In Praise of a Working Man–Neil Kemp
July 5th, 1937 — June 2nd, 2013
Here’s to the working men with their strong shoulders and wild hearts. Here’s to the men with callused hands who quiet their rough side enough to raise families and build roads but who tell true stories with wicked grins about their younger selves…and last weekend.
Here’s to the ab divers, the deer hunters, the horseshoe pitching crowd. Here’s to those who brush their sawdust covered shoulders off at the end of a long, hot working day, smooch their wives, crack open a cold one, load up the inner tubes, and take all the neighborhood kids to the river swimming til after dark.
Here’s to the ones who give piggyback rides and teach kids to fish. Here’s to the men who take their families (and half the neighborhood kids) camping, hunting, and playing catch.
Here’s to my dad, Neil Kemp, a hard worker and a wicked grinner with a holler of joy that would make women stand a little taller, kids come a running, and men whoop back. He could make his old pickup haul a trailer down a muddy road that a mule would refuse to walk, work 12 hours in the rain, and then twirl my mom at the Riverwood til two in the morning.
Here’s to the teasers especially those who love to tell stories on themselves. Here’s to my dad who once saw that, in order to catch poachers, the Dept. of Fish and Game, had erected a realistic mechanical buck not far from his hunting camp. He and his crew made a plan and he snuck through the grass to hang a baseball cap from the buck’s impressive antlers. When the floodlights went on highlighting the jaunty cap hanging from the antlers and the game wardens surrounded him ordering him to drop his gun, he laughed because he had carefully left it behind. Later, he admitted with a slightly abashed grin, he might have went a little too far with that one.
Here’s to the men who drive heavy equipment, who keep the roads open when a storm sends Humboldt mud sliding across freeways. Here’s to the men who work after dark in the rain with the wind dropping redwoods nearby. Here’s to my dad who worked for Cal Trans for over 30 years.
Here’s to the men who take adversity and claw their way to a place they can keep for their own long after others would have given up. Here’s to my dad who when the nature cursed him with MS still drug himself up ladders to patch his roof, balanced himself on his walker to chainsaw firewood, and strapped himself with bungee cords to a riding lawnmower to cut the grass.
Here’s to the man who on his last days as he lay in bed too weak to open his eyes answered the anxious question–“Dad, is there anything I can do to help?” with a slight lift of his chin towards the radio that was droning a baseball game and gasped out “Not unless you can fix the Giants losing… .”
Here’s to men who have friendships and laughter and fun. Here’s to the men who work hard, dance long, and laugh well. The world needs more hollering with joy, rowdying with young ones, and lighthearted pranks.
This is for my dad but it is for all those men who tame their demons enough to raise families and build communities but whose wicked grins reminds the rest of us that a bit of bad boy is a seasoning that makes this dark world a little easier to swallow.
Below is a poem written by Diana Totten to mark Neil Kemp’s death. Diana’s dad, Ernie who died several years ago, was a co-worker and close friend with Neil. Our families (along with the Crawford family) grew up together.
the road to heaven will be a bit smoother now
more of the crew showed up today and they are working overtime
they are patching the pot holes, clearing the slides and fixing guard rail around the scary places
working with a smile all hours of day and night,
looking forward to a thermos of hot coffee and a good ab tide
it makes our trip much more enjoyable knowing they are right up the road a ways
Neil Kemp with the love of his life, Myrna. He was survived by her and his son, Neil (Tripp) Kemp, his daughter, Kym Kemp and too many other people who loved him to name individually.