My Uncle Ken and Drop In Visits

Ken Snyder-1-crop

We had a not-so-unusual social tradition growing up the sixties and seventies in upstate New York:  the drop in visit.

Often, my parents would decide that we should “drop in” on different relatives or friends.  Conversely, these many relatives and friends would “drop in” on us all the time.  Rarely do I recall a phone call in advance of a visit.  It was just the way we did things back in those days.

My uncle died this month.  Kenneth J. Snyder died at a nursing home in upstate New York near where he lived for the past forty years.  I didn’t see much of him in most of those years.

I was busy with my life: living away from the region where I grew up, raising a family, and earning a living.

I remember Kenny in a number of ways. The way he dressed made an impression on me when I was a kid.  He lived about an hour away from my family.  It seemed as though every time I saw him, he’d be wearing a sport coat and tie. 

I never knew whether he had achieved some level of success in the 1960s, but when he came around to visit my Mom, he sure looked successful.  Having been raised in a blue-collar family, Kenny was the first family member I knew who wore a tie and sport coat on a regular basis.

He also mastered the art of the drop in visit.  He would usually come by on a Sunday, and usually before or after he visited his Mom and Dad (my grandparents).  Sometimes, he’d have his wife and children with him.  Most times, I recall, he’d drop in solo. 

I remember at least one occasion when he stopped in to show us a camera he had acquired.  There are two pictures of my sister Becky in the family photo albums that were samples from one of Kenny’s cameras.

I also knew my Dad liked Kenny.  He liked having him “drop in” to visit.  There was a period of time when Kenny stopped coming by and I knew that bothered my Dad.  It probably bothered my Dad more because he knew it saddened my Mom to lose contact with her brother.

A lot of things in life sort themselves out as the years pass, and that time when Kenny stopped coming around ended in a few years. In later years whenever my parents visited my young family and me a few hours away from my hometown, they’d leave a little early so they could “drop in” on Kenny on their way back from our home.

When my Grandpa on my Mother’s side of the family passed away in 1969, Kenny lost his Dad and a part of himself.  I recall overhearing him ask my Grandmother if he could have something, anything, that belonged to his Dad.  I believe my Grandmother gave him my Grandfather’s ring.

I liked Kenny and he liked me.  When he heard I was engaged, he told my Mom that he’d drop everything he was doing to attend my wedding.  Sure enough, he brought his oldest son JJ with him to the ceremony in 1980.  I never forgot that.

A stroke sidelined Kenny in the late 1990s.  I saw him at my Mother’s funeral, his youngest daughter’s wedding, and at a family reunion my sister organized in the early 2000s.  I moved to California after that and assumed I might never see him again.

But as my father greeted me at the airport in November 2008 for a visit that coincided with Dad’s seventy-fifth birthday, he made a suggestion.

“How about we drop in at Kenny’s place?”

We did “drop in” on that November morning four years ago. We visited Kenny for about an hour.  That was the last time I saw my uncle.  Someone once observed that we never really know that the last time you visit someone will be the last time you’d ever see that person.  That was the case for me on that day in 2008.

Kenny-school photo
Kenny-school photo

B & W photo caption: A clipping from the Boonville (NY) Herald. My uncle Kenny is on the far right in this picture of the Photography Club at Constableville (NY) School. Courtesy: Ramona Salmon.

I sent him a note and a clipping of an old photograph from my hometown newspaper this summer.  The picture was of the photography club at the school he attended.

I looked up Kenny’s obituary after I heard the news of his passing.  The obituary said he was a self-employed TV repairman for many years, that he enjoyed country music, dabbled in photography, and liked spending time with his grandchildren.

The article didn’t mention how he impressed his nephew at a very young age by the way he dressed in coat and tie.  The article also didn’t mention how he enjoyed drop in visits.

But those are the things I’ll remember about my uncle Kenny.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  He’s published Grown Up, Going Home, a continuation of his reflections on growing up in a small town.  The book is available at Lulu.com/SteveNewvine