My older brother George Kaufer Jr was killed Tuesday May 5, 2015, while riding his bike. It was senseless and tragic and all of us who love him are still reeling from the shock. Last weekend was spent mourning his death and celebrating his life and I was astonished at the things I learned about him….most especially about how many lives he deeply touched. It was humbling and even more inspiring and I know that my life forward will be profoundly different, with the lessons I learned…about friendship and love and the kind of man he was. He will continue to be in my life as a touchstone and what most people won’t get is how he would be reacting to all this attention…he would be embarrassed and amused because he didn’t see himself as special or elevated…he just lived the life he wanted to in his own terms and helped people because that’s just what one does. He would be telling me to stop being silly and stop crying because crying never accomplished anything…just drink another glass of wine Lynette..and make sure it’s the good stuff. I can hear his voice now…that deep rich rumbling voice that always had a hint of laughter in it. And when I picture him…it’s in his lovely large kitchen, pouring a glass of wine..a new discovery that he is delighted in and wants to share. Making sure it is aerated just right…waiting while I take my first sip with a big grin on his face.
George and I were children in the 1960s and teenagers in the 1970s. George was very tall and ended up being 6’4″, which was unusual for that time…and he was gawky and all elbows and knees. His first music obsession was John Denver and he looked like John Denver at the time and was teased about it endlessly, as you can imagine. He was always hungry and every afternoon after school he made an enormous plate of spaghetti just to tide him over until dinner. During that time, when many kids turned to smoking pot, we were “square” and proud of it. In Junior High George was cornered after school by several kids who demanded that he smoke pot with them. He refused, (when many would have given in) and was stabbed in the arm by one of them with a knife. He was the apple of his grandfather’s eye…being the first born grandson and heir to the Kaufer name…and spent several summers with his grandparents up on Vancouver Island in British Columbia helping them build a farmer’s market. My grandpa was a gruff first generation German American who expected very hard work from everyone around him and of course George had the Hard Work Gene. However, all the work he did for my grandpa as a growing boy gave him issues with his back for the rest of his life…but being George nobody would ever know this.
George was a typical teenager in many ways and was the envy of his friends for his “cave”, his small bedroom decorated with a first class stereo, blue shag carpet, and dark wood paneled walls. He got a job at 15 so he’d have enough money to buy his own car at 16 and his love affair with cars continued the rest of his life. He was also a typical older brother and I was the little sister who had a secret crush on one or two of his friends.
Part of our family lore is a camping trip we took when George was 10 or 11 and I was 8 or 9. My younger brothers swear they remember this but they were so young at the time I think it’s just so ingrained in our history they remember hearing about it most likely. George and I decided to shoot some rapids together on an air mattress. We decided that he would lie down on the mattress and I would sit on top of him, holding him around the waist. It wasn’t the best thought out plan and fell apart quickly as we entered the rapids and I immediately fell off. I ended up UNDER the mattress, face up, with George still on top, struggling to keep my head above water, my legs churning under me turning over rocks as we were bounced from wave to wave, rock to rock, down the river. I screamed and screamed and George kept telling me to shut up, as I was ruining the ride for him. Other than some scrapes and bruises, we ended up at the other end of the rapids unscathed…with a great story to tell.
George was one of those good stalwart men..the kind that have a hard time showing feelings …the kind that show through actions instead. Over the years he developed confidence and strength and command presence that inspired loyalty in those who worked with and for him. From a gawky teenager to a strong leader…he never stopped growing. I truly believe he was meant to have daughters, instead of sons, because they brought out such a tender side in him from the time they were born. Coming from a family and an era where physical affection wasn’t shown…it was so joyful to see him cuddle and hug his daughters. His daughters truly were the greatest joy in his life.
George had a strong sense of humor and was quite the jokester. He enjoyed “pull my finger” kind of jokes and was the start of our famous Kaufer kid brand of smart ass levity. George..it started with you. At least that’s how WE choose to see it.
Not only did George always love cars but George loved to drive and he is by far the best driver I have ever had the privilege to ride with. He drove with one assured hand on the wheel and he drove large SUVS and pickup trucks so smoothly it was an art form. He knew how to weave in and out of traffic, always cautious and careful, but always going the fastest speed possible. He knew when to merge and he knew when to accelerate and there were never any jolts or swerves because most importantly he knew how to anticipate the traffic ahead. I never got tired of watching him perform this skill…I marveled at it again and again. Most importantly he drove with such confidence and skill that it made one feel safe. Safe….which is what George did. He made us feel safe. My world feels less safe…now that George is not in it.
George had many passions and interests throughout the years. He was a collector (which both he and I got from our parents) and his collections ranged all over the place…trains, pinball games, original Disney art, sports items like a Joe Montana jersey, beer steins, beer coasters, baseball caps…on and on. He loved a good beer and later in life became very passionate about wine…which fit into his great love of entertaining as well. His home is lovely, with many special touches like an outdoor grill that he loved to cook with and stunning landscaping he worked hard to create.
As a teenager he loved to bike and would ride up to Mt Diablo and back many times. It was a great outlet for him during more trying moments in his teenage years. He got back into biking in his early 40s and it became one of the big passions of his life. He loved to go on 35 or 45 mile bike rides with friends on the weekends and one of the big ironies of this tragedy is that he was killed just a few blocks from his home. I will always be grateful that he was doing what he loved the moment that he died.
George, I will always love you. Always have, always will. Thank you for being my wonderful big brother.