By Dale Larabee | SDUN Guest Columnist
On May 27, Kensington enjoyed the 31st Holiday At Home celebration, an all-day affair featuring a running race, old-fashioned parade, pancakes, hot dogs, and silly hats along with countless barbeques, impromptu parties, music and dance. For one glorious day, all activity moves outside, doors stand open and people catch up with those unseen since the last Memorial Day.
A rare sad note to this year’s perfect day was an unanticipated change of leadership when Julie Braden stepped aside as “The Boss,” John Kaheny loosened reigns as parade director and Kensington’s Milt Keller started looking for a new master of ceremonies. All three leaders have been present since the 1982 event start and won’t be easily replaced.
“When I grew up in Ohio,” Braden told me, “our neighborhood pool opened on Memorial Day. The kids owned the day. We rode our crepe-papered bikes down carless streets with our parents walking along in funny hats and costumes. Our goal was to reach the pool together, renew relationships, swim races and eat watermelon.”
Braden said that when her son was two she realized no nearby neighborhood had such an event.
“I wanted an event with a sense of community for the children just like we had,” she said. Braden called a summit with her friends Alyce Lynn, Terry Mendez and Annemarie Sprinkle and brought Ohio memories to reality in Kensington. She drafted Kaheny – recently promoted to Marine lieutenant colonel – to command a parade, and insurance salesman Keller to announce. The day they created has thrived unchanged ever since. Other leaders have come and gone, these three have stayed.
Now retired, Keller parks at the parade’s end directly in front of the Kensington Church and, for two hours, hawks pancakes, hot dogs, T-shirts and library books, and tells the thousands who line the parade route about the 40 plus entries that move one mile down Marlborough Drive to Adams Avenue.
“I have a mic and I wing it,” he said. “Ad-libbing is dangerous. I receive the same piece of hate mail each year. In pencil of course, telling me how dumb my jokes are and ‘why don’t I move to La Jolla?’ If I knew who it was I’d tell him to grab a mic and the job is his.”
But Keller is kidding about this, too. “Announcing makes the day for me,” he said. “I hope I don’t find anyone who seriously wants to take it over and I enjoy getting mail.”
Kaheny’s job of controlling the parade may be the toughest. “I was drafted because Julie and the others thought military parades were always orderly,” he said. “Well ours has never been orderly. How about ‘unpredictable’ or ‘chaotic chaos?’”
Kaheny, who has never met an entry he doesn’t like, admits the belly dancers of past parades may have been a mistake. “They didn’t come back,” he said.
The tanks were also mistakes, as Kaheny was in Desert Storm when they snuck in.
“Remember the crazy guy who stole a tank from the National Guard facility near Kearny high [school] and drove it down [Highway] 163? Same tanks. Sixty tons with rubber treads,” he said. “The drivers thought they would spin at each intersection, not only laying 360 degrees of rubber but also causing chunks to break free. One piece blew out a window on Marlborough.”
Kaheny spoke of too many stories for here including a guy pulling a sailboat with the mast up, a hearse that may have contained a body, a fire engine ordered to an emergency mid-parade – the crew roared off with sirens blaring and lights ablaze, while the crowd thought it was planned – and hundreds of unexpected Shriners in tiny cars.
“Every year it’s been another group of hyper 5 year olds or someone showing up who wants to parade,” Kaheny said. “Remember 2013’s Grand Prize Winner was the Kensington Chickens. Ours is not the Rose Bowl.”
And the Kensington Memorial Day celebration may not be the bowl either, though come 2014 Keller will still be there cracking jokes midst another group of unruly 5 year olds, and waiting for his letter come the following Tuesday.
—Dale Larabee is a 40-year resident of Kensington, who is an occasional writer for local newspapers.