Today is the quasquicentennial of my paternal grandfather Joseph Bush Kingsbury’s birth. Until I just checked the correct word for the 125th anniversary, I hadn’t made the connection that JBK was born 25 years after the end of the American Civil War.
His contributions to the family letters leave no doubt that he valued family above all other aspects of his life. They offer well written glimpses into his life – his work, his travel and how he spent his leisure time, especially after his formal retirement from Indiana University in 1960.
Despite growing up in Richmond, Virginia while he was in Bloomington, Indiana, I had a close relationship with my grandfather. From his letters I am reminded that he usually visited twice a year, often for two to three weeks at a time. I have strong memories of our walks in the park, trips to the library, camping trips and of course, my favorite memory of all – playing Russian Bank with him at our big dining room table. Very few people I know have heard of Russian Bank. It is a version of double solitaire using two decks of cards. Like most versions of solitaire, it is a simple game, but it contains elements of strategy and memory that make it more challenging than a typical game of solitaire. It also sounds exotic and worldly – Russian Bank. I wonder when and where he learned that game. JBK never seemed to tire of it and would play it with me for hours.
So on his birthday, I want to share what I remember about my Granddaddy Kingsbury – abounding love, pride and encouragement. I naturally attribute my academic success to him – he was a college professor after all – and he certainly provided emotional and financial support to me in college and law school. But the more I read about him, the more I think we were close because we have similar personalities and interests. He loved spending time in nature (so do I) and he liked to write.
Here’s his account of a Thanksgiving morning hike in 1962 when I was seven years old. My mother’s name is Cecil, but he always called her Ceil.
“I was telling Ceil about when we lived in Richmond in 1936; our well went dry, and we had to go every evening to a big spring in one of the city parks and fill our bottles and jugs. Ceil said that must be the park near their house, so she drove Kathy and me over there and left us. I recognized the spring, and Kathy knew the park and the way home. We hiked for two hours. I stuck to the paths, but Kathy roamed the hill sides and brought me colored leaves, ferns, stones and other treasures. By the time we started home I was carrying her coat, umbrella, galoshes, a handful of leaves, and two 3-pound stones, and we were ready for a big dinner.”
Fifty years later and I still roam the hill sides and collect rocks – every chance I get!
It’s a puzzle to figure out which traits one inherits from which parent or grandparent, but when I read JBK’s contributions to the family letter and see his take on world events, I feel an immediate connection. I am so thankful to have his letters. I wonder if he ever thought his contributions to the family letter would provide the bridge for his granddaughters and yet unborn descendants to learn about his life. I know he was too humble and modest to think anyone would ever want to know all that much about him but he was wrong on that count.
The morning after our Thanksgiving Day hike in 1962, JBK rode to Washington DC with my mother and her friends (my mother had a tradition of driving from Richmond to DC to begin Christmas shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving.) JBK had been a professor at St. John’s College in Annapolis Maryland in the 1930s. In 1962 he visited several friends who were still associated with the college and writes:
“The Annapolis visit was a return to the past, with memories both pleasant and unpleasant, but I am glad I am not yet dependent on the past for my happiness. The world is a messy place at present, and the future looks even worse, but when I find myself thinking too much about the good old days, I will know that I am through.”
The next year – 1963 – JBK writes
“I have been carrying around in my trunk some of the pocket diaries that I was in a habit of keeping; started looking through them to see if I could find anything about our visit to Vermont in 1912. There are no entries for December of that year except a list of Christmas presents, one of which was for Charlotte, whom Dean and I visited, and who remembered our visits, but I had almost forgotten. I spent a whole day reading old diaries, and it was a strange experience – almost like reading about a strange person in a different world. I decided that I am not yet willing to live in the past. The world today is a baffling place, and I have no ambition or wish to try to understand all of the new ideas and inventions, especially in science; but it is an interesting time to be living and I don’t feel like saying “stop the world I want to get off!”
So I guess there is one obvious difference between us. I adore living in the past – in fact I spend a good part of every day there. But can you blame me when I have such a perfect blueprint to explore?