Kristy Kruger honors brother in song
Eyes shining, Kristy Kruger runs to my car holding a tarnished penny between her forefinger and thumb. Her cheeks are flushed and she’s out of breath.”Caramie – wait – look what I just found next to my car!”
To most everyone, a penny is worthless. Some people believe they should be abolished, that they’re a bother. Kristy Kruger doesn’t agree. Early on in our interview at Loaded Joes, she opened her tan leather purse to reveal a side pocket almost filled to the brim. They are the pennies she’s picked up nearly every day since her brother Eric, a lieutenant colonel in the Army, died.
On Nov. 2, Eric’s first day in Baghdad, the Humvee he and a senior officer were riding in struck a roadside bomb, killing both men instantly. Eric, a married father of four, was a career military man and one of the highest ranking officers to die in Iraq. “He was pretty much killed upon arrival,” Kristy said. Eric stooped to pick the coins up when others would stride by. Now Kristy picks up the coins. It’s how she grieves. And it’s one way she keeps the memory of her brother alive. Kristy, a singer-songwriter, is traveling the 50 states to sing about her brother. She lands again in Eagle County Thursday night at Loaded Joe’s for a show at 9 p.m. She’s hit eight towns around Colorado, played a couple of times in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Louisiana, giving a myriad of interviews along the way. But her voice still cracks at times when telling her story; her eyes still shine with tears.There were 12 days between the time she found about Eric’s death and the funeral because they had to ship the body back. During that time, she wrote a song called “Goodbye, Brother,” and sang it to her brother’s coffin at the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.”My brother, sadly, never saw me perform so I felt in some morbid way that was my only chance to play for him,” she said.It was at the funeral when Kristy began thinking of Eric’s upcoming birthday on Jan. 12, wondering what her family would do on that day to cope. She decided to play a memorial show in Dallas, her hometown, to give them something to focus on. Her whole family was there for the performance, she said, including her sister-in-law who flew in from Colorado Springs, her nephews, her mom, and her dad and step mom. People that she hadn’t seen in years – an old neighbor and a high school teacher, included – came to offer their condolences. Getting up and talking about her brother made her feel better, she said. She couldn’t force herself go back to the office job she’d been working between music gigs, she said. That’s when she decided to spend the next year of her life doing a memorial tour in honor of Eric.”Since he died in the name of this country, I’d like the country to know his name. And I’d like to see America, the whole thing. I’d like to see what he died for,” she writes on her Web site, http://www.kristykruger.com.’It keeps him alive for me’There is no political bent to Kristy’s performances. Instead, her goal is to raise awareness of the war. Because she’s strong enough to get up in front of strangers and talk about Eric, Kristy believes it’s her duty.
“Prior to my brother dying, the war didn’t change my life at all,” she said. “I didn’t read the news or listen to the radio because he was over there and I didn’t want to know. Then my brother died and I was like, wow, we’re at war. I just want to create awareness – I don’t like being preached to or preaching. I’m a storyteller.”The tour is more about addressing grief, Kristy said, and oftentimes the people who approach her after the shows are not interested in talking about the war, but simply want to tell her about a family member they lost, or tell her they are sorry for her loss.”There is a lot of guilt that comes along after you lose someone. Now you’re supposed to go back to your job, go to the post office, go to the grocery store. You feel bad you’re not constantly grieving for them,” she said. “I feel thats what’s beautiful about what I’m doing – I’m acknowledging him every single day, telling people about him; it keeps him alive for me.”Pennies from heavenWhen it comes to the pennies, Kristy is all smiles. Eric loved pennies so much he collected over 40,000 of them and stored them in the attic of his parents home while he was serving in Korea. Kristy, 10 years younger than Eric, was living at home when the weighty stash crashed through the ceiling.”It was a mountain of pennies,” Kristy said, holding her hand about three feet high. Her father made her pick them up and she took them to the bank. “It came to $435 and I bought a plane ticket to Chicago.”Now Kristy collects the pennies she finds, even going so far as to log the year of the coin and where she discovered it. The mother load came during Mardi Gras in New Orleans when she found 27 in one day, she tells me. Her eyes are drawn to the cracks and crevasses; she’s always looking.”I joke that if the music doesn’t work out, this is my brother sending me a retirement fund,” Kristy said. Five months ago, Kristy put a penny on Eric’s flag draped coffin and when she sings about him, there’s a good luck penny next to the picture frames in the suitcase that doubles as a shrine at her shows. Every single day, Kristy said, she finds a penny in memory of her brother.”If I don’t find one, then I go on a penny hunt ’til I do.”Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.