My brother, John (Jay) Lewis Lehenbauer, died on October 25, 2020, the day after he and his wife celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. He seemed to have waited for that hallmark, puckering his lips for a final kiss. I painted this tribute piece for Jay and his lovely wife, Bonita, after my daughter’s wedding a decade ago. Both Bonita and Jay cook. Bonita is famous for her pastries (she made the lemon and chocolate cupcakes for Laura’s wedding as seen in the painting); Jay for his spaghetti and meatballs and barbecue. He was a competitive barbecuer which is a ton of work, but provides hours of telling stories and has a tasty reward.
I wrote the following few memories of Jay, although now, so many more are coming to mind. Adventurous and self-assured but always with the ability to laugh at himself, he’s a treasure I’m going to miss.
John (Jay) Lewis Lehenbauer
My brother was two years younger. I’m sure therapists could speak of predictable sibling rivalry, but all I can recall now is how Jay made me laugh. His humor was revealed in the way he lived as well as his stories with their descriptive details and punch lines delivered with perfect timing.
His advice was similar. Complaining about my flashing “check engine light” once, he handed me a piece of electrician’s tape.
The North KC Auto Auction cafeteria was one of his many business endeavors. I worked for him a couple of times. Jay cooked while the food was served by his loyal elderly staff. I think he gave them a ride to and from the senior center. They loved him and knew what he expected. I was dishing out mashed potatoes. My neighbor Gladys, the gravy lady, said my brother wanted to speak to me in the kitchen, which was steamy and busy. Jay was flipping pork chops, giving instruction, stirring pots…very active. Looking up, he caught my eye and smiling, said, “Feed them. Don’t fatten them.”
Having had the privilege of knowing him in his early years, I’ll share two “Open the Door” stories.
Why the bee was chasing him, I don’t know, but Jay was racing around Grandma and Grandpa Lehenbauer’s farmhouse. Leaping over the sidewalk between the smokehouse and the porch he made at least one full circle of the house yelling “Open the Door” in every open window he passed.
Why the rooster was chasing him, I don’t know, but Jay was racing around Papa Tuley’s and Aunt Lillian’s farmhouse. He yelled “Open the Door” as he raced by the kitchen windows with the rooster 6 paces behind. He was neither stung nor spurred during these experiences.
I did make him cry once when dad was teaching us to fish and I caught Jay’s ear. Ouch!
Thinking back, it occurs to me that Jay rarely complained. And he took the blame for things when he could easily have pointed the finger at me. He was a glass half full guy and made whoever had the pleasure of his company, feel the same way.
I wish we could say, as Mark Twain did, that rumors of his death had been greatly exaggerated. I’d love to see his smile again, but it will live with me in memory. What a lucky sister I am.