retirement on community projects including Food Banks, monthly standing out with Trump-GOP protest placards programs, coordinating a program providing back-to-school supplies for limited income families, and guiding her local home owners association. I (her husband of 40+ years) invited 50 of her close friends to celebrate her 80th birthday. Judy and I celebrate birthdays by remembering and reflecting, and this year, Judy recalled experiences shaping her life across 80 years. This piece is built from that speech and contains lessons for us all about balancing our fears and disappointments with our hopes and blessings.
~ Martin Kimeldorf
I was the first grandchild on my mother’s side of the family. After they were married my mother and father moved to North Carolina where my father had a job in a paper mill. My mother came from a big family and she had 3sisters and a brother. They lived in an apartment in Camden, NJ. When I was born, my mother’s two sisters still lived with my grandmother. After my birth, my dad called them with the news. Now remember this is 1940 and phones weren’t what they are today. My grandmother answered the phone. It was 6:31 am. She listened and then yelled “A boy?” then she yelled “A girl!” Her sisters then yelled “Twins!” After it got straightened out, my grandmother told my dad, they had expected the call, because that night was there was a full moon.
Now this isn’t a fabulous story, but here’s the thing. After I left home at age 18, every year from the time I was 19 until I was 66, my dad called me at 6:30am on Feb 23 to wish me a happy birthday and retell this story.
Most of you at lunch today have known me the better part of the 40 years I have lived in Olympia. But now I will share some experiences you may not have heard that define who I am today.
- I earned a sharpshooter’s badge in riflery and climbed Mount Washington one summer when I was at camp. While I support an assault rifle ban, I respect the right of responsible citizens to own guns for sport, competition, or hunting.
- I was on the varsity field hockey team and varsity tennis team as a sophomore at my high school in Pennsylvania. I look back and feel my participation helped set in motion efforts that lead to Title IX.
- Germany 1961: I toured with a church-friendship group in East Germany. One night we saw armored vehicles enter, we were placed under surveillance or guard as they put up the Berlin Wall.
- I was a bridesmaid at my cousin’s wedding in Yokohama Japan. Eventually, I would travel all over the world, and this expanded my notion of what human culture could become.
- I went to college for $70 a semester. It was a time when college was almost-free. I know we can do that again in this century.
- I was a non-reader until 4th grade. Later I would become a reading teacher and book lover. I’m a member of 2 book clubs today.
- I loved learning and reading. I good above average grades until I enrolled in a course in for Advanced Scientific Russian Translation at the University of California, in Berkeley, CA. I enrolled because my dad was an engineer and I was required to study a foreign language. It was a humbling experience.
- I witnessed a murder-suicide one afternoon while studying in the main Cal library. I have probably never completely processed that experience, except to be grateful for the life I have enjoyed.
- I like routine. I ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich everyday from 7th grade until I graduated from high school. And now I enjoy it most days in retirement.
In everyone’s lifetime there are historic events that shape society and the person you will become. Here are a few of mine.
1963– Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream speech” in the midst of burning cities and brutal marches, sit-in and freedom bus rides. This great man gave us beautiful words of hope. It was a hope for what we could and should be. His words lifted me and so many others up. I hang onto those words today as much as I did in 1963.
Just 3 months after that King speech, John Kennedy was shot. This was my first experience with what we today call shock-and-awe. Sadly this has become an instrument of foreign policy with bombs and drones. This is why I remain and anti-war activist.
In 1981 air traffic controllers went on strike and Ronald Reagan fired all of them. The irony of the event startled me. Those privileged union members had supported Reagan in overwhelming numbers and now he and the republicans would work to destroy them. This event foreshadowed the decline of unions in our country.
When the year 2000 dawned, it was a chance to be hopeful, to turn the page. And then 9/11 occurred, and this event propelled us into endless war, a financial collapse in 2008, diminished hope, and today a total collapse of truth and the rule of law. For the second time in my life, I feel I am again caught up frightful change and challenge. I admired the beginning of the 60s outburst that first appeared in the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. Today, the radicalism is right wing, and following a fascist rhetoric. These are not moderate times and that’s why today I feel the Bern.
The irony of course is that these world-changing and challenging events are juxtaposed upon the broader canvas filled with blessing in my everyday life. I enjoy this day especially because birthdays mean gifts. Today I want to enlarge the word gifts, far beyond those gaily wrapped boxed gifts. Today I want to recall and reminisce about the many gifts in my life.
My first important gift was being raised by wonderful, loving parents. They were also responsible for the next gift, the gift of place. In 1956 we moved west. The three of us embraced the rhythm of Western life. On the west coast the scenery seemed bigger, more things seemed possible. Later upon reflection, we all agreed that we became much more than we would have been had we stayed in the east.
Another gift was that of my life’s work in the school house. When I retired from teaching I told my principal, I did not love everyday on the job, but I loved most of them. How lucky was that!
My husband Martin gifted a special insight into the human-canine connection. You see, Martin could not live without a dog in the house. I on the other hand had grown up with a dog, but then spent my young adulthood without one. Now over the last 43 years we have had 6 wonderful dogs. Each furry friend provided us with fun, comfort, and happiness. It is hard to take yourself too seriously when you have a canine pal. They know what is important and sometimes a big slobbery kiss just hits the spot.
The next gift is more complicated. When I turned 65 I had no thought of retiring. One day Martin said quite bluntly, “If you want to spend more time with your dad, you should retire…after all, he is 95.” That shocked me into action—not my usual response to his urgent calls for change. I did all the paper work etc. and was feeling pretty complicated accomplished in that task; pleased that things were moving along. Then Martin added, “You know if people retired without a plan, they usually don’t live more than 6 months!”
Well as you know, I have few talents and hobbies. I don’t sew (like Martin), nor do I knit, quilt or darn. I play no musical instrument, and I despise crafts of all kinds. I’m also not keen on gym activities. So I decided to line up lunch or coffee dates with friends—something I am good at.
I got out my list and started with Yvonne Johansen, a former teaching assistant of mine and a lovely person. I dialed her number and a person picked up, replying “Hello this is Carla, Carla Jones.” Well Carla and Dean Jones were more Martin’s friends. I had met them once or twice, but had not seen either in years. I explained to Carla that her telephone number was one down from the person I had meant to call; I went on to explain how I was going to make a lunch date with that person. I then pivoted and asked Carla to lunch. She said yes and here she is today at my 80th birthday!
Those of you who know Martin well, know he doesn’t leave much to chance. While I was lining up lunch dates, he was working on my behalf elsewhere. He knew I loved books, and our local Fireside bookstore. He made it his mission to get me hired when I retired. I don’t know any of the details, but there at my school retirement party, was Jane (the bookstore owner) sitting next to my Dad talking about North Carolina. And that October Jane invited me to work at her bookstore. I loved it and happily worked my 4-hour shifts until 2012 when the Jane retired.
And my last gift is sitting here before me—It’s you dear friends. And as they say in the town of Lake Woebegone, you are all good-looking and well above average. And seriously, you are fun, smart, generous, thoughtful, committed, lively, informed, dedicated, talented and young. I am so lucky to have you in my life, you are making my journey grand.
[The event ends with Judy handing the microphone to the crowd, who pass it around and fill the room with such incredible loving words—Martin]
- Remembering: A Woman’s Life Well-Lived – by Judy Kimeldorf - February 27, 2020