Tag Archives: Mom and Dad

If only Mom had been dealt a better hand

The woman in this picture was dealt a rotten hand.

She was my mother. The fellow in this picture is my father. They had this photo taken to commemorate their engagement. They were married on Aug. 24, 1946 and stayed married for 34 years. Then Dad died in a boating accident; he was 59 years of age.

However, this post is about Mom. She would live only a little more than four years after Dad. On Wednesday, she would have celebrated her 95th birthday. She lived for just 61 years.

My sisters and I occasionally wonder how Mom would have grown old. I have my theory, which I’ve shared already on this blog but I want to restate it here as my way of wishing her a happy birthday.

The hand she was dealt? Well, she died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Yes, she was young when she passed away. One usually doesn’t waste away in the manner Mom did at the age of 61. But she did. In fact, her condition began to change years before. Looking back on the nearly 34 years since her death, I have a bit of trouble recalling precisely when we began noticing changes in her behavior. Maybe it was five, seven — or perhaps 10 years.

At the end, she couldn’t speak. She couldn’t do a single thing for herself. Alzheimer’s disease ravaged her.

I occasionally ask myself: What would have happened had Mom not been dealt the hand she received? How might she have grown old?

A clue remains imprinted on my mind. Long before she began her slide into the Alzheimer’s never-land, Mom would reveal what kind of young woman she used to be. She was proud of her social skills. She once proclaimed to me that she often was the life of any social gathering she would attend. Mom was full — if you’ll pardon the pithy expression — of piss and vinegar.

She was unable to rediscover the mysteries of her younger years. Disease made sure of that.

Had she been able to grow old free of the disease that killed her — particularly without Dad’s presence in her life — I remain quite convinced that she would have rediscovered much of what made her the life of the party.

None of that happened. I am left these days merely to wonder.

Fate can be cruel. It was to my dear mother.

She would have turned 95. I want to wish her a happy birthday. Wherever she is, I am certain she’ll hear it. I hope she is smiling.

Happy birthday, Dad

This is a picture of my father. His name was Pete Kanelis.

My sis snapped this picture in 1979, a year before Dad died in a boating accident that to this day still gives me great pain. He was 59 years of age when he died in the accident just north of Vancouver, British Columbia, where he was cavorting with friends and business associates on a business/fishing trip.

I want to mention Dad to you today because Saturday would have been his 96th birthday.

Apart from the obvious feelings of loss and grief I felt for seemingly the longest time in my life, my feelings today as I remember Dad are a bit more, oh, philosophical.

Fate dealt us all quite a blow that day when the call came to me the day after Dad died. The very last thing I said to him before he departed Portland for Canada was, “I’ll see you Wednesday.” The call arrived on a Monday morning. The news was terrible.

I think of Dad — and Mom, too — in ways that boggle my mind at times.

What would they be like had they lived long enough to grow old? What kind of old folks would they have been? As it is, I have spent a good bit more time on Earth than either of them were able to do. Mom died four years after Dad at the age of 61.

I have my own theory — and that’s all it can be — about how Dad and Mom would have aged had they been given the opportunity. Dad was one of seven siblings and he — more than any of his brothers and sisters — valued family relationships. My sense is that he likely would have been a bit clingy, that he might have resisted the career opportunity I sought when my wife, sons and I moved to Texas in 1984. Mom would have been more accepting of it. Had she been able to grow old without Dad, I believe as well that Mom would have returned more to be like the young woman — full of vim of vigor — that she recalled occasionally about herself.

The thing about fate, though, is that you cannot take it back. You cannot relive moments that come and go. Life doesn’t give us any do-overs.

So … with that I am left only to wish that Dad were here to celebrate his 96th birthday. If only fate hadn’t intervened.

I still miss him every day.

Time flies, right Mom and Dad?

Image

You’ve seen this gorgeous couple already.

They are my mother and father. Mom’s name was Mnostoula; Dad’s was Pete.

The picture was taken as they became engaged to be married. Dad had just returned from seeing horrifying combat as a U.S. Navy sailor. The bulk of his combat occurred in the Mediterranean theater. Mom was employed at a bank in Portland, Ore.

Today would have been their 70th wedding anniversary. Mom would be 93, Dad would be 95.

They never got to grow old together.

Mom was dealt a terrible hand. She was gone not long after her 61st birthday. She suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. We had it diagnosed in the spring of 1980, but in reality she was exhibiting symptoms long before the doctor delivered the grim news.

At the end, Mom couldn’t recognize anyone. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t feed or bathe herself.

Dad had died about four years earlier. He decided to take some customers of his on a fishing trip to an inlet just north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Four of them — Dad and two of his customers and the driver of a small boat — were racing back to the lodge as the sun was setting. It was getting dark in the inlet.

They hit a log jam at high speed, flipping the boat. Two of the men survived; Dad and the boat driver did not.

He was just 59 years of age.

I think of them every day. I miss them every day.

I also wonder how they might have grown old. It’s only a theory, of course, as you can’t bring them back.

But my theory is that Mom likely would have grown old with grace and good humor. She used to recall with fondness her days as a young woman coming of age. She fancied herself as a jokester and the life of any gathering of her peers.

Dad was family oriented. His aging might have been more challenging. He loved being in the presence of my sisters and me — and our families. Dad was close to all of his six siblings and they would recall to me how — as the oldest of the brood — Dad became the family leader as all of them moved from New England to the Pacific Northwest in the late 1930s.

Well, you can’t go back.

They’ve been gone for well more than three decades. Their marriage lasted 34 years and ended the day Dad died in that senseless accident.

They would have turned 70 together today.

If only …

How to find a silver lining in a tragedy

mom and dad

I want to tell you a story. It’s true. It starts out badly but ends, I hope, by putting a smile on your face.

It puts one on my face whenever I think of it.

***

The phone rang at my office desk on a Monday morning 35 years ago. The voice on the other end belonged to a colleague of my father. His name was Ray; I can’t remember his last name.

He got right to the point: Your dad was out fishing last night with some friends. Their boat crashed … and your dad was killed.

Who expects to get that kind of news? Not me. At that very moment — as God is with me — I could sense my body turning numb. It started from the top and worked its way down.

I hung up. I collected myself. I asked one of my colleagues at the newspaper where I worked to meet me in a conference room. I told him what I had just heard and said I had to go home. Dave Peters gave me some words of comfort, which I appreciated very much.

I called my wife and gave her the news.

Then I drove home. Our young sons were at school. I called one of my sisters and delivered the news to her. She — or perhaps it was her husband — telephoned our other sister to tell her.

To this very day I can retrace the steps I took over the next several hours. My grief was unlike any I’d ever experienced. My dad was the first member of my immediate family to die. That he would leave us so suddenly was, all by itself, enough to shock every bodily sense I possessed.

Then came the most difficult task of all: How am I going to tell my mother? My wife drove us to my parents’ home in suburban Portland, Ore. I was paralyzed — quite literally — with the fear of giving her this news.

We pulled into her driveway. We sat there for a moment. I took several deep breaths and then, just as Scripture informs us, I was swept up by that “peace that surpasses all understanding.” God himself put his hand on me and said, “It’s OK. I’m with you.”

I told Mom. I sought to comfort her. It was the most difficult moment of my life.

Dad was missing. They didn’t find him for eight days. I flew to the place just north of Vancouver, British Columbia, where he had gone fishing on a business trip with clients. No luck. After two nights, I came home. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police called us a few days later to tell us they found him.

We had a funeral and we entombed Dad in a crypt. Mom had asked us to purchase a spot next to him for when she would die. That day came four years later.

All of us were in shock at what happened.

But as we were preparing for the funeral, we had gathered at Mom’s house; my wife, my sisters, our children and an assortment of aunts and uncles were there.

And here is where it gets a bit brighter.

***

Earlier that year, in March 1980, my wife and I borrowed my father’s car for a trip we took from Portland to San Jose, Calif., to see the younger of my two sisters. En route, in Medford, Ore., I hit some back ice on the highway, skidded out of control and crashed the car into a vehicle parked on the shoulder.

Two young men dived into a ditch to avoid being hit. No one was injured seriously. My wife was bruised a bit; I had a cut lip; the older of our sons suffered a cut; our younger son was unhurt.

We took the car to a mechanic and then purchased bus tickets for the rest of the trip. We would pick the car up after we returned home.

We got back home. The auto body shop called and said the car was ready. My father-in-law and I drove from Portland to Medford to pick it up.

I delivered it to Dad.

All was good, yes? Not even close.

The car had flaws in the repair. This thing was wrong with it. Dad had me fix it. Something else was wrong with it.  Dad had me fix that.

Dad was the kind of guy you could depend on when the chips were down. I called him to tell him the car was damaged and he was the absolute champion of coolness. “We’ll just get it fixed. Don’t worry,” he told me. Little did I know what was to come …

You see, Dad also was a nitpicking perfectionist who was the very embodiment of obsessive compulsive disorder.

He drove me nuts trying to get that car repaired to his satisfaction.

Then came the morning of Sept. 8, 1980 and the phone call that changed everything.

As we gathered at Mom’s house, I sat on the brick flower box on my parents’ front porch.

I turned to one of my sisters and said: “You know, it just occurs to me. I’m never again going to hear a single thing about that f****** car.”

We laughed until our guts hurt.

I became convinced at that very moment that every tragedy that comes your way comes with a shining, silver lining.

I love you, Dad.

 

Still missing Mom after all these years

Mom and Dad engagement

The beautiful young woman in this picture wouldn’t want me to do this, but since she’s not around to object, I am free to do what I wish.

Her name was Mnostoula. The fellow next to her was Pete. They were my parents.

Today would be Mom’s 92nd birthday.

She’s been gone for a very long time now. Not quite 31 years to be exact.

Mom’s name was an old-country Greek name given to her by her mother, our Yiayia. She felt it was too hard to pronounce, so when she went out into the working world at a young age, she adopted the name “Mitzi.” My sisters and I never liked the nickname, but that’s how she was known.

Truth be told, her name wasn’t all that difficult to pronounce. Just understand that the “n” was silent, and you could say it just as it appeared. Our late uncle Tom — one of Dad’s brothers — called her “Mno,” but Tom would stick the “n” into the shortened version of the name and it would come out “M-no.” Mom loved hearing that.

Mom didn’t laugh out loud, as in guffaw, the way, say, Dad did. She would giggle, often at her own quips, which were quick, unexpected and always funny.

She and Dad were married for 34 years. Then tragedy struck in September 1980, when Dad died in a boating accident. He was just 59. But tragedy already had taken hold of Mom by that point. She had been diagnosed earlier that year with Alzheimer’s disease. She was just 57 at the time. But the sad fact is that she likely was exhibiting symptoms for years prior to that; we just weren’t alert enough in the late 1970s to figure it out.

Yes, she was dealt a terrible hand when that dreaded disease stole her humor, her liveliness. She would live only for another four years before passing away from Alzheimer’s-related complications.

We can’t change the past. We can think, perhaps, of how matters might have changed if fate hadn’t intervened. Mom always talked of her younger years — such as when this engagement picture was taken with Dad. She remembered how full of vim and vigor she was. Her future was bright, she would tell me. She would recall how she was a pistol.

She left us far too soon.

Wherever she is, I know she hears me.

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you.

Dad asked a simple question … and gave birth to a career

It’s kind of late in the day. It’s about to end.

But in the waning hours of Father’s Day, I’ve suddenly gotten filled with the desire to share a brief story about my dad and a simple question he posed to me.

It was late in 1970. I had returned home from a two-year U.S. Army stint. I was preparing to re-enroll in college.

Mom, Dad and I were having dinner one evening at their home, where I returned after my Army hitch.

We were chatting about college, my plans and what I might want to do with my life now that my military obligation was over. I was single, unattached (for the time being) and I had my whole life ahead of me.

Dad asked, “Have you declared a major yet? Do you know what you want to study in college?”

I had not yet made that decision. “Why do you ask?” I said.

Dad responded immediately, “Have you thought about journalism?”

To be honest, I hadn’t given it any thought. “Journalism?” I asked.

Sure, he said. He told me of the letters I wrote home from wherever I was stationed for the previous two years. I wrote home frequently from basic training in Fort Lewis, Wash.; from Fort Eustis, Va., where I went through my advanced training; then from Da Nang, South Vietnam and later, from Fort Lewis, where I was assigned at the end of my tour.

He mentioned how “descriptive” they were. He said I had this ability to turn a phrase. He thought journalism might be a good fit for me, given — he said — my ability to string sentences together.

Oh, gee, why not? So, I returned to college in January 1971, enrolling in some journalism-related classes.

I then fell in love with this craft called “journalism.”

I stayed with it for the next four decades.

I look back at that dinner-time moment with Dad and Mom with great fondness and appreciation for the simple question that Dad asked. It helped me — along with prodding and pushing from the girl who would become my wife in September 1971 — undertake a fruitful and moderately successful career in print journalism.

It’s not yet over, thankfully.

I’m pretty sure I thanked Dad for nudging me down that path. He’s been gone now for 35 years; Mom died 31 years ago. I can’t thank them again now.

However, I can share this memory to remind myself — and perhaps others — of our parents’ wisdom.

In that moment at the dinner table, father definitely knew best.