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Category: growing up


 I was sitting at the Algonquin lounge in New York City, enjoying a cheap scotch and a fine cigar.  I had been partial to scotch for many years and like most people who look forward to sloshing some down at the end of the day, I would drink too much and not enough. It was always a challenge for me to walk the line between the two and I would on rare occasion cross the line into some slurred speech but be sober enough to recognize it and quit.

 Or almost always quit. I suppose I was as smart as a stupid drinker can be and would weigh the cost of a clownish evening of drink against the inevitable regret, sometimes embarrassment when I was younger, even the danger that could come with it.

 I had not been shamefully sloshed in many years. But now it was another day. My country began another heroic adventure to save the poor huddled masses with our bombs and their blood.

 Less than a week earlier I had bet a former Vietnam pilot and close friend 100 sit ups that our country’s brilliance, courage and Manifest Destiny II (controlling the Middle East), would take us to war by week’s end.  I won the bet that very night and watched as the White House sold it to our fellow Americans as an effort to save the Middle East, bringing its freedom-loving people the peace, prosperity and love of liberty they had unearned but deserved to have crammed down their throats.  My sarcasm and another scotch warmed me as we watched our “bunker busters” excavate our way to that tranquil Muslim World that was sure to be its result. For me it was a blindness to history, both ours and theirs, and a numbing misunderstanding of human nature.

 By evening’s end I had noticed that my speech and posture were purchasing some amusement and a bit of concern from fellow party goers. Although, I was certain my angry blubbering about the bombs was mind expanding to others and I knew my thinking still be sharp because I could plainly see that friends were all distressed by the notion of me driving home.  So, with a concern for them and the hope of saving anyone inconvenience, I did the generous, thoughtful, distressingly stupid thing. I snuck out and got in my car.

 My car, the third of four I would ever own, was an old squatty brown Audi which had never gracefully accepted my hulking 6’4” carcass without complaint.  No reason for this night to be an exception, so I accepted its clunk-on-the-head greeting as I fell into the seat and fumbled for my keys. The drive back to my bed, still the sleeping bag under my office desk, was about three miles away and would normally take a couple of minutes. But this night it would be a half hour or more. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, so I crept at little more than a walking pace down every back street there was. By the time I arrived I was hungry but still steaming in anger about all those dying and yet to die half a globe away. I pulled into the Safeway next to our office and at the top of my lungs with the whole world as my audience, I screamed “FUCK George Bush” as I got out of the car.

 Unnoticed were three athletic college students just leaving the Safeway. It seems they were very patriotic and wanted a little war all their own, right there in the parking lot.  They surrounded me and had a few things to scream themselves, mostly about my being un-American.  I of course responded and let them know how sorry I was, how much I admired, respected, and appreciated their knowledgeable, thoughtful opinions and how hopeful I was that they would heed their President’s call to duty, drop out of school, enlist and die.  Fearful that my speech might be slurred with drink or in any way misunderstood, I said these kindnesses with all the calmness, charm and volume of a charging bull elephant.

 Good fortune saved my sloppy self, for at the very moment “die” left my lips, the Safeway’s night manager and an assistant or two burst out the doors saying they had called the police. We all looked at each other, decided that this might not terminate well for any of us, and we parted ways, they to their car and me to mine.

 I drove my car the half block down to my office, went inside and collapsed under my desk.  The next morning, now starving, I started back to the Safeway to get a lot of whatever to eat. It was then that I noticed a beaten-up old car parked at a peculiar angle in the lot, its windows all smashed in, the mirrors dislocated from their mounts and on the front and back seats a number of large boulders resting in a sea of glass chips.  As I took the scene in, my mind gathered some purchase. I had to accept the fact that it was my car I was looking at. I walked on, thinking I got what I deserved but mostly hoping that the Safeway night manager’s shift would by now have ended.

 I loved the Algonquin Hotel. I could not afford to stay there or drink its scotch, but it did have a nice selection of fine cigars. The hotel was located a door down from my own which was less than a fourth the cost, so that with a flask of my own cheap scotch I could enjoy a relaxing evening in the homey elegance of the Algonquin for the cost of a single cigar.

 The cigar was not cheap, but the taste was the thing of it. I did not mind my cheap scotch and actually preferred it. Expensive scotches, sometimes given to me by well-meaning friends, always tasted like soap and never had that burning bite that made you gasp and let you know you were getting your money’s worth. It was the “buzz,” that moment that drink washes contentment through your brain that I sought most evenings.

 The cigar on the other hand needed to be a very good one, which was hard to find.  Cigars are similar to wine, where consistency becomes an art, and quality and taste can shift dramatically from year to year even within the same brand.  I had known nothing of these things two years earlier. In fact, I had not smoked in many years.  I had managed to quit cigarettes on a bet when I was in the State Senate.  Both my secretary and I had been heavy smokers and somehow we had gotten into an argument over willpower, she insisting that she had more than I. We put $0.50, the price of a pack back then, in a large jar every day that we did not smoke and the first one that gave up had to use the can to take the other to whatever kind of meal it would buy.  A month or so later I won. We had built up a significant sum and had a fine lunch at one of the city’s best restaurants.

 It would be a dozen years before I was tempted to smoke again. It was on one of my many Vote Smart trips that included New York. I was reading a short story called The Day in the Life of a Cigar. It was a charming story about the various people, wealthy and poor, whose days were enriched by one of Fidel Castro’s Cohibas—the preeminent cigar saved in his revolution through the ingenuity of a woman.

  Later that day I recalled the story and how it had tempted me to Geri, a friend who had had made Carnegie our most supportive foundation.  Where she got it I do not know, but a week later she sent me a Cohiba, impossible to get domestically because of the Cuban embargo set by President Kennedy the day after sending out Piere Salinger, his Press Secretary, to buy up every Cuban cigar in town.

 The cigar sat in my desk for almost a month when years of good fortune that comes with an enjoyable vice arrived in the form of another article, this one in the New York Times.  It turns out that cigars do have a life, need to be cared for, given a home and a good bed, kept at the right temperature with just the right amount of humidity or they soon die.

 I opened my desk drawer, stared at my Cohiba, picked it up, rolled it between my thumb and finger and the outer rapper of tobacco began to peel away. My cigar was clearly on its last legs. I thought a moment and then bit off the end, something I had seen done in the movies, and lit it up.  Had it been a cheap cigar, a bad year for cigars, or simply a cigarette, I am certain my life would not have changed.  But it was none of those things. It was, in a word, yummy.

 I was no fool on such matters. There was a reason I had quit the joy of smoking long ago and it had everything to do with my fear of death.  But my fear of death had subsided somewhat and for me a fine cigar had suddenly become the choicest of pleasures, so I set up an appointment with my doctor.

 Explaining to the doctor, a very reasonable and conscientious fellow, that I wanted to invite cigars into my evening life, that I did not inhale the smoke, at least not directly (most cigar smokers don’t), that it was a flavor—a taste thing—I asked, “How dangerous is it? Are there any studies on cigar smoking?”   He said, “Well, there aren’t really any cigar studies and if you take up just one cigar a day, there is not much chance you will get lung cancer. It is more likely that in 15 to 20 years I will be chopping out your tongue, some cheek or maybe a hunk of your jaw along with a piece of your throat.”  I did not think long. The pleasure was too great and besides, how vain can an old man be and old is what I would be in another 20 years. The doc could have my jaw.

 At this writing, more than 30 years have passed since that doctor/patient conference. I can now disclose that the 12,763 yummy evenings I have enjoyed were well worth it. Doc can have any old, wrinkled, blotchy, chunk of me when he wants. I will not regret it.

 A comfortable seat at the Algonquin bar, a fine cigar and a swig of cheap scotch taken on the sneak, suggests—almost demands—reflection on your day’s activities. It was now such a moment, feeling contented with my day and the scotch washing over my brain and knowing for certain all was right and good with the world.  I thought of calling Mommy. I had not talked to her that week as I usually did and thought I should check in.

 I picked up the phone and dialed and was instantly sobered by a man’s “hello.”  What man would dare be so presumptuous as to answer my mother’s phone? My mother had never dated another man, and now at 74, mostly on her own  — well, my spurs were on and my guns loaded. “Let me speak to Mrs. Kimball,” I demanded. With a curt but professional tone the man asked, “Who is this?”  I blurted, “This is her son, let me speak to her.”   There was a long pause and then, “This is Sargent Hickle with the Tucson Police Department. I am sorry sir, but your mother is dead.”

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Richard with nieces

When young we were so concerned about what others thought of us. In our middle years we did not care so much. Now old, it becomes clear no one much thinks of us at all.

I suppose that is so with most of us as we age. Our energy spent, our ambition gone, the flush of fresh ideas diffused and drifted away.

When I was young, I believed in Santa Clause. A bit older and I no longer believed. Now old, I am Santa Clause and so are you.

Don’t leave without giving the present of your life: what you experienced, what you learned, what you know. Write it, record it, film it.


Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder — Sign up on my Blog at: or at:

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The Miracle of Me



My father’s passing was altogether different.

His burial ended with what seemed every police officer in town, off their motorcycles and out of their cars, in a long line of helmets in hand and in salute as the hearse rolled passed. It surprised me to see that, but I instantly understood. Even at just 13 years I quite naturally got it. The greatest person ever born was passing.

He had come to Arizona from Massachusetts in 1927 as a sick 17-year-old. He had fought ill health much of his life and when his father died his mother brought him out, hoping the dry desert air would do him good. It worked! By the end of his first year, starting as a junior at Tucson High School, he was elected Student Body President, starred in the school play, was President of both the Junior and Senior Clubs, led the Latin Forum, became the state’s debate champion, and captained the school’s tennis team. That last one, the tennis team thing, didn’t seem like a big deal until I found out the school didn’t have a tennis court at the time. In fact, I doubt there was a tennis court anywhere in town. Somehow, he got 50 of his classmates wanting to play tennis and thus convincing the town to build its first tennis courts at his high school.

He had been president of his high school, the University of Arizona’s lawyer, Tucson’s Chief Magistrate, the State Senate’s Majority Leader, and the target of a long-distance javelin thrower who stuck it in his back (or that at least is the tale he liked to tell about that long scar down his right shoulder). He had come from a family that landed in Boston in 1632, the first being a fellow by the name of Richard Kimball (my name sake), a wheelwright. By the 1880s they had created the Kimball Opera House in Atlanta (where they convinced the governor to move the capitol), and had factories and hotels from Boston to Waikiki. All of it anchored in that carriage business Richard had started and where Thomas Edison would one day display his new-fangled lights, not long before Henry Ford heard of the carriage assembly line they developed and converted it to some newfangled put puts. I knew none of this until long after his death. He just never talked about himself or his family.

Dad and Me

All that he had been to others was insignificant to me. When you are 13 years old and the greatest influence in your life becomes seriously ill, and the seriousness is kept protectively secret from you, and when he is suddenly announced dead at your kitchen door, the devastation is an indescribable torment that you never fully recover from.

The 13 years I spent with him pointed the way to every important career decision I ever made.

I was maybe six when we had our first political discussion. It was simple and to the point. As we pulled out of the St. Ambrose School parking lot, he noticed that I was staring up at the Stars and Stripes fluttering at the top of a pole in the school yard. He asked me if I knew what that was. I shrugged and said it’s a flag. He turned around, looked at me, “Do you know what it means?” I had no idea; it was just a flag. “Kimmy, that’s our flag,” he said. “For a great many years thousands have fought for that flag and many have died defending it. You should be very proud of our flag.” That was all he said, but the impact was colossal. To say that I was then proud is a whopping understatement. As we drove along, I started to notice the flag over the bank, over the post office, over the tallest office buildings in town. With each sighting I became more excited, and my sense of pride swelled. In that short drive I had become bigger, taller, and more full of myself than I ever would be again. When we finally reached home and pulled into the driveway, I saw my best buddies, Butchy Becker and Stevie Bogard, sitting under a tree across the street. I didn’t wait for the Packard to come to a complete stop, I jumped.

After Dad scolded me and disappeared into the house, I sauntered over to where Stevie and Butchy were sitting. Slowing to a shuffling swagger as they noticed me, I said, “You know that red and white flag that’s over just about every building in town?” “Yeah,” they said, glancing at each other. “Well, that’s our flag,” I triumphantly announced. Butchy and Stevie were unimpressed and gave a puzzled condescending response to the enormity of my revelation. “So what?” they said.

“Well that is our flag! It is everywhere, people have died defending OUR flag. Where is your flag?”

Everybody knew my Dad, no matter where we went folks seemed to know who he was. As a kid I didn’t know why but traveling around was just different with my dad than it was with anyone else. With him I wasn’t invisible, couldn’t be invisible but did not care, because I was very popular and didn’t have to do anything or say anything to earn people’s affection.

I knew so little about him when he was alive. My discovery of who he was, what he was, and where he came from happened long after his death. Most important to me in those early years is that he never thought I was slow or stupid. If anything, he seemed to think I was special and took me everywhere.

I loved it! Particularly the track meets, baseball games, basketball games and the U of A’s football games, where he would introduce me to the players and even got the U of A football coach to be my confirmation father (a big deal in the Catholic Church). At games, which Mom rarely went to, Dad would sometimes get us a room in the press box, where he would announce the games — something he had volunteered to do back when he was a law student in the early 1930’s because the university would not pay anyone to do it. The university changed its mind after Dad’s first game, when they heard him occasionally interject announcements about the latest sale down at the Ford dealership or the after-the-game hamburger specials at Burger Boy.

He got us one of the press box rooms hoping to keep an eye on us and keep us out of trouble. It didn’t work. Inevitably by the second half, the school would be down by a dozen points or so and Dad’s idiot children would fill the time by doing the kinds of things idiots do. If we had nothing of value to destroy, we could always toss airplanes made from the program pages or bits of popcorn down on the crowd below.

By the time he died I was old enough to know that he was a pretty big deal to a lot of people. Everyone knew him, respected him, liked him but no one more than me. My world simply cycled around his presence and anything we might do together.

The only political campaign he was ever in that I felt old enough to help with was in 1956. I was 7 and it was a race for something called Governor. I didn’t understand much about it, but I noticed one afternoon as we pulled into the neighborhood drug store a stack of colorful stickers on the back seat next to me that said, “Kimball for Governor.”

As we pulled into the drug store parking lot, I asked him what they were for. “Oh, people put those on their bumpers to show their support,” he replied, then hopped out of the car saying, “I’ll be back in a minute.”

Now it is a parent’s lot in life to provide for their kids, always helping you, encouraging you and such, but it is a rare event when a child thinks of returning the favor.

As he entered the drug store, I was instantly on the job and a few minutes later Dad came out just as I was gluing the last bumper at the far end of the parking lot.

Dropping your jaw and having it slap against your chest is, I believe, a unique ability, and I feel certain no one but my father had it. Just as surprising was his ability to run, something I had never seen him do as he grabbed and slung me into the car. Sadly, the only thanks I got was from the super-exciting squeal the tires made as we headed for home.

Dad was always suffering from some ailment that stole his breath. A few weeks after the “bumper sticker incident,” he got sick again, which was a part of our family life from time to time. He kept up his unsuccessful campaign for Governor from a hospital bed.

Giving Dad my tough look for a campaign picture

When he was healthy, I would sometimes feel trapped into listening to him talk with his friends. I cannot recall much of the adult subject matter discussed but I did notice that everyone seemed to care what he had to say and on occasion he would notice me and dumb down the conversation in efforts to include me. And that was the thing about Dad, sometimes he would treat me like I was an adult, or at least I felt like he did. The day that he spoke to me about his being the Majority Leader was to become a memory of considerable significance to me. I can’t remember his exact words, but I do remember his exact meaning. He said, “If you are interested in doing good in life, public service allows you to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” Twenty years later, I would sit as the youngest member of the Arizona State Senate where he sat and wonder what the Hell had happened to that idea.

Serious floor debate did not exist because outcomes were known in advance, the outcomes pre-arranged either in the majority party caucus or, if absolutely necessary, in concert with the minority leader, who might be able to corral a few cross over votes. On my first depressing day, after all the senate members filed out, I sat silently in what might have been my father’s seat thinking, “My God, was my father one of these people?”

He wasn’t, and I think I can prove it, prove that it is honor, ethics and public good that has deteriorated before I am ended with this book.

At 13, you are just old enough to know what death means, but you’re not old enough to cope. As I came home from school on a perfectly good day Mom met me at the back screen door. Her manner was matter of fact, no nonsense, just get the painful truth of it out. “Kimmy, your father passed away this morning.” In an instant, what had been ordinary, his struggling up stadium steps to his press box, the wheezing for breath, his never used old tennis racquet and golf clubs, and that odd look he gave me during my last visit to the hospital blasted into an unbearable reality. He would never talk or walk, never see, smell, touch, laugh or breathe. I would never see him again, forever, forever and ever.

To this young boy the effect instantly crushed every bone from my body. The wailing went on for hours and would re-emerge for days.

Mom, unable to console me, started sending in seconds, my older brothers, and friends of the family. They would enter my room in futile efforts to calm me down. It wasn’t until late that first night when I saw how worried she was about me that I bit into my tongue to relieve the pain that was the most excruciating I had ever known. To say I wanted to die and join him wherever he was, would be spot on the mark.

Adults are forever casting a child’s traumas as less significant than their own.

They aren’t!

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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A mother’s death can be as devastating and life altering as any event can be. I assume it is the same with all adults who lose their last parent, you suddenly have some itty-bitty sense of the loneliness that an orphan feels. You have lost the crutches you didn’t know you had leaned on for a lifetime, and suddenly must walk on alone.

There were plenty of private tears when Mom passed but there was also an intense pride that was palpable to everyone in the church as the four brothers sat alone, ram rod, shoulder to shoulder, in the first pew facing what remained of her.

I was in my late forties, adjusting my posture to sit straight and proud, when the youngest brother, Johnny, stood up to give the eulogy, a selection mother had requested should she die. Billy, Bobby and I shifted nervously in the pew. Johnny, the youngest, had never given a speech before, and was intensely close to Mother. John wept at her passing as if he had lost the most loyal friend he had ever known and that was so.

We were certain he wouldn’t be able to talk about Mom in front of the crowd and hold it together. But Mommy knew best. He stood up and walked with resolve to the pulpit, turned and faced the crowd . . . then hesitated, just stood there. After an anxious moment, he did a strange thing. He reached into his pocket with his right hand, pulling something out, then crossed his hand over his body, placing it over the bicep of his other arm. The brothers were ready to stand, go up and let him off the hook, but he began to speak, a wonderful eulogy, only pausing a few times. His pauses were a bit lengthy as he seemed to hug himself and then went on warm and touching in a way that was exquisitely personal to the three of us looking up at him.

He concluded his eulogy talking about Colonia Solana, the old neighborhood where we were all raised and learned most everything valuable that we ever would. He told stories about the neighborhood, said there were a lot of other families and a lot of other kids, and then finished with, “But it belonged to us, the Kimball brothers, it was our neighborhood, we knew it, everyone knew it, we owned it.”

When it was over, I told him how wonderful it was, how proud and enormously impressed I was with what he said, and how he had managed to hold it together and get through it.

“I knew I couldn’t do it,” he said. “What are you talking about, you were just terrific,” I argued. He then looked at me strangely, unsure of something, then went on, “I knew I would lose it, so I had this thing.” He reached into his pocket and pulled it out. “Every time I started to lose it,” he said, “I crossed my arms and dug this in.” He had pulled out a long bloody needle.

There were still some people around and I had to quickly excuse myself, I hadn’t yet cried that day. It was so typical of my brothers, an intensely secret, protective, passion that I would only know in childhood through my brothers.

Colonia Solana had been one of the nicest neighborhoods in town, with maybe 100 old well-to-do homes. My mother had sold our home 15 years before and the four of us had never gone back there together, but we did that day with the box of Mom’s ashes. We told outrageous stories of things we remembered and had done at each house as we slowly passed them until we got to our own. As we approached our old house and Billy, Johnny and I were debating a befitting placement for mom’s ashes, Bobby suddenly hopped out of the car with that box of Mom, marched up the driveway to the front door, and started casting her all over the grounds and the memories of what she and we had done at that glorious place.

I doubt she would have approved; her memories could not have been our memories. By rough calculation she had changed almost 5000 diapers, prepared 65,700 meals, swept, vacuumed and scrubbed 8,000 rooms and laundered a pile of clothes, that if neatly folded and stacked (not always the case), would have roughly equaled the cruising altitude of a 747. The number of motherly-sponsored or -ushered events, Sunday masses, birthdays, holidays, PTAs, Cub Scouts, football, baseball, basketball, swimming, school shows, doctors’ visits, teacher conferences, summer camps, picnics, vacations, and at least one enema on yours truly, were more numerous than my memories can reasonably be expected to calculate.

Perhaps she was like your mother if you were of shockingly good fortune.

All that she had done in our teenage years, she did alone. Her husband dead, leaving her with nowhere near the money the house would suggest and four boys with the total accumulated good sense of mice tickling the whiskers of sleeping cats.

The four brothers had been unrelenting in their mischief. It never really occurred to us that she was human. She was tough and although she would often laugh, I never saw her cry but for that one occasion with the pharmacist. As the four of us aged and mellowed, which took a forever, we slowly came to realize that Mom could have had a life, she had wanted things, once had ambitions that had nothing to do with us at all.


As I said, she had knockout good looks and brains. She also had her own radio show, did some television, had chances to work in the theater, even had an offer to kick off her career in Hollywood from some comedian she once wowed named Bob Hope. She dumped on it all for the mountains of laundry, dishes, meals, schools, sicknesses, and endless trouble and trauma brought by four thoughtless jackass children. She did her duty, but it was clear that part of her longed for that other life she could have had. So, on occasion she would dabble with her dream, doing comedic monologues at conventions, or a few bits in movies or commercials if they were filmed in our hometown.

She worked at it when she could, kept her dreams alive and kept herself in shape well into her 70s, doing things I could never do and doubt you could either.

Mom still kicking into her 70s

Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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I’ve got this Mom! Free clip art

I’ve got this Mom!

Birth begins the struggle to be free, and with most boys, somewhere along the line, there is an event where a man begins to emerge, takes out the scalpel he never knew he had and severs the emotional umbilical he has been tethered to since that birth. For me it was the day that Mommy became Mom and was no longer entirely the boss of me. I have never noticed this ritual of passage with daughters. Most daughters seem to remain close to mothers for life, even interdependent. Not so much with boys.

The years following my father’s demise were a great struggle for my mother. There was some insurance, some savings, and nothing owed on the house but most income had stopped. Year by year the house was left without repairs and the four sons grew as did the size of their infractions, which became more than just adolescent mischief. She tried to cope by bringing other males into our family’s life. I am not talking any romance for her here, I am talking priests who poured bottomless buckets of advice over her and absolution over the four of us, and certainly not Mother’s financial councilors, who lost much of what little money she had left.

It was 1965 when mom talked a marine recruiter into recruiting me and my little brother. She wanted us to start thinking about manly things and have a manly influence in our lives. I was 17, Johnny 15 (why not have him listen in). My oldest brother, Billy the eldest, had joined the Navy. Bobby, second in line, who famously said in a high school newspaper interview, “You couldn’t pay me to walk a mile,” was off adventuring into the growing world of San Francisco’s mind-altering alternatives.

As for the youngest two, well, a little male influence might be just the timely thing. She would have the Marine visit us in our game room just as the delicate free world was beginning to cower from a never-ending stream of pissed-off Vietnamese peasants — peasants who would begin down the road of our destruction by tottering the first of what were called “Dominos.”

The North Vietnamese or what would become flatteringly referred to as “Gooks,” or the results of one friend’s work, who later oversaw military incendiary devices, “Crispy Critters,” were the enemy. They were according to our leaders, worth the 2 million lives lost, including 55,000 Americans, to keep anyone from collapsing that first “Domino.”

This is what happens to school yard fights as we age and whoever has the megaphone yells, “Fight, Fight, FIGHT.” Almost all those yelling getting to watch as “Seconds” do all the back lot brawling. But again, I get ahead of myself.

Back to the day of my surgical removal of the umbilical. My brothers and I were all given chores and on rare occasions when Mom ran out of ideas, we were sent off on some make work chore just to keep us out of trouble — in my case, from starting fires and such. “Kimmy,” she said, “Take this new hoe,” a hoe she had purchased to replace the one brother Bobby had intentionally broken the week before on a similar order, “and weed the back lot behind the house.” Now the back vacant lot was a half-acre plot Mom and Dad had purchased as an investment. My rebellion came on suddenly without plan and a neighborhood football game in the waiting. I looked at the lot, I looked at the hoe, and then said the most powerful two letter word representing freedom for any child said to any parent, “NO.” And then ran into the neighborhood, a neighborhood every child knows better than their parents. She searched but as she would recall sometime later, that was it, the moment when things flipped.

The transition wouldn’t be obvious to anyone on the out looking in. As my brothers and I were now in our teens our bad judgment had gone from childishly moronic to dangerously idiotic. The crashing of cars was merely one symptom of other acts of passage, in our case, booze or drugs, and all the death-seeking recklessness that resulted and makes us marvel that any of us are still alive today.

But somewhere in our more malignant, viperous adventures the mommy caring for her kiddy’s flipped. Despite the pain our stupidity caused her, when Dad died it was clear: we might be irresponsible in a great many things but now would protect her. Mom rarely knew what was going on in our supersecret and largely self-destructive years. As crummy as we all turned out to be as teenies, that same engagement that infected our childhood years of defending each other now would put our widowed mother in a protective chrysalis.

Mom was cocooned between nukes, each primed in an impregnable mommy shield.

In my case, I can remember three incidents that came dangerously close to putting a victim — or perhaps me — in the hospital, if not a jail. The first was when I was in 7th grade and she first thought she might sell our home. The finances had dwindled, the house was in need of every repair imaginable and the two oldest of her brood out of the house and on adventures of their own. On a Monday, she had listed our home with a realtor. The following Thursday, I was again on my bike with Stevie on our way home from school. As I entered our driveway, I saw my mother sitting on the front steps, her head drooped in her hands. It was not a scene I was familiar with. A realtor was standing over her shaking a finger and angrily admonishing her — for what, I did not know.

Confused, I rode up and heard the realtor say, “You said you would sell if I got a buyer.” Then the realtor looked at me, as if to solicit support, and continued, “She lied to me. I have a buyer and now she says she isn’t sure.”

As I looked down at my mother, she glanced up at me with moist eyes, the closest I had ever seen her come to crying and with an expression I had never seen on her face — embarrassment.

I have no recollection whatsoever of what I did, what I said or how I acted. If anger can cause amnesia, then I had amnesia. What I do recall is the real-estate agent running out our driveway and screaming for help to anyone that might hear. Later Stevie said, although I didn’t believe him, and my mother never talked about it, that I moved mom out of the way before I swung, but that I had stumbled on the step and the blow only glanced off the realtor’s shoulder.

Stevie, as it turns out, was most impressed, not because I hit the agent or that I then chased the agent off the property, but for what he considered the most spectacular of reasons: the agent was a woman.

I would not strike another person for 40 years, when I delivered a wondrously successful left hook to the jaw of the director of my branch office at the University of Arizona (more later).

The second time I went Kimball Boy-Kablooie, I had started high school and my mother was running a little short on cash and took on a job as a travel agent. She had been told by the owner of a travel agency that she could see something of the world on the cheap if she worked for him. I suppose we all want to see something of the world before we go. It is what I am trying to do now, at roughly the age my mother was when she took that job.

She had been hired, not because of her great sales skills, but because the agency owner knew that she knew just about everyone in town with money. The kind of people that did or could travel the world. As it turned out she wasn’t very good at pressuring her friends to purchase expensive excursions and one day I came home from school to find her in tears. This time she was really crying. I pressed her for a reason and when she finally came clean she said, “The owner yelled at me and said I wasn’t doing a very good job, and that…………….” I didn’t hang round to hear the rest — the “yelled at me” was enough. It just didn’t take much for the Kimball Boys.

I was out the door, peddling my two-wheeled stallion to the electric chair for murder. When I got to the travel agent’s office a secretary looked at me in horror, for no better reason than my bicycle continued after my running dismount and crashed into the agency’s plate glass front window. As I entered, she stood up and unintentionally blocked the most direct route to my destination. And my destination was that that MOTHER-FUCKING SON OF A BITCH that stood behind her. In the time that it took me to circumnavigate her and her desk he dove into his office and bolted the door.

I don’t know if my mother had intended to quit her job, but she thought it best not to return.

Twenty-five years later I would go mommy-ballistic a final time. It was as Mom was beginning her life’s decline. This time, I would be a not-so-fully-grown-up of 39 and would write a piece about the episode for the local paper about how injustice can sprout greater injustice.

It happened just as I was beginning what would become my life’s work, the creation of an idea that would be called Vote Smart.

Seemed the idea occupied my every waking moment. I honestly thought the idea would save me and democracy. I was intensely focused, then the phone rang.

It was Mom, she said she had just been to Walgreens to pick up her heart medication but had gotten confused and couldn’t remember the exact name. The pharmacist poked around with some suggestions of what he knew it wasn’t, including one dealing with menopause which solicited laughter from other staff and those waiting in line behind her. Embarrassed, she walked out and asked if I would go get it for her.

“YOU BET, MOM.” With that I was off to the races again. Frothing at the bit, mouthing to myself what I had to say when I got to that pharmacist.

I never saw him — he was gone when I arrived at Walgreens, which was a fine thing, because by the time I got there I was in remorse.

You shouldn’t drive angry. It is my guess that angry driving might cause as many accidents as alcohol.

I had gotten in my old beat-up clunker and hit the gas hard, storming down a street called Speedway, only to find myself stuck behind a slow poke who just wouldn’t go. I hit the horn, not in a quick pop but a long leaning scream. When the light turned green, I angrily swerved around with just enough time to glare over. What I saw was a shaking elderly fellow. He was about the same age as Mom and drooped over his steering wheel, confused, scared, wondering what he had done wrong.

Within a block as I slowly turned into the Walgreens parking lot, I was drooped over my own steering wheel.

“A Kimball Boy,” an expression my older brother coined in reference to those moments of gargantuan stupidity, that on occasion bubble to the surface in each brother.

“A Kimball Boy” has some demented itch that renders them brainless when confronted by some imagined injustice. Say like my oldest brother Bill closing a desk drawer on the tip of his pinky finger, resulting in a half dozen crescent-shaped hammerhead indentations on the guilty — in this case Dad’s mahogany desktop.

Even as I type this sentence looking at the moon-shaped indentations on that desk that I have now inherited, I can recall back before I obtained a laptop, when I would neatly pen letters, only to have the ball point punch through the paper as it rolled over one of those indentations. Had I, like my older brother had a hammer handy, the temptation to add depth, character and numbers to those crescents would have proven irresistible.

In my experience anger rarely corrects injustice, and once the explosion subsides the added unjust results become apparent. And they are never more apparent than in the little things. Like not that long ago:

I hadn’t slept well, I was on a deadline for a foundation grant, my computer kept crashing and when my work finally was done and ready to print, I discovered the printer was out of ink. I was handling the problem sensibly well until I decided to enjoy a cup of coffee for my trip to the store to purchase another ink cartridge. The coffee spilled, scorched, and I jerked up only to crack my head on the cupboard door I inadvertently had left open.

Now the butter had done nothing to me, but suddenly, in a magical transition, it had departed the plate and reappeared in large goblets dripping from the ceiling down onto the cabinets, floor and utensils that had likewise left the security of their drying rack and repositioned themselves across the kitchen floor. Thirty minutes later my clean up ended with me asking forgiveness from the spatula I had used to corral much of the abused butter.

“Ahhh,” to be a Kimball Boy.


New chapters coming each week — Full book thus far under THE MIRACLE OF ME / autobiography of a nobody

Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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Getting or Giving?

free picture art

That is the Question

“Me, Me, Me,” the mantra of the young. Forever you want stuff, to be the center of attention, to draw the focus and admiration of your parents and anyone else around.

He could twirl me above his head, putting me on top of the world, even when I was almost as tall as he was. He chose me to play ball with his older friends when mine were left on the side lines. When I dropped popcorn on some older loud-mouth kids from dad’s press box who later came for me after a football game I was scared. He simply asked me to take a run at him and then tossed me high into the air as the toughies thought better of it and turned the other way. When he needed someone to cut up or float in his magic shows he made me the star.

Kimball Picture

Delivering unexpected joy became his life’s calling card.

Might be a daughter with friends thrilled to visit the Eiffel Tower and discover an extravagant lunch waiting for all at the very top. Or a daughter scared in a hospital bed in the middle of the night after a complicated birth, to find her father had snuck in through the emergency room as if a doctor on call to spend the night with her in her room.

I was always in awe of him but never so much as I was with what he taught me early one Christmas morning.

Like many kids, my year simply rotated around Christmas, wondering the day after how we could survive the eternity of 364 more days until another Christmas rolled around.

But on the Christmas morning of 1960 my view forever altered. Everything was as I had come to expect: the glittering tinseled tree stretched to the ceiling, the felt Mr. and Mrs. Clause our grandfather had made hung on the wall, the fireplace already aglow, and Mom and Dad in their robes holding cups of coffee. What was different was what wasn’t under the tree. The number and size of the packages did not fit under the boughs, and instead were scattered all about.

I am sure my eyes went big and wide, but they were about to become saucers. It wasn’t any one gift that did it. I was not taken aback by any gift marked from Santa or from Mom or Dad which were their normal great (???). What blew me away was that most of the perfectly- wrapped gifts, often the biggest and most expensive gifts, were all marked from Billy, my 16-year-old oldest brother.

Turns out he hadn’t spent all that money from his double newspaper route on himself. He spent it on us. And just like that, I went from wanting to giving, and then spent the next 60 years getting my thrills lighting up others just the way I was lit up that one Christmas morning when I was 11 years old.

His giving and surprising others had no end, not even years later, when he dragged himself out of bed in the middle of the night just to hand me a seat in the Arizona State Senate (more later).

New chapters coming each week — Full book thus far under THE MIRACLE OF ME / autobiography of a nobody

Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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free pictures of fire


It is impressive to me that my three brothers and I survived adolescence and continue to survive a half century later. In Mom’s lonely years, after Dad died, her sons managed to trash four cars starting with her dream car, her baby blue ’57 Chevy convertible that couldn’t see red lights and ending with me taking her dream’s diminishment, a baby blue VW bug off a 20 ft. cliff. There would be some hard drugs, a lot of booze and a stint in a Mexican prison. Those shorts are not unique or even representative of the worst things my brothers and I did and would do.

But this book is not about us, it is about Me, Me, ME! so let’s stick to the point and go back a few years one more time.

My mother was fun, tough but far less harsh than she should have been. She was the family disciplinarian even when Dad was alive. With Dad you simply feared his disapproval, which was as bad as the world could get for me. With Mom it was a too rare a hand, switch, or belt which on one, forever-to-be-disputed occasion, caused a few deserved but unintended “welts”.

In fourth grade, I thought she was unfair, too tough, but now in reflection it is a marvel that she did not end her misery by just end us all.

The “welts” incident started when my best friends Stevie Bogard and Butchy Becker were playing in the “game room” of our house where my brothers and I had our toys, balls, childhood drawings, and various knicknacks of childom. It was designed and still occasionally used as a place for adult entertainment. It was quite large and everything in it matched: knotty pine walls, ceiling, built in matching knotty pine bar with a knotty pine couch, knotty pine poker table and knotty pine bar stools.

Butchy saw it first, folded and tucked neatly behind the bar’s sink, a $10 bill. It was early December, and I knew the tradition. Each Christmas my grandfather, who couldn’t travel and join us for Christmas sent $10 to buy our Christmas tree. Mom tucked it behind the bar until it was time to make the big buy. But Butchy and Stevie got so excited with the treasure, I got excited too. Treated as treasure found, it was instantly seen as free money, now our money.

After all, I did not actually see Mom place the money there, a crack in the sink was such an odd place to put such a treasure. YEAH! That’s right Butchy, you found lost money, BIG MONEY!” Ten dollars in the 50s, is about as rich as three kids can get.

The negotiations started immediately:

Me — “Sure you found it Butchy, but it is my house, my bar, my sink, so it is my $10.”

Butchy — “OK! We’ll split it”.

Stevie- “Hey, that’s not fair, what about me, I was here too.”

Me — “What are you talking about, you didn’t find it, and this isn’t your house. You don’t get anything”

Stevie — “That’s not right, let’s ask your mother.”

Stevie, who became a very good lawyer as an adult, always had a knack for ending an argument with just the right line.

On the way to the Five and Dime the discussion was all about toys, a new football, a whole bunch of trading cards with gum, or . . . “I got it,” I said, “the toy to beat all toys. We have enough money here to buy each one of us a Zippo cigarette lighter.” The idea was an immediate hit, not because we smoked, at least not yet, but because we were fascinated with what all young men of seven are fascinated with, FIRE.

We were just smart enough to know that the store might not want to sell lighters to kids, so we devised a brilliant and as it turns out successful plan. Since Stevie’s handwriting was clearly at a crude stage and I could barely read, let alone write, we decided Butchy would do the honors. As neatly as he could, which was pretty darn good as I recall, we wrote out: “I hav givn Kimmy $10 to by three liters — (signed) Mrs. Kimball.” I remember that the fellow at the drug store looked at me a little funny but didn’t seem to mind selling us the lighters or that my mom was illiterate. So, with lighters in hand, off we ran toward the arroyo and into neighborhood history.

The arroyo was a dry four-foot-deep rut in the neighborhood landscape that had water in it maybe six days a year. It ran right by our house and was perfect for hiding our mischief. It was sheathed in a thick forest of mesquite trees and at this time of year, tall baked brown grasses.

With all the life-molding first time experiences that would come that day, it wasn’t Mr. Franklin, our neighbor that was first to see the smoke billowing over the neighborhood and did that spectacular rendition of Paul Revere. Nor was it the distant approaching sirens that converged on the scene, not even the odd smacking sound my mother’s lips made when she heard it was me, that sticks most clearly in my mind. It was the speed at which a little Zippo could turn solitude into Armageddon when it touches a few blades of dried grass in a breeze under a forest of parched desert trees.

I can’t remember what happened to Stevie that day, I wasn’t able to see him for a month, but I did hear from my brother about Butchy, who clearly had the best strategy; he ran into his house and immediately bolted himself in the bathroom. After considerable time, his parents finally managed to convince him that he would not be put to death, and he dared to unlock the door.

I, on the other hand, would be put to death immediately. My mother, having struggled with this odd, stupid, and now clearly-dangerous child for some years, cracked. She took me back into what we called the maid’s room, although we had not had a live-in maid for years..

Forced to explain what we had done and how we had done it, she then told me to take off my belt. The fire was not what upset her, it was the “Thou shall not steal” stuff I was about to get it for. She gave me one good whack for every dollar I took.

In time what happened would become a humorous contention between my mother and me until her death 50 years later.

Was it ten good smacks with my cowboy belt or not? Now this is important because in the ’40s and ’50s the world had yet to be completely overrun with synthetics. Belts were leather and if you had a real kid’s cowboy belt it would very likely have a metal tip on the end to keep it from curling up on itself in the wet and grime of kiddom.

free pictures of belts

Never mind that I deserved to be euthanized, she would swear over the years that she would have noticed the tapered metal tip and never used such a thing. I, on the other hand, remember proudly showing the kids in school, with a certain manly pride, the lightly-matching pointed marks on my butt.

Metal tipped or not, I got the best of it. Kids, once adults, are forever blaming their mom’s for imagined errors in their upbringing. The “welts” from the fire of ’56 would become my most effective weapon as I needled my mother for the next half-century, even knowing I had gotten the best of it. I got the $10, the lighters (she assumed the Fire Department or someone else had confiscated them — they had not), and my exaggerated stories about “bloody welts” from the metal whip I was smacked with. The stories were always good for effecting motherly screeches of remorse and denial.

In the end, her defense of all my and my brothers’ transgression was that look of exasperation that every mother successfully past her child rearing duties can appreciate and that shirt she enjoyed wearing emblazoned with, “IT’S ALL MY FAULT”.

New chapters coming once each week — Full book thus far under THE MIRACLE OF ME / autobiography of a nobody

Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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