The Ashland Beacon
Marty and I were supposed to be on the team plane last Thursday evening, flying to Denver to resume the season after the All-Star break. Instead, we were gathered around my Poppy’s bed at the Community Hospice House in Ashland, watching him take his last earthly breaths before he went to Heaven.
That was exactly where we were supposed to be.
Jack Kersey, or as we all called him, Poppy, was one of the best men I have ever known. It’s not just because he gave me my first piece of chocolate or because he took me on my first motorcycle ride and, let’s be honest, I could do no wrong in his eyes. It was because he never had a harsh word to say about anyone. His soft-spoken manner coupled with his hard work set an example few could measure up to.
I’m so fortunate to have had my Poppy for almost 47 years. Some of my fondest memories include him and all the time we spent at his house swimming in the pool that he, my dad and my uncle helped build. The family vacations to the beach and him sitting in the car with me because I was too knocked out on Dramamine to wake up at a stop. The countless motorcycle rides he and I would take to the doughnut shop or the BBF restaurant while I sat on the tank of his bike. The hours we spent in his chair looking at football and baseball cards or the dictionary that had the colorful pages in it identifying all the flags, gemstones and fruits. He made sure I knew them all by heart.
As I got older we all gathered at their house to swim, sometimes until super late at night but only Mamaw would join us for those late night swims because Poppy was in bed by nine every night. Of course, he was always up at 4 a.m. to start his day. In fact, Poppy didn’t enjoy the pool as much as we did because he was always working; working as an Ironworker or working around the house or the yard, or doing woodworking, or maybe taking a nap. He certainly earned all those naps.
Poppy was a huge baseball fan, or he was until the players strike of 1981. He basically quit following the game until he got to know Marty 12 or so years ago. He and my Mamaw have watched a lot of baseball these last few years and I know they love having Marty a part of the family. He was always a sports fan, I remember watching boxing with him, football and, of course, UK basketball.
The one sport I didn’t come around to enjoying until I was out of high school was NASCAR. Poppy and my uncle were huge racing fans. Poppy was a fan of the Man in Black, No. 3’s Dale Earnhardt. My uncle, Keith Kersey, was a Tide man and pulled for Daryl Waltrip.
One day back in 1993, I was sitting in Poppy’s bedroom forcing myself to watch the Daytona 500. I decided to pick a driver to pull for, I chose the No. 18 car driven by Dale Jarrett because I liked the car owner Joe Gibbs, who I knew because of his coaching in the NFL. The final laps of that race were about as exciting as any sporting event I have ever watched. Dale Jarrett was trying to fight off Dale Earnhardt as they came down in turn four and on down the back stretch before taking the checker flag for his first Daytona win, denying the Intimidator his first Daytona 500 victory!
I was hooked and then spent the next several years going over to Mamaw and Poppy’s house ever Sunday after church to watch the race along with my uncle, cousins, parents and sister, if they were available. We would have lunch, maybe take a nap or two, but we were always awake for that last lap. We all had our favorite drivers and knew everyone in the Cup Series. We took trips to races, including a bus trip to Charlotte; Poppy was not a fan of that trip. There are so many inside family jokes surrounding that experience that I’m sure we will be talking about for many years.
We also took a trip down to Atlanta. My dad, uncle, Poppy and I all piled in the car and made the drive south. Poppy drove every single mile of the trip, I know where I get that from, and we arrived at the hotel in plenty of time for dinner. After dinner it was obviously bedtime because he never got out of the habit of being the early bird. So there we all were laying in bed with the sun still up while Poppy snored away.
We got up so early on race morning that we ate breakfast with the pit crews and then headed over to the track hours and hours before the gates even opened. We got a good parking spot because of all of this but we also got stuck in a whole bunch of traffic trying to leave, even though we left before the race even ended. Literally we sat there for hours and all complained, all except for Poppy. He didn’t even complain when I realized I left my purse hanging on the chair at a McDonald’s in Columbus, Georgia. He just turned the car around and drove back the 30 miles to let me get it. I truly could do no wrong; nor could he, in my eyes.
He was a man of habits and was most comfortable in his own environment. He did take trips with my Mamaw and us, but his most favorite spot was in Ashland, in his own home surrounded by people he loved and that loved him.
That’s why we were all exactly where we were supposed to be last Thursday evening. Standing beside his bed a few minutes before 9 p.m. watching him take his last peaceful breaths.
We will miss him everyday until we see him again but take such comfort in all the memories he has given us over the years. May we all go so easy and be so loved.
Until next time,
(That’s the name I would ask people to call me when I was a little girl because I loved our Poppy so much)