In Memory

Virginia E. Kuhn

Ginny died on March 2, 2014.  Her memorial service, at Stanford Memorial Church, was April 8, followed by a reception at the Faculty Club. Condolences can be sent to her widower, Jim Day, at 1155 Mason Drive, Pacifica CA 94044. I'm sure he would appreciate hearing from folks who remember her.


Remembering Ginny

By Carmel Bentley

April 2014


Ginny. Ginny. Ginny.

Virginia Evelyn Kuhn.

You were my best friend from the moment we met in the locker room in our sophomore year at Paly. Your wide smile, open, head-thrown-back laugh, teardrop glasses, a long thick braid down your back. You’d come from Terman Junior High, a new junior high south of town, so I didn’t know you.  Your father taught at Stanford and you took the special Stanford bus home every day, even though, when I think about it, my walk home was probably longer than yours.

I went home with you on that bus one day and was introduced to the possibility of a different future. Classical music playing on your father’s record player in the dining room. A worn Turkish rug on the floor. An oil painting on the wall painted by your oldest sister, Suanna. A serve-your-self dinner on the stove, prepared by your father because your mother wasn’t home from teaching school yet. Finding a place to eat wherever we liked.

Our friendship was cemented when we were paired to take Driver’s Ed.  Soon you had talked your parents into buying you contact lenses and I did the same ($100!).

When your father drove me home after dinner I had my first ride in a Volkswagen, unnerved by the asphalt of the Oregon Expressway blurring beneath the windshield and under my feet. Not long after, you and I taught each other to drive stick shift in the hills behind Stanford in that car.

We smoked together. “My father says we’re okay as long as we don’t inhale,” I assured you. We bought Salem menthol cigarettes in the machine at Tressider Student Union and pretended we were freshman at Stanford. Getting accepted to Stanford haunted you. Both of your sisters had been accepted and so you had to be.

As much as I loved being at your home, you loved being at mine. My parents’ dream home: a redwood ranch-style that wrapped around the kidney-shaped pool, with white carpets throughout, a master suite for my parents, guest room with bath, separate bedrooms for Sue and me, living and dining rooms, family room with indoor barbeque and wet bar and a built in color TV, kitchen, pantry. The works!

I made sure that my Mom bought ginger ale, since I knew it was your favorite. You would come over to play checkers. I re-purposed a ballroom dance trophy I’d received from Beaudoin’s (just for showing up, I’m sure) into a trophy and we presented it to you when you won one of our family “tournaments.” 

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.  Filled with longing, and anger, and joy— for me it was right music at the right time. It flowed through your home, probably because your father was playing it in preparation for one of the classes he taught in his capacity as professor in both the music and education departments.  I borrowed them all. And asked for classical music for my birthdays and at Christmas. My surprised relatives did their best: Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris recorded by Leonard Bernstein, Copland’s Rodeo also recorded by Bernstein, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite. For my graduation present you gave me “The World’s Greatest Music: 12-inch high fidelity long playing records,” a boxed set of classical music that you had saved up for while working at the classical music store downtown. I gave you a gold-plated Dunhill cigarette lighter that I convinced my mother you should have.

For our graduation, I insisted that my parents take us to see “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off,” with Anthony Newley and Julie Newmar, which family friends had taken me to see at The Geary Theatre in San Francisco. We went, but my parents didn’t tell me that my father’s drunken business partner and his blowsy wife would be joining us.  I was very embarrassed but you were a good sport about it.

In return, your parents took us to a fondue restaurant near Palo Alto and a local show. I don’t remember the name of the show, just the dinner, and loving the time with you and your parents. The four of us.

I went to Lewis and Clark College in Portland; you went to Stanford. You went on a junior year abroad in France and I spent most of my junior year in Peru. I brought you a poncho that you loved but was stolen the summer you worked at a post office in San Francisco. You brought me an elegant glass perfume bottle that had a stopper. I’ve never filled it but it has occupied a special place on every bureau in every bedroom I have occupied since then.

I visited you at your apartment in Pacifica; we got stoned listening to the Beatle’s Magical Mystery Tour and I spent the night.

Next thing I knew you’d married a guy I’d never heard of who was in training to be a stockbroker. I remember driving from the San Jose Municipal Airport through the fog of Pacifica one weekend to stay with you. It was the only time I spent time with him. He was a strange duck and pretty much screwed you over.  Extended every line of credit you had and bolted. You were left with the tab. But then Jim came along. A fellow musician. A kindred spirit, who would be your beloved, life-long companion. You electrified your violin and spent weekends rocking in his band. A nice break from your day job teaching computer science to inner city middle schoolers and his job wrangling suitcases at the San Francisco International Airport. You probably didn’t plan to be a pioneer. You just loved your students and were intrigued by the opportunities that experience in a computer lab would provide them. Your middle school computer lab was the first in the city.

Ever the groundbreaker, you convinced the decision-makers at the school that your students should operate a snack bar for the experience and to raise money for kids who couldn’t afford some of the computer lab expenses. The snack bar was a resounding success. You weren’t just a teacher, but an inspiration to both your students and co-workers.

Then that so-called “complicated migraine” that turned out to be a massive blood clotting disorder struck, probably caused by hormone replacement drugs. When? Fifteen years ago? You retired after over 30 years of teaching and learned to read and write again. Connecting thoughts to action.  Slow. Slow.

I keep the card you sent me years ago in view on my desk. It reads: “You are the sister God forgot to give me.” Sometimes I called you on your birthday; sometimes you called me on mine. We never seemed to be at home.

You and Jim came to the memorial service for my mother and I attended the memorial service for your father.

And now you are gone. At least physically.  But you aren’t gone to me, and you never will be. Though we hadn’t spent time together for years and years you were always in my thoughts. Why would that change? You will always be alive to me, Ginny. Timeless. Just like the music you introduced me to so many years ago.  You are in the notes of the symphonies that I have memorized, the melodies, the harmonies. You are no more absent from me than Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Dvorak.  And you never will be.


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10/28/14 11:25 AM #1    

Kelvin Seifert

So sorry to hear about Ginny's death. She and I were briefly friends, but only AFTER we both left Paly--she to go to Stanford, me to go to Swarthmore. (And for the record, long-distance relationships are not usually sustainable, and neither was this one.) 

10/29/14 11:44 PM #2    

Bob Tyson

A lovely tribute, Carmel, for a lovely person. Thank you.

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