Thoughts and Reflections: Remembering Grandpa Kemmerer

By Richard Mabey Jr.


My maternal grandfather, Edmund C. Kemmerer, was one of the greatest drummers whom I have ever known. There is one drum rudiment that is extremely difficult. They call it the flamadiddle. If it is done right, alternating the left hand with the right hand, with split second accuracy, it is almost impossible to do with any degree of speed. Well, Grandpa could rip through a long series of flamadiddles with lightning speed, never once missing alternating hands to start each individual flamadiddle. It was truly poetry in motion.


Grandpa was an electrician by trade. He owned his own business. He was a Fire Fighter of the infamous Boonton Fire Department’s Harmony Hose and Engine Company Number Two for well over 50 years. He also served as a volunteer Corpsman at Saint Claire’s Hospital for several decades. He was married to my grandmother, Lydia Capwell Kemmerer, for over 50 years. They had nine children, of which my mom was the youngest.


When I began attending Boonton High School, in September of 1967, I would often walk up Boonton Avenue to Grandma and Grandpa’s house after school. Grandpa was more than happy to give me drum lessons, but there was one condition, and Grandpa was very strict about that one condition. I had to finish all my homework first.


So, most of the time, I would call Mom and tell her that I was at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and that Grandma had invited me supper. After supper, Grandpa would give me a drum lesson. I learned so much about playing the drums from my beloved grandfather.


At about eight o’clock at night, Mom would drive over to the home where she grew up in and drive us to our home in Lincoln Park. All through my four years at Boonton High School, I would visit Grandma and Grandpa about once a week after school. And, each and every time that I would visit them, Grandpa would give me a drum lesson after I got all my homework for the evening completed.


It was a great time, a magical time, a wonderful time. I’d give up my entire comic book collection to just have Grandpa give me one more drum lesson. Sadly, in February of 1971, in the midst of my senior year at Boonton High, Grandpa went Home to be with the Lord. He had lost his battle with prostate cancer.


There are times when I can feel the spirit of my maternal grandfather, so very strongly. He was a very kind man, but was a great believer in discipline. He had a deep appreciation for education. I remember the times, sitting at their kitchen table doing my math homework. Grandpa would sit at the table with me, sipping a cup of coffee and asking me how I was doing in school.


Life is so funny at times. It is such a tapestry of happiness and sadness, of good times and tough times. I don’t think a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about dear old Grandpa. I can still hear Grandpa saying to me, “Richie, don’t cheat on doing your flamadiddle. Learn to alternate hands between each flamadiddle. It’ll be slow going at first, but in the end, it’s the only way to have true speed.” Oh, I so do miss my dear old grandfather.


Love one another. Life is painfully short. Forgive, forgive, forgive others for the wrongs they have done unto you. None of us have a written guarantee that we’ll be here tomorrow. Simply, love one another.


Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at Please reference “Thoughts and Reflections” on the subject line.


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