Posted by: Kim | November 13, 2007


My grandfather is nearly 86 and is healthy as an ox, not counting his Alzheimer’s. He lived at home independently for as long as he could before we started hiring help to drop in and look after him from time to time. The help was needing to come more and more often until it got to the point where they needed to be there all the time. Finally, it was no longer safe for him to live at home. We found a great assisted living facility near my mom’s home that houses only Alzheimer’s patients, and this weekend they moved him in. Despite the fact that he was to the point that he didn’t always recognize his house even when he was in it and despite the fact that I know he will be safer, closer to family, and probably happier than he was in his own home, it still feels sad to take away Grampa’s independence. We love you, Grampa, and we always will, no matter what.

Bill J. Kelso
My Life Story

I was born November 21, 1921 on a farm in Sherman, Texas. I was born somewhat earlier than expected, so I spent my next few weeks in a shoe box placed in the bread warmer of our wood burning stove. They named me Billy Joe, which I eventually changed to Bill J. My mother’s name was Ruth Cleo, and my dad was Percy Kelso. I was joined by a sister a few years later named Doris Jean (Dori).

I picked cotton, rode to school on a mule, and fought many a battle for my sister who was always saying, “My big brother will beat you up!” My Aunt Gladys and Uncle Floyd lived close by. My father died when I was 11 years old. My mom packed us up, said goodbye to the farm, and returned with my sister and me to her home in Oklahoma City. One of my first jobs was at a pool hall. I also remember loving to play around the train tracks. I graduated from Central High School in 1941. My buddy, DiGuisti, and I joined the Marines in 1942, thinking it would be fun to go to war together, and also make it easier to get girls. I was quite the lady’s man, and always had lots of girlfriends!

Boot camp was Camp Pendleton, in San Diego, California, and then some more training in Palm Desert. Of course, I got separated from my buddy, DiGuisti, and never returned to Oklahoma again! I was stationed in New Zealand. Wow, the girls there were ever so willing to make me feel at home (if you know what I mean). Got drunk a lot on something they called tuba juice. I think it was fermented coconut juice. I was on the landing at Guadalcanal and Bougainville. I will never forget having to jump out of that landing boat into deep water, and run like hell. I remember looking up at a Jap fighter jet and actually seeing the pilot’s face–that’s how close they were. I was trained as a forward observer, which means I was the one up the tree telling the guys where to aim the big guns. “Fire for effect!” I was also on Guam, although it was what they called clean-up. To this day, stormy windy nights give me nightmares. I keep thinking the noise might be bullets landing or bombs exploding.

When we joined the Marines it was for the duration of the war plus six months. I spent those six months in Pleasanton, California. I was on a double date with my buddy, Woody McCartney. We had stopped to pick up his date, Virginia (my future sister-in-law) when I saw a beautiful girl dusting the stair banister. Shirley Grace was the love of my life, and we were married July 10, 1946 in San Francisco. We had two daughters, Karen Sue and Carol Ann.

My mother and father-in law were Grace and Pappy. They helped us out a lot, including building our home in San Anselmo (316 San Francisco Blvd.) Our house payments were 60 dollars a month which was a struggle to come up with, believe me! Shirley raised the girls, and took care of the house. I worked long hours and on the weekends I loved to work in the yard. I created and destroyed more landscape than you could shake a stick at. I usually had the radio on the Oakland A’s baseball games, and after yard work I took a long soak in the tub and had a few beers.

We didn’t travel much. I did like to barbecue in the summer months. We did have friends over (Lloyd and Caroline) for really loud parties. I would crank up Frank Sinatra music so loud the windows rattled! Holidays were more important to Shirley than to me. We always had Thanksgiving dinner at our house. Grace and Pappy always brought the turkey over in the morning which I helped stuff and put in the oven. Shirley set a grand table with her Danish dishes. Pappy always sat at the head of the table, then there was Grace, Virginia and Ray, my niece, Michelle, my girls Karen Sue and Carol Ann, and my wonderful Shirley. Skol! Shirley always made cranberry salad which I didn’t like very much. Christmas Eve was always a big dinner too and always turkey. Actually, the only holiday I thought should be a big deal was Mother’s Day, because Shirley did so much for the girls.

I was a beauty supply salesman, which means I sold beauty supplies from permanent waves to hair dryers to all the beauty shops in the area. My territory was Lake County, Sonoma County, and Marin County. I went into the shops sometimes with a new pitch, or just restocked their supply closet. I was good. The ladies loved me. I was always winning salesman of the month awards.

Gardening was my passion. I was forever re-landscaping. But I always loved to watch sports on television, especially the 49ers and the Oakland A’s, but basketball too. I was a light weight boxer when I was young–I have a couple of trophies to prove it! Shirley and I did some bike riding and hiking. I liked hiking in Yosemite, but I didn’t like it too much because my hip always started to hurt. I don’t read much, besides the sports page of the newspaper. I never liked to play games or do puzzles. I loved to bet on the horses. Seattle Slew, Kelso, Secretariat! I liked to gamble, especially the slot machines.

I’m a jeans and t-shirt man. I love my navy blue quilted vest. I like my pajamas, but have never worn slippers. I would feel lost without my watch. I hate to shower, but love to soak in the tub with bubble bath. I do like to smell good, so I like to use after-shave, Brut and Polo. I use an electric toothbrush and floss. If I shave, I use an electric razor. My favorite morning routine is putting a wet wash rag on my face, it helps wake me up.

My favorite breakfast is waffles and sausages, with lots of syrup. My specialty syrup is honey butter, that’s one cube of butter and one cup of honey, and then boil it for a minute or so. I like to have coffee with breakfast. I do have a sweet tooth, so cake with lots of frosting is good. I like hot chocolate with whip cream too. I drink Heineken beer and my drink is vodka and orange juice. I’m missing many front teeth, so I don’t like to chew hard bread or such anymore. I hate sunny side up eggs; the yolks must be cooked hard, so scrambled eggs are the only kind of breakfast eggs I will eat. I love those deli type sandwiches, especially roast beef with everything.

I washed the car every weekend, and took care of the yard. I never did housework. I never disciplined my girls. I have two grandchildren from Karen and Lou named Kelly and Kimberly. I like the ocean (Bodega Bay) and warm weather. I consider women an important part of my life and consider myself to be quite the lady’s man. However, Shirley, my wife, was the love of my life. She died at home of breast cancer in 1998. She always called me honey.

Call me Bill or Sgt Kelso. Never call me Willy or William. I’m one tough son of a gun!




  1. I really enjoyed reading that about your grandfather. I found it really interesting, quieting in some parts, humorous in others, and then, sort of sad underneath it all too. My mother is working with my grandmother on compiling her memoirs and I’ve really enjoyed all the things I’ve read so far. I wish my other grandparents would have left something like that.

  2. Your dedication brought tears.

    Thanks for the spelling check!

  3. Your grandpa sounds like a fascinating guy. He and I share the same birthdate, different year of course. How I miss mine. He picked cotton too.

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