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As Long as We Remember...

March 7, 2005

R. I. P. - Harry Columbus Kemp

John W. Ashbury

There must be joy in Heaven; more so last Tuesday than before, because Harry Columbus Kemp made his entrance. It was very quietly done. That was Harry's way; never obvious, always softly. At least that's the way I will always remember him.

His life was full and long. It began October 12, 1911, (thus his middle name) on Rocky Springs Road in the old Kemp family farmhouse. And it ended just a short distance away - as the crow flies - in the home he made for his family, and the family of his wife who all came down from Michigan when he and his beloved Jackie got married.

After attending local schools, and learning at his mother's knee, Harry got a job at the Dearborn Inn in Michigan, as a pastry chef. It was here that he met his wife. And, after they returned to Frederick, he never cooked again - except on Christmas morning when he made donuts for the Kemp traditional family breakfast.

Harry was the calming influence in his family. He wasn't the disciplinarian that Jackie was. Whenever the children did something wrong, it was Jackie who wielded the proverbial whip - nothing physical, mind you - just the stern countenance of a woman who meant business.

There were a lot of family traditions at the old Kemp home place. One was the gathering in late September or early October to celebrate Harry's birthday. Usually it was in September because the weather has turned cold by his birthday and there was no way to squeeze 100 family members, plus a few friends, into the house.

In 2001, just after the 9/11 tragedy, the gathering was still held despite the anguish all were feeling. Harry's son Gary, who came up from Atlanta, decorated the place in red, white and blue, including the huge tent out near the pond. And he pre-recorded a tape of patriotic music, which blared forth throughout the afternoon.

All who came to these annual gatherings brought a dish of some kind, making everyone feel like they were at a church pot-luck supper. And, after the meal that day, a tiny voice was heard beseeching her great-grandfather.

Little 6-year-old Lizzy Roland was tugging at his arm, pleading: "Can you take us on a tractor ride?"

That tractor, which had been a mainstay of the farm operation for more years than Harry wanted to remember, had been freshly painted for this 90th birthday celebration, and it stood on the far side of the pond already hooked to the garden trailer.

All the youngest family members rushed screaming to the wagon and were helped up by parents, or grandparents, or just older siblings. Harry climbed aboard and fired up the International Model B. And the tour of the 44-acre farm began.

Squeals of pure joy could be heard for some time as Harry delighted his grandchildren and great grandchildren with a bumpy ride. Those sounds were in sharp contract to the sometimes somber mood back in the '40s and '50s when Harry, Jackie and the children piled on the tractor to go to church in downtown Frederick whenever the car wouldn't start.

Later that afternoon Harry had everyone gather near the house for an unveiling. Few knew what it was, but Harry took great pleasure in what was to ensue.

He took his niece - Jaime Dixon - by her hand and brought her to the front of the crowd. And after a few remarks, the covering on a bronze plaque he had installed beneath a second floor bedroom was removed.

The message on that plaque celebrated a certain special day 60 years earlier when Jaime's mother had given birth to her in that bedroom with the able assistance of Jackie, Harry's wife. Bonnye Meadows, Jaime's mother, was Jackie's sister.

Those who were there that day will never forget the expression on Jaime's face as she read it. Nor will they forget Harry's beaming smile. He made it sound like it was a tribute to Jaime, but it was really a pat on the back for his dear wife who had passed away more than a quarter century earlier.

Harry Kemp and Alonzo Meadows founded Meadows Van and Storage in 1946. And from the first day of business until the end of November 2004, Harry Kemp never missed a day of work. He cut back some as the years passed, but he was always there first to make the coffee, being certain it was ready when the others got to work. And in the moving business, the work day starts early.

Harry enjoyed his life, and his family and friends enjoyed it as well. His only daughter Tobi moved back in with Dad several years ago when all became concerned that Harry would be living alone in his advancing years. Harry and Tobi led their own separate lives, but they also shared their lives with each other - depending more and more on the contributions of the other. It was a wonderful relationship that has come to the inevitable.

Harry's other sons - Monty, a retired airline pilot, and Rodney, who is following in his father's footsteps at Meadows Van and Storage - reflect the caring and giving nature of the man they called Dad. Gary, too, is cast in that same mold

Life will never be the same at the Kemp farm. There will always be a couple of spirits there - Harry's quiet demeanor and Jackie's vocal remonstrations - sharing quiet memories of great happiness and the occasional sad day.

But each and every child, grandchild, great grandchild, and friend can be thankful - and can feel blessed - that Harry Kemp lived long enough to share his wisdom, his work ethic, and his love with them. He will be sorely missed.

Rest In Peace, Harry Columbus Kemp.

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