Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Part Indian, Full Blood Cowboy

The world is missing one of its most original sons now. Ed Ketterman died last Tuesday when his big heart finally gave out. At the age of 75, not so old in these times, he made the decision he was tired and ready to move on. With his wife of fifty five years, and his loving family gathered around him, he took his leave the same way he lived his life - on his terms.

The day of the funeral, the main church was filled to capacity, with a large number of people relegated to the other side of the building where they could only hear the service. People of all ages came to say goodbye. It was no surprise to me that so many would come, but the preacher remarked on the unusually large funeral for someone Ed's age.

As I sat in the church with all those people who knew and loved Ed, I wondered who, in all of my life, was as honest and authentic as this good man. There was no one to compare.

Ed had a very quick mind, an excellent memory, and sized up any situation in an instant. He could not resist getting a person right where it stings, but it was never mean spirited. A darker man with the same attributes could have cut people to ribbons, but Ed's big heart and excellent humor saved all of us slower wits. There was always a twinkle in his eye.

Ed knew who he was and did not care who you may have thought you were. Marty Shottenheimer, head coach of Kansas City Chiefs, came through one day where Ed worked. The Chiefs had made the playoffs but lost in the first round. When Marty came by glad-handing everyone, Ed gave him the needle for bumbling the team's chances. Knowing Ed, he had distilled the entire failure of the game down to the pivotal point, and with his talent for truth, shot the arrow right into Marty's self important ego. Marty just walked on. Though I was not there, I can guarantee there was delight in Ed's eyes and likely a red-faced Marty.

You never had to guess where you stood with Ed Ketterman. He would tell you straight out what he thought. It was never in an overbearing, heavy handed way. It was just plain words, simple spoke. And he had a great sense of humor.

For quite some time he had to have a mechanical apparatus that regulated his heart beat. It was something more complicated than just a pace maker, as I understand it. Last year he needed to go in for an adjustment to this technology, which required some surgery. When they asked him to remove his boots, he refused. Knowing Ed, he was just checking to see what he could get away with. Ed had the surgery with his boots on, like any good cowboy.
Ed on the right.

Ed was a cowboy, a roper, a horse trainer. He was a hunter. He had a passion for sports - from his granddaughter's softball to all major league professional sports. He was a husband and a family man. A good neighbor. A grandfather and great grandfather. His obituary read, in part: "10 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and the many children that called him Dad and Grandpa". Some of those "children" who called him Dad are well into middle age. He was my father's best friend, so I have known and loved Ed from the day I was born. When my father died unexpectedly in my childhood, it was Ed's big heart that offered what shelter there was for my broken one.

Some years ago, a cousin in Ed's family traced the family tree and discovered they were descendants of Red Cloud's people, the Oglala Lakota. It did not surprise me in the least that Ed was Lakota.

There is no way to capture the man here, or do his life justice, or convey the grief his family feels at his passing. No way to fully honor this good man and what he meant to so many people. No way to explain who he was to me. It is a great sorrow that in this lifetime I will never again hear his voice, never see this man I loved as much as my own father.

It was a cold winter day when the hearse took Ed to his final resting place in a tiny township cemetery, not five miles from the front door of the house where he lived for the last fifty years. Four horses came galloping to the fence as the hearse drove slowly by. They took off to the west, bucking and cavorting in the cold air, celebrating the passing of an honorable Oglala son - a genuine cowboy - the best man I have ever known.

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