He had such blue eyes. That's what people always remember about him, even still, even with how he died and how he lived. I found a letter, digging through a box of miscellaneous papers and pictures at my parents beautiful home in Wisconsin, from my father's best friend Greg after the funeral. It said something to the affect of "Big Jim's sparkling blue eyes could stare straight through you", which was true. My grandfather had beautiful blue eyes, and a flawed, bittersweet life.
He drank. He smoked. Camels. It's to my understanding that he was a bit of a troublemaker in his teens, expelled from high school in Joliet, deemed too wild to enlist in the army so he was sent to build boats in Boston during WWII. I'm trying my best not to hyperbolize, but when stories have been told so many times by so many people in so many states of their lives they tend to take the shape of those who watched instead of those who lived it. He was a carpenter. He smoked. He loved my grandmother, a conservative woman at best and a shrew at her worst. He bought her many jewels and gold to please her. She was an unpleasable person a lot of the time. It wore on him. They married and had one child, my father, who was named after him. He had black lines etched in his hands, from the dirt and the oil of the wood he manipulated each day of his life, always a blackened nail from a runaway hammer. He built his house and helped my father build his. He smoked. He loved my profile, I'm told. My brother was very quiet for a long time after he died. He stopped playing baseball. That was the sport that they loved. My grandfather drank so much that my grandmother took out an accidental death policy on him, afraid he'd run his car into a ditch. She was a practical woman.
The week before he got caught in the wind I climbed inside his truck with him, onto the bench seat and we drove around eating Chuckles, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He stopped at a garage sale and bought me a dirty yellow rabbit stuffed animal, and brought it home and lovingly washed it and hung it by its ears on the laundry line on the 40 acre farm. I touch it daily to say "I remember you." It is one of my only memories of him. The rest of it is lore.
Twenty five years ago today he got in his car and drove to buy cigarettes at the gas station. The weather was hot and cold. It smelled dangerous. He exited the gas station to find a mile wide tornado barreling towards downtown, towards the farm. The farm where my grandmother was. He didn't know at that moment she was racing to the bathroom to throw herself into the shower, they didn't have a basement, an oversight for a place called Plainfield and a history of testy weather. James Kachel, a good man and a flawed man, got into his car for the last time and tried to race the tornado to his doorstep, to warn the woman he loved and bemoaned of impending danger. He lost.
The tornado whipped him up, tore him from the car, throwing him from it, rupturing his aorta. He survived. A man found him and drove him to the hospital. My grandmother searched the farm, hysterical. She showed up at our house covered in mud up to her knees, a far cry from her usual pristine self. We couldn't find him for awhile. The town was in chaos. He was in surgery. They fixed him. He was one of two people at the time to have his aorta reattached and live. The other was a seventeen year old in France or something. This could all be hyperbole. I was four. This is the legend.
Two weeks later he became the last victim of the Plainfield Tornado, succumbing to his injuries because his poor lungs couldn't sustain his body anymore. He went out for cigarettes and ended up dying of smoking.
My grandpa had an enormous impact on my life despite only having been around for a sixth of it. He was thoughtful and giving and mechanically minded. He created my favorite person, my dad who in turn created my second favorite person, me.
So today I just wanted to tell that story. It could be I am missing facts that I will be scolded by those who knew him for forgetting. I could have something wrong. But that's how I remember that day, 25 years ago. I can still remember his smell sometimes. I can still remember his eyes.