Salt of the earth

Unfortunately, I never was able to meet either set of my grandparents in person. Technically, my mother was pregnant with me when my parents paid a visit to my mother’s family farm in Tennessee. She didn’t know at the time that it would be the last time she would see her beloved mother alive.

Of course, my mother was full of childhood stories, and she adored both of her parents. Her dad was more stern, a hardworking farmer who supported a large family on the fruits of his labor while being a diabetic, which was much harder to medically manage at the time. He worked until his dying day.


Her mother was equally hardworking, helping in the fields and managing the household. She was an amazing cook and helped keep the peace with eight children with her kind heart and patience.

One of my favorite stories that my mother told about her parents was when grandpa tried to get rid of a farm dog that wasn’t pulling its weight when it came to herding. He tried to take Scott up into the hills and abandon him in the woods, but the dog returned, with bloody paws, determined to remain part of the family. Grandma intervened on behalf of old Scott and grandpa backed down, sparing the lazy but loving dog’s life. Mom certainly adopted grandma’s love of animals.

Both parents had a good sense of humor as well, which my mother certainly inherited. That’s why I love this photo, one of the few I have of my maternal grandparents together. Grandpa is letting just a hint of a smile cross his face, while looking pretty satisfied, and grandma is laughing with pure joy.

Simple people, with love of family and life.


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The teacher’s pet

I don’t know much about my father’s school days, other than his story about the nuns in the Catholic school rapping the knuckles of kids with a ruler if they misbehaved. I’m not sure how much my father learned during those years, but as an adult, he was always educating himself through his lifelong love of reading.

My mother enjoyed her school days. Perhaps that was because school wasn’t a given for farm families living in rural communities near the Great Smoky mountains. Many kids were pulled out early or for periods of time to help with the crops. My grandparents did not consider education to be a luxury and instilled the importance of learning in their children. My mother was an eager student and was forever grateful that her parents supported her desire for a good education.

Mom school

Just like you would read in a book, my mom’s early school days consisted on a “one-room” schoolhouse that had different corners for each grade. It was a very different educational experience than the massive schools that kids attend nowadays.

A teacher asked my mother if she wanted to pose for a photo project, and she agreed. My mother always received top marks on penmanship, and she liked this photo because it illustrates prominently that she was left-handed. My grandmother was apparently punished for showing left-handed tendencies when she began school, as it was considered to be “evil” so she was forced to adapt to writing right-handed.

Mom’s love of writing continued throughout her life, as she loved to pen letters to friends and family. She also used “old school” ways to keep learning as an adult, such as opening the dictionary to a random word she was not familiar with to expand her vocabulary. I remember her doing this daily as a child.

Perhaps that is where I got my love for words!


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Don’t forget to document your passcodes

I cannot stress enough how important this is, whether it is parents/children or another close relationship. This is even more crucial when dementia is involved. Make sure to securely document account login information offline and online. Trying to gain access after a loved one is gone is a real pain, believe me. Kay offers excellent resources as well!

Source: Don’t forget to document your passcodes

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Nine to Ninety: A short film with a lot to say

You’ll only get to know Phyllis and Joe Sabatini for 29 minutes, but you will feel like you’ve known them for a lifetime. I saw much of my mom in the adorable yet feisty Phyllis. No doubt many of you will be able to recognize characteristics of your elderly relatives in this strong, loving couple.

The couple, married 62 years, live with an adult daughter, and you can clearly see how much genuine love flows through that house.

nine to ninety

But at 89 and 90, Joe’s health issues are becoming a major concern for the couple, and the couple’s adult children, who coordinate their living arrangements and health care. Phyllis doesn’t want to be a physical, emotional or financial burden on her daughter any more, who is raising her own child, age 9, hence the title of the short film.

The unusual solution Phyllis comes up with will likely surprise you. It’s not a choice most people would make, but it was seen as the best for their family. I’m not going to reveal any spoilers, but the film raises a lot of interesting issues about aging in place and the sandwich generation.

I have a lot of respect for the family, who talk openly about the realities of aging and death. These discussions are not always easy, especially for the granddaughter, but I think she will end up appreciating the fact that her family included her in such discussions. All too often, we overprotect children from the realities of life, but children are curious and resilient, and don’t always want to be shut out of such family matters.

I hope you get a chance to check it out. If you do see it, let me know what you thought about it. I watched it on the PBS channel on my Roku. The website for the film is called Nine To Ninety.

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Mom featured in fun Navy profile

Mom enjoyed her brief stint in the Navy. She only served three years, but she spent the rest of her life talking about her experiences in the armed forces.

I always thought Mom’s fun-loving nature seemed contradictory to the serious activity of serving in the military, but Mom’s perfectionist ways made her a good recruit. However, she did squeeze in a bit of fun, as this lighthearted portrait in a Navy publication illustrates.

Mom Wave profile

Mom was photographed for a two-page centerfold feature in the July 26, 1963, edition of the Seahorse newspaper. Titled, “A Typical Day in the Life of a NavSta Wave,” the text that accompanies the photos says, “Janie Kyker, HM3, has been aboard U.S. Naval Station Long Beach for two years. A native of Tennessee, Janie finds life in the Navy exciting and challenging. Happily for Janie – and the lucky sailors pictured here – life in the Navy isn’t all work. In addition to her duties at the Station dispensary, Janie manages to find plenty of recreation aboard the Station. As the pictures show, life is anything but dull!”

mom navy ice cream parlor

Mom is photographed in nine images, following her from getting ready to begin her busy day to breakfast in the galley, work and then some fun activities, in the form of ping pong, pool, enjoying an ice cream soda with a couple of sailors and shopping. There was an outtake which included her dancing with a sailor. Mom kept the original photos and a copy of the newspaper, which is in good condition.

Mom was quite proud of the photo shoot. A couple of things that I found interesting was that she was referred to as “Janie” which I don’t remember my mom being called. She preferred Jane, “plain Jane” as she always said. Maybe because it was a fluff piece they went with a nickname, instead of the formal Kyker (her maiden name) or her legal first name which she never liked: Eleanor.

I also was fascinated by the Chow Call section in the paper, which featured that week’s menu. I feel bad for anyone who liked vegetables at the time. The menu was a carnivore’s delight. Breakfast: Broiled pork sausage links, fried and scrambled eggs; Lunch (which they referred to as Dinner): Southern fried chicken; Supper: Bar-B-Q spareribs, Bar-B-Q ground beef. Wow, that’s a lot of meat! Maybe that’s why Mom was practically a vegetarian later in life.






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Dad: ‘TV is for my dog’

One of the great treasures I came across as I was doing one of the final sweeps of my parents’ condo after Mom passed was the discovery of a scrapbook.

Dad didn’t seem to be the scrapbooking type, but I can only assume he was the one who collected his letters to the editors of various newspapers across the country. Perhaps Mom collected them, but some of these letters go back to well before my parents met. At any rate, it’s a neat collection, albeit only half-full.

Most of my father’s letters were very serious in nature, mainly about the conflict in Ireland during the 1960s and 1970s, the Vietnam War and crime. But my dad did have a good sense of humor.


He wrote one letter titled, “TV Is for My Dog.” In it, he bemoans America’s obsession with television programming, an ailment he nicknames “TVitis.” Dad writes that he dreads going to work on Mondays because  everyone will be talking about the weekend’s TV programming, like the Ed Sullivan Show or Candid Camera, and all of that bores him to tears.

Dad proudly declares that he doesn’t watch TV, and only listens to the radio and reads books. Dad says he only turns on the TV for his dog, who likes to watch Lassie.

Of course, my dad eventually did give in to the TV bug, and ended up enjoying quite a bit of television, from The Three Stooges to The Twilight Zone and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

But my favorite line is about the dog. Dad never had a dog, but it’s still a funny line.

If watching less television was one of your new year resolutions, my dad would approve.


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Lifting spirits as new year approaches

I know this has been a tough year for many of you who read my blog. We’ve had personal losses near and dear to our hearts. Thanks to all of those who read my posts and sent encouraging words, it is much appreciated. I hope for all of us a happier 2016.

After working a crazy month of overnight shifts, I ended up with a nice chunk of time off. If I’d known ahead of time, I could’ve planned a trip to Europe, but it being last minute, I considered closer-to-home options.

Then I realized I never made it to New Orleans.


Many years ago, back in college, we drove through there, lost some money at the casino, and drove on. But ever since I found the letter in my dad’s belongings from The Roosevelt Hotel, proving that he worked there, I have wanted to visit the city and stay at the hotel. I decided to take the train, to give myself extra time to read and write.

Dad Roosevelt Hotel letter

I had an enjoyable trip and The Roosevelt is certainly a hotel to visit, especially at Christmas. I also got to do something in honor of my mom, which was to visit the butterfly garden at the Audubon Insectarium. It was beautiful, and to be surrounded by so many live butterflies was breathtaking. Mom would have loved it so much, and I have to believe that if reincarnation exists, she’s there, making the young and old alike smile.

I’m not big on resolutions, but while in New Orleans I had my oracle read (I also stopped in a church to light candles for my parents so I covered my spiritual bases.) Anyways, I don’t necessarily believe or disbelieve in oracle readings, it’s all just information to consider. The woman told me that I’ve been making little changes to my routine, and that I should continue to do that in the new year, as chance encounters may lead to greater insights.

And the truth is, I have been changing my routine. Ever since Mom died, I wanted to avoid getting into a rut. I wanted to try and appreciate each and every day more, and expose myself to new experiences. Not all of these were particularly exciting endeavors (working the graveyard shift) but certainly it offered a new way of looking how I organize my life what my priorities are.

So I will prod myself to keep experiencing the world in new ways, even if it’s just taking a different route home. There is much to gain even in the most mundane of activities.

If you have goals for the new year, I would love to hear about them.


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