Barbara Brown Koons
October 26, 1935- June 23, 2021
Saturday September 25, 2021
Barbara Brown Koons
Christopher Kuntz, son of Barbara Koons
Given September 25, 2021
We are here to celebrate the life of Barbara Ann Brown Koons.
My mom was born in the fall of 1935, in the depths of the Great Depression. Her parents and grandparents operated a corner store and soda shop at the corner of Helen and Fourth in Mansfield, Ohio.
Growing up, she really had three homes: the soda shop, her grandparent’s house, which was above the soda shop, and her own home, which was two blocks away. Her mother was a violinist; her father a cartoonist. Anytime she wanted she could just skip on down the street to the soda shop or her grandparent’s house for company, family, and some kind of treat.
Later, she described her grandparents house.
The house was a high, white Victorian bride, scrolls and swirls, spindles and gingerbread, with a wide veranda that swept around two sides like a full-tiered wedding gown. It stood triumphant on the green carpet of summer, all lace and celebration, wreathed in sunlight, and roses, and bees humming in honeysuckle.
Is this prose- or is it poetry? Her writing was often somewhere in between.
From early on, she aspired to be a writer, and a reporter. She was a senior at Mansfield High School when she published her first story, Music From Mars, in Seventeen Magazine. After graduating from high school she worked for two years at the Mansfield News Journal. She needed money so she could attend Northwestern University School of Journalism.
At Northwestern, she met my dad. Soon, they were married, and in no time at all, Cindy, Karl, and I were born. The writer’s life was put on hold while she dedicated the next 20 years to raising the three of us. She was always there for every meal, every ride to and from any place, every responsibility. Until I was about 7 she carried me on her back up the stairs in our house in Brendonwood when it was time for me to go to bed. Through my teenage years she was always there with food and warm hospitality for my friends whenever they came over, which was often.
When I was a kid, I went to the supermarket with her every week. She kept a meticulously organized three ring binder full of coupons that she cut out of the newspaper. Once a week she went to the grocery store and flipped through the book while she walked through the aisles, pulling out coupons and matching them to products. She presented her coupons in an organized stack to the clerk, to make their job easier.
She and I used to drive out into the country to pick Cindy up from horseback riding. I joined her to look for hubcaps alongside the road. Whenever I spotted one, she pulled off by the side of the highway so I could jump out, run back, and get it. This was quite a commitment for her, as the highway was not a place where she was particularly comfortable. She drove exactly 55 mph in the left lane, gripping the wheel with white knuckles and cursing the truckers riding her bumper, saying, “can’t they see I’m doing the speed limit?”
She had other strange driving habits. When we went to the store, she drove around the parking lot an infuriating amount of times looking for the closest parking space. Then she came home and took our dogs Patcher and Dorothy for their daily walk around the entire circumference of Brendonwood- a distance of about a mile.
She was fiercely independent, but she never, ever pumped her own gas, and never explained why.
Stray dogs could spot a person who just simply couldn’t say no. Patcher just appeared one day from out of the blue and hung around around until we adopted him. Dorothy followed me home from the dump and knew she had hit the jackpot.
She bought big bags of dog food and fed the raccoons living in our woods every evening. One summer evening I counted 30 raccoons, old and young, on our back porch. The parents teaching their young: this is where you come for a good meal. This lady is dependable. Over the years she had as many pets as she did raccoons; Patcher, Dorothy, Morris, Woodswaif, Judy, Cricket, Marshmallow, Annie, Pretzel.
She was a prolific writer. Her ability to paint a vivid image of a person in just a few words was unparalleled. Take this description of her grandmother Nora Steltz Brown:
Pert, bright, brown-eyed, her demeanor and bearing resembled the birds she loved. She fed wild birds in the yard, flapping over the grass in apron-flinging frenzies to chase away cats and crows; and she kept tame canaries caged in her kitchen window, where she led their chorus with her own warbling whistle. She could whistle better than most men or boys- clear, bell tones, that rang in harmonies of her own creation.
Mom wrote about her childhood as a paradise lost, a unique event at a unique time in history, an experience that could never happen to anyone, anywhere, ever again. She wrote:
When he finished his night’s artwork, Father would sleep until nearly noon. He usually was sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast of Shredded Wheat, canned fruit, coffee, and Camel cigarettes when I came home from school for lunch…… While Father was at work, Mother might be playing her violin with friends in a string trio or quartet in our dining room. Our house was filled with paint and ink and paper and color and music; odd meals at odd hours; people sleeping in the daytime and laughing, smoking and talking into the night. It all seemed perfectly normal to me.
As she got older, other themes appeared. Sex, loss, betrayal, aging, death. Her poetry is replete with unapologetic sensuality. It is sometimes difficult to read. She turned private thoughts into provocative words- and then published them fearlessly for all to see.
Even as her dementia progressed, she remained a delightful companion on the phone when I called from the West Coast. Because I knew some things about her history growing up- and her memories of it remained- we were able to sidestep the memory loss and have enjoyable conversations about a wide range of topics up until very shortly before she died. Yes, we did repeat conversations sometimes, but for me this was an opportunity to refine the funny parts and explore things that I knew interested her in greater detail. She was an easy person to talk to, once you got things going.
I want to share my thankfulness for the people who were there for her on a daily basis in the last years of her life. Thank you, Heather Goad. You were mom’s companion and friend at home, out on day trips, on visits to the doctor. You were a passionate and unapologetic advocate for mom’s physical and psychological well being. Simply put, you kept my mom healthy and made my mom happy.
I am thankful for my brother Karl and his wife Gina. You were there during all the special days of the year. You were there when anything needed fixing, or when the alarm went off in the middle of the night. Gina, thank you for all the hours you spent keeping the finances in order.
Without Heather, Karl, and Gina, mom would not have had the life she had during her last years. There were others, too, particularly each of the caregivers who watched over her night and day, allowing her to remain in the house she loved.
Whenever I visited from the west coast, mom and I inevitably ended up at the Neufield Art Museum. Last year she and I were getting lunch there and I was doing my best to guess what she wanted. I picked out a few things I thought she might like, and brought them up to the cashier on a tray. He looked at me for a second, sizing me up. Then he looked over my shoulder at mom, and said; “that’s not what Barbara usually gets, is it Barbara?” She stared at the tray as if it were loaded with road apples. Then she looked down and shook her head in disappointment. While I bumbled around like a fool to set things straight, I could hear a cheerful scene explode behind me “How ya doin Barbara? Hey guys, Barbara is here!” I heard several people emerge from the back to say hi to one of their favorite patrons. There was chatter, and laughing. They hadn’t seen the Queen of the Neufield in a little while.
Here are a few lines from just one of her poems, written in response to a postcard from Costa Rica she received from a friend. This is from the poem Casa Rural .
here, there is no need to
plant roses, or even grass,
it all outgrows
the boundaries our minds set,
and it isn’t necessary
to understand, just welcome
All those centuries
where there are no doors
that do not open
into summer gardens
where we may dance
through long, slow, musical nights
Mom’s ashes will be buried in Lexington Cemetery south of Mansfield, Ohio tomorrow. This will be a private event. There, in the same small cemetery, she will join her parents Scott Brown and Anna Von Endt Brown, her grandparents Hugh Maurice Brown and Nora Steltz Brown, her great grandparents William Ledlie Brown and Elizabeth Ritchie Brown, and her great great grandparents, Robert and Sara Ledlie Brown, pioneers who entered the Ohio wilderness shortly after the War of 1812.
Half of her ashes will spared to be scattered in the Pacific, as she wished.
I will close with a passage from the Bible that mom chose for her own mother’s funeral almost 20 years ago.
“For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace:
The mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing,
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”
Now let’s have a moment silence to individually pray or otherwise reflect in whatever way you feel appropriate as we send Barbara Ann Brown Koons on her way, wishing her a fair wind and a following sea.