Lancaster native and current, long-time Michigander, John Casey, returned to the roots of his raising over the long Memorial Day weekend.
Hosted by his eight children and more than 80 other friends and relatives, Mr. Casey celebrated his 90th birthday at the Grand Theater, in downtown Lancaster, Kentucky, last Sunday afternoon. And, while I only had half an hour to spend with him, I figured out, almost immediately, that his name is “John” and that “Mr. Casey” is someone he used to know or maybe one of his sons.
“Hey, Mr. Casey!” is not is not something you can yell and, necessarily, turn John Casey’s head. It’s far better to yell, “Hey John!” if you need to get his attention. John Casey is, not really, your average “Mister” sort of fellow. I get the feeling that he tolerates it only because that’s what men are supposed to do when they hit 90. You are supposed to call them, “Mister”, whether they like it or not.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, Loretta and I just barely made it to John’s party. I had planned to visit with him for two or three hours but we got there so late that I actually spent less than 30 minutes with the man of the hour.
Since I am severely telephone challenged and John is totally blind, it would have been next to impossible for us to converse, at least long enough to do this column, after he left. The column simply would not be here had John’s son, Rob Casey, not spent the better part of Sunday night and Monday morning, patiently answering my steady stream of emails. I know we had to pause, at one point, to recharge Rob’s cell phone battery.
Before marrying, John had served his country in combat in Korea. Like most other Korean Conflict veterans, who swore oaths to not discuss the particulars of that terrible war, John Casey doesn’t talk much about it.
“We were on a hill. It wasn’t any fun and that’s about all I have to say about it,” he told me.
Born in Lancaster, in 1929, John Casey, his wife and eight kids, lived in Detroit after War. Like thousands of other rural Kentuckians, the Caseys had to find work in the Industrial Midwest where he found work on assembly lines, first with Ford Motor Company and later with General Motors Cadillac plant.
Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in his 40s, John’s eyesight deteriorated to the point that he had to take disability long before he reached retirement age. The family moved back to Lancaster where they lived for several years.
Mrs. Casey died suddenly in 1973. A couple of years after that, John moved himself and the kids back to Michigan where he currently resides.
I find it hard to imagine a single parent, having to cope with blindness, while raising over half a dozen school age children , but John and the kids not only persevered; they literally thrived, as evidenced by the outpouring love and devotion I saw those from those children, grandchildren, great grands and a hoard of cousins as they surrounded him last Sunday. In fact 90 of them showed up from Michigan, Minnesota, Louisiana, Texas and from all over Kentucky. I hope he was as pleased about the party as they so obviously were.
To cap the whole thing off, the Governor had, previously, though unbeknownst to John, made him a Kentucky Colonel. The certificate was presented to him at the party and I still kick myself every time I realize I missed being there for the presentation.
So why drive all the way from Michigan to have a party in Lancaster? Because, as far as John is concerned, it’s home. He may have been taken out of Lancaster but Lancaster can never be taken out of John Casey.