by John P. Pratt
Remarks intended to be, and/or actually, given at her funeral, Fri 25 Feb 2005
It is an honor for me to represent the family today at the funeral of my mother, Kathryn WorsleyPratt, known professionally as Kathryn Kay. Today is a beautiful sunny day, which seemsappropriate because she had such a sunny personality, lighting up any room she entered. Wethank you for coming, and especially all who have helped her so much through the years. And weall should especially thank my brother James who worked at home so that he could care for motherin his home in Park City for several years. We also congratulate you all for surviving her. That isan accomplishment in itself! She lived "in" 100 years; although not quite "for" 100 years. That is,she was born in 1906 and died in 2005, and that makes exactly 100 distinct years.
Probably most of you noticed the large placard by her casket with the following poem she wrote,penned in beautiful calligraphy by her long time friend Dianne Miller:
To Those Who Came to My Funeral Out of Duty
Remember, as you pass my bier,
as those who come to view, do,
that I do not like being here
any more than you do.
Some have politely asked us just whose idea that was. I assure you we were only following thestrict instructions in Mother's "funeral" folder. They explicitly requested us to place that poem byher casket "at the appropriate time." Mother never took herself seriously and she wasn't about tostart now.
On the program my talk is entitled "Life Sketch", but her life is summarized in theobituary which was just read, and a longer version is written in the booklet that I hope each of you has picked up at the viewing. It is also on her website at www.kathrynkay.com, so I would rather focus in this limited time on some anecdotes from her life and then read some of her poetry.
Although her professional work in poetry was just summarized very well by both Geraldine Prattand also Maxine Shreeve, I would like to add a few personal glimpses I had of her work. First letme comment on her pseudonyms. You know she had the pen name Kathryn Kay. Growing up, Iknew she also had used the name Karel Lynn, when she was editor of the Los Angeles CityEmployee Magazine. But just a few years ago when I was looking through old issues of ParadeMagazine, when she was Associate editor, and which has now become a Sunday supplement, Ifound some of her poetry over a variety of names, such as "Jane Kennedy." When I asked Motherwho Jane Kennedy was, she replied that they only had a small staff at the time and she didn't wantit to look like she had written so much, so she just made up a bunch of names to be authors of boththe articles and also the poetry space-fillers. I remember my father Lee commenting that after hehad married her, he discovered to his dismay that she had something like five social securitynumbers under a variety of names. I think he worked hard to explain that to the IRS and finallycombine them into one.
You should also know that many of the talents she had gained by working with famous peoplehelped he succeed in many facets of being the President of the Utah Poetry Society that you mightnot think of. It is not just about writing marvelous poetry. She lobbied the State Legislature manytimes for funding and spent countless hours getting programs approved and perpetual poetry fundsorganized. I also remember one interesting experience that she shared with me on the day itoccurred, about 25 years ago when she was in her early seventies. Someone had arranged for apoet to give a public reading, but Mother knew that this man's work was often filled withobscenities. You may not all be aware that Satan is waging a war not only against righteousness,but also against the arts. He has judges award first place to paintings done by worms and lauds itas great art. He also has so-called poets write filthy garbage to be applauded as expressing life as itreally is. Well, Mother saw her role as including protect the arts from such attacks and shedescribed to me how she required that this hippie do a practice reading of his program in front ofher. She said that when he saw that she was just a "little-old-lady" she could see that he feltconfident he could bulldoze her easily. She said, "But he didn't know Katie," and explainedtriumphantly that she had him on the first plane out of town and the reading was canceled.
Now let's get down to some family life incidents. Her family was extremely important to her, andwhen it came time to raise her two sons, she left the glamour of Hollywood and returned to herroots in Salt Lake City. She was always at home for James and me and we love her so much formaking that sacrifice.
Mother was a master of the telephone, and I heard her work miracles in minutes on that instrument.Before sharing with you a few lessons of life I learned from just hearing her on the phone, I mustcomment on her gift of gab which she explained was the real reason why she got the job asHostess of the nationally known Midnight Frolic show at KFI in Los Angeles. That began in 1928and the radio had only very recently been invented. People were tuned in all across the country,often on crystal sets or other primitive receivers. If there was any lull in the interview with themovie stars, then listeners would think the signal had drifted and would adjust their sets andperhaps miss the rest of the program. So Kay was told that there must be no "dead air," but thatshe must fill any voids with continual conversation. I see you smiling, because you know she wasthe perfect person for that job!! Later, whenever anyone suggested that she might talk too much,she would sometimes explain that her job had required it and she just never got over it.
With that in mind, let me describe a few phone calls I overheard. One day she said there was aproblem with the gas bill and she needed to phone an resolve it. The conversation went somethinglike this. "Hello, . . . oh, I think I recognize your voice .. is that you Betty? . . . Say, how is sondoing on his mission to Guatemala? . . . Oh, that's great! And it sounds like you got over youroperation last year just fine. How did that go? . . . Well, great! Say, there appears to be a littleproblem with my bill, ..." and then she quickly had the problem resolved. After she hung up, Iasked where she knew that lady from. "Oh, I've never met her, and I've only talked to her oncebefore when I had a similar problem last year." She then explained that we should learn all we canabout everyone we meet, especially their names, and encourage them in their trials. It is one thingto her a nice talk in church about loving your neighbor, but this example of seeing the principle inaction impressed me so much that it has never been forgotten. Moreover, it was typical of nearlyevery phone call; she always first talked to the person about themselves, and then got to hersubject. But to me the amazing part is that she would remember the details years later.
Here is another conversation. "Hi Ethel, say I really liked your entry to the poetry contest. . . . What's that? . . . Oh, thanks for explaining that because I was wondering. Let's see if I've gotthis straight. You finished the poem, sealed and stamped the envelope, but just forgot to mail itbefore the entry deadline. Is that correct? . . . Oh, thank you, because that removes all doubt, andunfortunately, your entry must be disqualified. The rules explicitly state that the envelope must bepostmarked before the due date, and now I'm sure that it was not an error on the part of the postoffice. I'm very sorry you forgot, and it is still a wonderful poem. . . ." I about fell off my chairbecause I had been so sure that Mother would extend mercy to someone that I knew was her goodfriend, and I couldn't believe how matter-of-factly and swiftly she administered justice. After thecall, she explained that friendship should not interfere with justice. She had had her fill of corruptofficials and leaders. Again, I have never heard a more powerful sermon on obedience to law andmaintaining personal integrity. And Mother was not too heavy on the justice side; she also had oneof the tenderest, merciful hearts I've ever known, but she had the wisdom to know when topractice justice and when mercy.
Another lesson for me occurred when it became known to Mother that someone in theneighborhood was making accusations about her behind her back. I remember wondering justhow mother would handle it because I had no idea what I would do in that situation. Would she befurious and never speak to the woman again? Would she complain to the bishop and hope hewould attempt to smooth out ruffled feathers? No, not Katie. In about a minute after hearing thecharge, she was out the door to confront her accuser. Upon her return shortly thereafter, I wasdying to know what had been said. Mother explained that she simply said, "I understand that youhave been telling people that I am a so and so who has done such and such. I could not believe youwould say that, so I have to find out for myself. Did you really say that, and if so, why?" Apparently the woman was in shock at this direct approach, and soon apologized for her actions. Again, it is one thing to read the scripture that if "thy brother hath ought against thee" to "first bereconciled to thy brother," (Mat. 5:23-24) but it is quite another to see someone with both theknowledge of what is right and also the courage to do it without hesitation.
I also want to tell you how she wrote poetry. She was once in the kitchen preparing dinner and Iheard her exclaim, "A poem is coming! A poem is coming! Quick, find me a pencil." She grabbeda brown paper lunch sack, which I believe we still have, and scribbled as fast as she could on it. When she was done, I read the poem and it was a masterpiece. It was in perfect iambicpentameter, had perfect spelling and punctuation, and as far as I know, she never changedanything. I was in junior high at the time and had made my own pitiful attempts to fulfill anEnglish assignment to write a poem. Once I had found a few forced rhymes, I was dismayed tosee that my poem didn't make any sense. So I was old enough to appreciate seeing Mother's giftin action. Now I'm sure that she wrote a lot of poems with blood, sweat and tears, carefullycrafting each phrase, but I witnessed at least one poem flow through her almost unbidden. When Ilater learned that the ancient Greeks did not have prophets, but that poets fulfilled that need ofbeing in touch with the infinite, I understood how a poet could indeed fulfill that role.
Before I read some of her poetry, I want to read two poetic tributes to her from amateur poets sheinspired in their youth. No one could accuse my lifelong best friend Dennis Brent Briggs and meof ever having been budding young poets. We were just two youths who happened to be allowedto know this wonderful woman. But we have both occasionally attempted to express our deep feltemotion in poetry, so I read these tributes not as an example of great literature, but as an exampleof how she opened the door of poetry to all, and thereby changed their lives for the better.
Brent, upon receiving word from me that Mother had passed away, immediately wrote this poemto express his deep feelings for her and sent it to me:
Thank You, Kathryn Kay
When first I met dear Kathryn Kay,
she was younger than I am now.
John and I were just kids at play,
and her lemon cake was like . . . wow!
'Twas not long before I would know,
she was much more than a great cook.
From her pen poignant thoughts did flow,
as published in many a book.
Kathryn's ability with prose,
we may, in part, attribute to
her command of language, I suppose,
which is attained by precious few.
Yet there's much more to this dear friend;
such talent flows from a deep well.
Through suffering she did ascend
with insight, other's fears to quell.
Her ability to discern
good from evil, right from wrong,
gave hope for weaker souls to learn.
May her words of wisdom live long.
One the occasion of Mother's 90th birthday, I realized it was about time for me to write her aformal poetic tribute, which would have to contain an acrostic as she had taught me. So I offeredher the following:
A Beacon of Hope
Aglow with life," that's you, our Kathryn Kay.
The noblest character you do portray:
Huge faith with strength and pure integrity.
Resplendently, just like a beacon's light,
Your poetry shines forth for all to find
New hope where only darkness used to dwell.
When some are lost, the torch you hold so well
Of poetry brings light. It gives the mind
Renewed, fresh hope for all in darkest night.
Strong qualities like faith and purity
Link you to God's true light so that you may
Embellish all who see, as you display
Your iridescent personality.
Okay, let us now turn to Kathryn's poetry. You see here on her casket written "Last Leaf" andalso that the booklet we just published for this occasion has that title. Let me briefly tell you thestory behind her writing the poem in the booklet by that name. She was walking home fromPrimary at about age ten in late autumn and noticed a lone leaf clinging to the tree. She said that toher total surprise, she suddenly "became" that leaf and felt everything that it was feeling. She saidshe even began to tremble all over her body even as the leaf was trembling in the breeze. It wassuch a remarkable experience that when she got home, she penned the following poem, which shecalled "Autumn Leaf" but we renamed, "Last Leaf." It was only as we prepared this funeral thatmy brother and I realized that her experience was not only an example of poetic empathy, but that itwas actually prophetic, because Mother would indeed herself become the "Last Leaf."
I am old and withered,
yet here I cling
to this tree
that I have known since spring.
My friends are gone,
bereft am I,
yet I live on
and cannot die.
Ah wind, can you not
hear my cry?
I am old and withered,
yet here I stay
have pity wind,
unloose me, pray.
When we were compiling this history a few years ago, I confronted Mother with, "Wait a minute. Surely you had the experience when you were ten and wrote the poem years later. What ten-yearold knows the word 'bereft', much less how to use it perfectly?" She replied that after she learnedto read that she felt it was her duty to learn all of the words in the dictionary, and that she was waypast the "B's" by age ten.
About half of Mother's poetry was light verse, and I've been handed an example of it by James'sister-in-law Hilde for me to read as her favorite:
Sure, I have a smile that sparkles and twinkles,
but I've had my share of pain.
Where do you think I got all these wrinkles?
Building castles in Spain?
Don't try to sell me some method to hide them,
I wouldn't providing I could.
I worked too hard and long for what's inside them,
I think, on me, they look good!
But I want to focus more today on her thoughts about death, how it is just a necessary step, andher strong conviction that life continues on thereafter. Kathryn said she outlived seven doctorswho all told he she would die. She often wrote a poem before each predicted death.
The first time that Kathryn expected to die was when she was thirteen years old. She had a seriouscase of pneumonia, which often meant death in those days. She was very concerned that if shedied, she would not fulfill what she came to earth to do. She was later told that when she wasdelirious that she was babbling in rhymes. When she regained consciousness she remembered thispoem, which became her first published work, being in the Salt Lake Telegram.
If I Should Die
If I should die
Perhaps I should say "When,"
And leave this dismal world
Of Eve-made men,
What would I leave?
No thought no part of me
And in a single heart
A silenced laugh
A bubble passing by
The fading of a dream
If I should die.
Another time she expected to die was at the birth of her son James. Her blot would not clot, andthey had people lined up to give transfusions on the spot if needed. She wrote the followingpoem, and remembered it in 2001. Thus, we feel it is like her last message to us also.
Know this, then, when time comes I must leave you,
with that intangible, a memory,
let there be nothing in such thought to grieve you.
Death proves life's indestructibility.
We know that physically all things must perish.
Man cannot cling to loved things that are his;
and we but build up heartache when we cherish.
The more we love, the harder parting is,
but if your heart begins to feel tears starting,
remind it if it's missing me some night
that ours is just a temporary parting.
I'm only waiting for you out of sight.
And finally, let us close by reading the poem she wrote to console herself at the death of her sisterJoAnn just after she gave birth to her first born child. It was originally titled "To Me," and mybrother and I feel that it describes our feelings very well toward our beloved Mother.
There is no Death
And there shall be no need to comfort thee
who understood her most and loved her best.
You know her heart, tho' stilled within her breast
will pulse and throb throughout eternity
in lovely things. 'Tis God's consistency.
There is no death, there's only constant change.
When night turns into day 'tis not so strange,
and night, for her, has dawned to brilliancy.
One does not mourn to see a butterfly
emerge with splendor from an old cocoon,
nor weep when spring ends wintertime, nor sigh
at ever-varying stages of the moon.
In ev'ry gentle breeze you'll feel her breath
and you'll look up and smile . . . There is no death!