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Tire Rim Chariot

Tire Rim Chariot

My high school sweetheart Ken Koharki (we called him Kenny) transitioned out of this life last week. So many of us are grieving his loss. He was a popular boy with a quick laugh and a toothy smile. He was a kind man, good husband and father, and an even greater grandfather. The following piece is a remembrance of a time we spent together.

* * * * * * * * * *

Manville High School (Go Mustangs!) Senior students commonly attend a winter semi-formal known as Winter Fantasy. The spring Prom is attended by all students from Freshman to Senior year; Winter Fantasy is attended by Seniors only.

Kenny and I decided to attend the dance, held in a semi-intimate setting at a country club set in the gently rolling hills in a nearby town. My mother heartily approved. She loved to dress herself in cocktail attire, knee-length sheaths with a kick pleat showing off her amazing figure. When she attended weddings she excitedly styled her hair and make-up, stepped into princess-like heels so she could swing around the dance floor while moving her hips to slinky music, always in good taste. With the Winter Fantasy on the horizon, she was on a mission to dress me well.

This was my first ever couture-inspired, at least in my mind, experience. My mother decided she was willing to spend a little more than our family budget would commonly allow taking me to a small dress shop in the big city of New Brunswick, N.J. Once we were at the shop we easily found the dress. When we decided this was “the one,” the owner/designer gave me an actual fitting! I little pinch here, a little pinch there, et voila!

Kenny chose to wear his one and only suit but it was in good condition and fit him well. He was a tall, broad-shoulder boy, handsome as ever, a dream date for any girl.

At about 6 PM on the night of the Winter Fantasy, Kenny’s father informed Kenny that he needed the car. They actually had two cars at that time, but for some reason Kenny’s dad needed that particular car. The second car was a convertible that no one except Kenny’s dad drove.

Kenny called me, very upset. He tried to break the news gently but there is nothing gentle about hearing that this event that you have so carefully and expensively prepared for was not going to happen.

“Why, Kenny?” I asked, muffling a sob.

“He’s just him,” he said. I thought I heard something in his voice.

“I don’t understand,” I said. I had no fight in me right then. I was just so sad.

“I know,” he said. “I don’t either,” he said, breathless, hesitating. I could hear the scratch of him putting his hand over the phone receiver. Was he crying, I wondered. He was an athlete, played football and basketball and baseball and track. I had heard him breathe heavily while running up and down the courts, or on the football field, or in between big guffaws of laughter. This was the first time I heard the vulnerability of helplessness in him.

After some minutes of mutual despair filled with anxiety and worry we decided to put our heads together. How were we going to get to the Winter Fantasy?

Today we have many options. We could call an Uber or a Lyft, or a taxi, even. But back then we had to depend on the kindness of strangers, friends, or family. We got to work.

First, I asked my mom but she had my younger three sisters and one of them, sister Kathy, had to be picked up from an event. Mom couldn’t help. My father, who liked to tip not a few beers but a lot of beers was not anticipated home anytime soon. I called my aunt to see if she or my uncle could take us but they only had one car and my uncle was out on a job with no scheduled return. Kenny called Schultzie, Kenny’s best friend, but he and his girlfriend Barbara were double dating with another couple. He called good ol’ Frankie Bartok, who actually had his own car, but he too had his back seat filled with another couple.

In a stroke of genius, I thought about Larry and June. Larry was also a guy with a car. Though he wasn’t a schoolmate, he had graduated already, I decided to call June to see if they were going and if so, did they have room. Kenny and I weren’t close to Larry and June. We all ran in separate circles. June and I were friendly, I liked her a lot, we were in chorus together and I just thought I would take a chance and call her. After June and I spoke, she called me back saying yes, we could ride with them. However, there was one huge caveat. Larry had taken out the back seat. The backrest of the seat was there but the only thing that we could potentially sit on were tire rims lying on their sides. I didn’t care. I was determined we would go. I said yes, for both of us, and Kenny was absolutely relieved. We were going.

It was not the most comfortable or queenly ride I have ever been on. I can still feel the tire rim cutting into my butt. Fortunately, in those days, I had a butt. I couldn’t take that ride on my bony fanny today. But Kenny and I were enormously grateful to Larry and June. It was only 20 minutes to the country club but it was the most appreciated 20-minute ride of my 17 years of life.

In spite of the challenges we had getting to the event, the disappointment of not having our own chariot to ride in, the hurt feelings over Kenny’s dad’s choice, and having a tire rim burrowing into our bottoms, we had finally made it to the Winter Fantasy.

In spite of all these elements at play cueing us up for a potential catastrophe, Kenny and I were chosen Kind and Queen of the Winter Fantasy. Prom, or Winter Fantasy, in this case, is an important rite of passage for most high schoolers. In my teenage girl’s mind, to be chosen as king and queen was a monumental event. I think the circumstances made the tribute that much more valuable to each of us. Ultimately what I learned is that kings and queens don’t always know what their chariots will be and what friends will show up as heavenly sent gems.

Kenny was kind and generous to me. He was also very funny. We laughed a lot. We sang in full voice harmonies when listening to the radio. He was kind and gentle to me. He had an easy way about him and he was considerate and thoughtful, too.

I am so sorry for Ken’s family – his wife Beth, their daughter Kimberly, and their beloved grandchildren. I am certain he leaves a gaping hole in their hearts and lives.

God speed Kenny.

Thank you for the many beautiful memories.

Heaven has a new angel this day.


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