What I Learned from Kay Condon

Brian Gongol

Catherine (Kay) Condon managed to live a remarkable 96 years on this planet, from August 1918 to March 2015. It is a remarkable person who lives that long and leaves a long trail of friends behind. Kay most certainly did that. In my time knowing her (as my great-aunt), she left me with three lessons.

Write letters. I was only a passing recipient of her annual Christmas letter, since it came addressed to the family. But Kay's letters were always a highlight. While most other letters run the risk of being dull or self-congratulatory, hers were always hilarious and self-deprecating. From year to year, we got to track her various foibles, often involving her notoriety on the roads of Fort Dodge or her encounters with people who were too obstinate to see things her way. And those Christmas letters were her form letters! I came to learn that she was a tireless correspondent with her grandchildren, writing volumes to each of them. Those letters, of course, are the kinds of things that good children may accept warmly and that might cause others to roll their eyes. Kids -- even grateful ones -- simply aren't prepared by life to understand just how meaningful that kind of contact really is. But I defy anyone who has reached adulthood and lost some important people along the way to look at what Kay left behind without at least a touch of envy.

Tell people what a fan you are. Kay knew that I was a radio host, and at every family get-together, wedding, funeral, or celebration, I could count on her bending my ear for a few minutes with her advice about what I needed to say next time I was on the air. She always asked me to remind her when I would be on the air next, and always promised that she'd try to tune in. I knew, of course, that it wouldn't happen (my main show aired late on Sunday nights, and her vanity license plate proudly proclaimed "UP AT 5"), but it never mattered. She could always be counted upon to remind me what a big fan she was, and that was all right with me. Who doesn't like to be flattered a little? And with her stereotypical Irish forthrightness, she could have been shoveling all the blarney in the world and it never would have mattered. The sentiment mattered far more than facts ever could.

Always have a bottle of Black Velvet ready to share a friend. While it's not my particular brand, I always knew that if I was in town, I had an open invitation to stop by for a glass of Black Velvet to share with Aunt Kay. Most likely, the same invitation stood for at least ten thousand other souls on this Earth. In a world where there is so much talk of loneliness among the elderly, isolation among the homebound, "bowling alone" among adults, and kids who ignore the world around them while living shadows of their lives online, Kay Condon's standing invitation to stop by for a glass of whiskey was authentic, it was sincere, and it ensured that a person one-half, one-third, or even one-quarter her age could always feel welcomed and appreciated. And if you weren't ready to have a glass yourself, she would remind you that the invitation stood since your presence was an excuse not to drink alone. If there's one thing the world needs, it's more of that kind of hospitality.