MEET KERMIT

My mother’s cousin, Kermit, was, by far, one of the most eccentric humans on Planet Earth. To give you an example, as a child, Kermit was once served carrots on his dinner plate. He consumed all his food except the carrots. When his mother insisted that he eat them, he refused. When his father, who was made of sterner stuff than his mother, insisted, Kermit wouldn’t budge. His father threatened to send little Kermit to his room. Kermit still wouldn’t touch the carrots. So Kermit was banished to his room.

After about two days in solitary, Kermit would still not touch the carrots, which were sitting on a plate outside his bedroom door. This was a sign of things to come.

Kermit was my mother’s first cousin, son of her father’s brother, Jake.  Jake lost his wife many years before I was born so I never knew her. Jake lived in the same building as my grand parents. Every time my parents took me to visit, there was the obligatory visit to “Uncle Jake.” He would always be siting on a throne-like armchair in a dimly lit room. He had a deep gravel-type voice. He’d look down at me from his throne and whatever words he said scared the hell out of me. I can still see and hear him on those obligatory visits.

Jake had two children, Mildred and Kermit. Mildred lived with Jake and married long after he died. Kermit married after he returned from serving in World War II and moved with Betty (whom I adored) to a little upstate town which attracted writers, artists, the avant-garde and eccentrics…Woodstock, New York.

Kermit grew up true to form after the carrot incident. Far more gruff than his father, seemingly unpolished, tough as nails and the epitome of eccentricity. I know for a fact that when he served in hand-to-hand combat, he acquired many a notch on his gunstock.

On the other hand, Kermit’s wife, Betty, was the complete opposite of her husband. Educated, articulate, elegant, worldly and gorgeous, she somehow meshed with Kermit…but nobody knew exactly why.

Kermit and Betty had two children, Lynne and Ellen.  When I was growing up, my parents would spend a great deal of time with Kermit and Betty in Woodstock. We’d stay in the coach house on their property.  Because of this, Lynne, Ellen and I became almost brother and sisters, and we remain that way today.

Kermit and Betty lived in an amazing house with a swimming pool, atop Bogg’s Hill, a semi-private mini-mountain just outside of town.

Everybody in Woodstock knew Kermit but knew little about him. He had no apparent job, dressed like a caretaker, always drove a brand-new Cadillac, hung out most days at the local gas station and was buddy-buddy with the town’s only policeman.  Part of his mystique was his personal license plate, UC 1 (Ulster County #1).  Woodstock was in the county of Ulster, just north of New York City. Normally such a VIP license plate would denote one who is very very high in the county or state government politics. Rumor was that he had connections with the governor of New York State. Kermit was indeed a mystery. The fact was, no one ever dared to cross him.

Kermit actually had a job. His father Jake had accumulated a fortune in New York City real estate after immigrating to America as a young man. After his death, Kermit had assumed part of that fortune. His main job was collecting the rents.

So at the first of the every month, Kermit would make the two-hour drive down the New York State Thruway to New York City in his Cadillac with the VIP license plate.

On many an occasion, a state trooper would notice this Cadillac with the VIP plate and the unseemly attired driver and assume it was a stolen car. He would never get arrested or ticketed. I was never privy to what Kermit would say to the policeman.

Kermit And The Meat Loaf

My father loved meat loaf. Kermit hated meat loaf.

One time when we were visiting, Betty asked what my father wanted her to prepare for dinner. My father suggested his favourite, meat loaf.

Later, at the dinner table, Betty emerged from the kitchen with a glorious meat loaf. Without a word, Kermit immediately rose from the table and stormed out of the house.

Forty-five minutes later, he arrived back with the town’s policeman, who promptly handcuffed Betty, put her under arrest and took her to the town jail (she was released a few hours later presuming she had learning her lesson).

Kermit And The Hippie Biker

In the mid-to-late sixties, while Kermit was tending his lawns and garden, a motorcycle tooled up his mountain road and stopped close to where he was working. The shaggy haired biker dismounted, approached Kermit thinking he was the gardener, and asked who and where the property owner was. Needless to say this infuriated Kermit. He then went nose-to-nose with the shaggy biker and asked him why the hell he wanted to know this.  The biker said he wanted to buy the property.

At this point, Kermit exploded, ran and got a golf club and started flailing it at the biker, who, in panic, jumped back on the bike and barely escaped being decapitated.

In the meantime, Betty, hearing the commotion rushes out and says, “Kermit, what the hell are you doing. Do you know who that was?” Kermit replied, “I don’t give a shit.”

Betty said, “That was Bob Dylan!”

Kermit said, “so what!”

Kermit And The Turkey

At about the same time as the Dylan incident, I had been renting a summer cottage in Woodstock, not far from Kermit, Betty, Lynne and Ellen and spending a good deal of time with my cousins. Kermit treated me with benign tolerance.

I would often spend fall weekends in Woodstock at my cottage and photograph the dazzling colours.

As Thanksgiving approached, Betty and the girls (but not Kermit) invited me to their family dinner. Also invited, against Kermit’s protestations, was Ellen’s new boyfriend, a classmate and also a resident of Woodstock.

As you can imagine, this boyfriend knew of Kermit’s reputation and approached the table with extreme respect and reserve (more like trepidation). Naturally, Ellen sat the boyfriend at the far end of the table, as far away from Kermit in order to ease his anxiety. Throughout the meal, I could see that the kid was uptight (for good reason) and hardly said a word, even though Betty tried to make him comfortable.

Now picture this…every inch is the truth. Kermit was sitting at the head of the table gnawing on a huge turkey drumstick in his fist and staring at the kid. I could see the kid getting more nervous at Kermit’s caveman style eating habit.

At a very pregnant moment, Kermit expelled a huge burp. We, at the table, didn’t pay much attention to this as it was Kermit’s habit.  But the boyfriend just about melted in horror. 

Still eying the boyfriend, with drumstick in hand, Kermit gets up and walks over to the kid, stares him right in the face and says, “fuck you.”

Kermit and my motorcycle

As mentioned, I had a summer cottage n Woodstock and I’d ride my motorcycle to it most every humid hot New York City weekend.

I am ashamed to advise that I had no formal rider training, no motorcycle license, no insurance and, of course, no helmet.

As I’m riding into town, my worst-case scenario happened – the local (only) cop pulls me over and, as it happened, right in front of the gas station where Kermit always hung out.

As the cop approached me, I realized that I was in big trouble.  Kermit saw what was happening and sidled up to the officer and me.  As the cop was about to ask for my license, Kermit said, “Leave him alone. He’s my fuckin cousin.”

Kermit and the bass drum

Around that same time, approximately a year after the famous Woodstock festival, Kermit, who was an electronics buff, decided to open a stereo shop right in the middle of town.

In addition to high-end audio components, he chose to carry a selection of musical instruments, electric pianos, guitars, drums, etc. Remember, many musicians hung out and lived in Woodstock at that time; Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson (collectively known as The Band) loved Kermit and hung out at his store. As a matter of fact, Garth Hudson lived in the coach house on Kermit’s property that my family and I stayed in when visiting, many years before.

One day, when Kermit is about to close the sale of a very expensive stereo component set, a kid started banging on the drums at the far side of the store.

Kermit yelled to the kid to stop and continued to close the sale. But the kid on the drums didn’t stop banging.

Extremely irritated, Kermit excused himself from the customer, walked over to the kid and kicked his foot through the bass drum! The kid panicked, flew off the drums and dashed out of the store. Kermit returned to his customer.

Kermit And The Money Chair

This man, as fearsome as he was, had a kind and gentle and ‘puppy-dog’ side…available only to his family (me included…sometimes).

Kermit, like his father, had “his” chair in the house. Nobody dared sit on it. He would hold court with his family (and my parents and me when we were staying there) most every night. In the morning, Lynne, Ellen and I would tiptoe into the living room before Kermit would wake and dig under the cushion for coins that had slipped from his pocket the night before.  We’d giggle with larcenous delight (and fear) upon finding a mother lode of dimes and quarters and scramble away with our treasure trove. The money chair was our deep-dark secret.

Little did we know that this wild and crazy Kermit had intentionally placed those coins under the cushion.  He had been on to us all the time.

***

Several years later, Betty passed away. It was a terrible shock to Kermit, his children, my family and to all of Woodstock. 

Sadly, the feisty irascible character in Kermit also died.

The photo above is not Kermit so as not to embarrass his family any more than they already are due to his “unique character.”

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