When I opened the lumpy envelope containing Jim Kaat’s just-published poetry book, one word came to mind – WOW! Then one thought – every person after they die should be honored with such a lovely book.
Dance of Love; Dance of Life … Poetry by Jim Kaat is a substantial wow for several reasons … one being who would expect a self-proclaimed “dumb jock” to go so deep? And I don’t mean to left field.
The second reason being that the contents of Jim’s book depicts a love so sturdy and affectionate between a husband and a wife, even if we all didn’t know Kitty, we would have shed a tear for the tenderness he offers with words, and the sadness and helplessness he surely experienced watching his beloved bride of 22 years wither away with cancer.
Mary Ann Kaat passed away July 21, 2008.
It was through death when I first met her. Ken and I flew to the Kaats’ Florida home last November to attend a stirring memorial party. In their happy yellow house, Jim kept notebooks of hundreds of poems he had written daily to his beloved “queen.” He ran with my suggestion to publish them, thus Dance of Love was born, and unlike any of us, it shall live forever in a splendid tomato-red hardback book. The cover artwork is a mock of a contemporary statue on the Kaats’ front lawn. Mary Ann’s bright face bursts from almost every page as the reader watches her live, hug, swim, laugh, kiss, share, sit and love Jim Kaat right back “mutually” as she once told him.
And if Kitty’s poems aren’t beautiful enough, two surprises are included before and after his collection. Eight of Mary Ann’s family members and friends wrote their wonderful thoughts; then after Jim’s “Farewell” poem, there are several pages of Mary Ann’s notes to Jim in her handwriting. Very nice touch.
I’m still shaking my head paging through Dance of Love. It’s a beautiful testimony of marriage. And I hold true to my initial reaction … wow.
“Facing Mickey Mantle with the bases loaded was relatively easy,” writes Jim Kaat in Dance of Love, as he weighed how he would pen his last words to his wife. The following is the last poem he recited to Mary Ann on the day before she took her last breath:
Farewell my beautiful queen,
The most magnificent woman I’ve met or seen.
I look forward to seeing you again some day,
I’ll recognize you as soon as I see you;
You’ll be the one that stands out from the crowd
The dynamic outspoken one, free-spirited Italian,
Maybe a bit boisterous and loud.
You’ll always be with me in spirit, my guiding light,
Even though you’re gone from my sight.
All my love,
Although Dance of Love was produced only to share with Jim’s family and close friends, I encourage you to meet Mary Ann on Jim’s Web site.
I didn’t meet Mary Ann Kaat until after she passed on and became an angel. Somehow we were never at Yankee Stadium simultaneously during Jim and Ken’s time together at YES.
Last November, when Jim and his family had organized a memorial party for Mary Ann, it was then I learned all about the woman Jim was completely in love with, as he voiced a stirring tribute to his wife.
By far, the event was the most moving memorial I had ever attended – not a memorial service, but a party! Everyone should leave the earth that way; it was absolutely magnificent.
Picture an enormous white tent pitched on the waterfront lawn of the Kaats’ residence on the east coast of Florida … round tables covered in white linen … a long buffet of scrumptious food edged the tent …100 of the Kaats’ friends and family from around the country … all on a beautiful butter-yellow sunny day.
In the covered walkway leading to the front door, Jim had hung large beautiful photographs of him and Mary Ann in various stages of their love. At the party, he wore the very same Hawaiian-style shirt and white pants in which they were married.
At one point during Jim’s speech describing his effervescent Italian wife, a boat rode by and tooted its horn – must have been Mary Ann saying, “Thanks – I’m watching all of this!”
Later, guests had the option of writing messages with black markers on environmentally-friendly helium balloons and releasing them. I wrote, “Mary Ann, we would have been friends … happy heaven …” and let the balloon slither out of my hands toward the very blue sky, wishing I had had the chance to befriend Mary Ann Kaat.
Because if her home symbolized her colorful personality – and evidently it did – she was an upbeat, bright, happy, and energetic gal. Don’t we all adore people like her?
Jim had invited his guests to wander through the house at whim to “read” the plethora of plaques, pictures, inspirational quotes, books, and fun artwork scattered amidst Mary Ann’s multi-colorful décor and furniture. What a great collector of whimsical items she was.
A splendid HAPPY HOUSE! It is still etched in my mind, that yellow house.
A quote on a wooden rooster plaque in the kitchen read: “Life is always in progress” … and indeed … life was in full motion that day as Mary Ann’s friends and family honored her life.
Included in a notebook was a collection of hundreds of poems Jim had written to his wife every day; many supporting Mary Ann through her illness. I had encouraged Jim that day to publish some of the poems, and he ran with the idea.
Now at the printer as I write is his new book of poetry: Dance of Love; Dance of Life attributed to his wife, titled after a sculpture in their backyard. Behind the sculpture now is a memory garden which includes a plaque naming Mary Ann.
I’m sure it took a huge adjustment for Kitty to remain in a home without his beloved Mary Ann, the woman extraordinaire who etched his heart for 22 years … Mary Ann Montanaro Kaat.